The New Normal, May It Nevermore Be

I’ve been sick the last two weeks. Just my regular old stuff, in bed whole days, running low grade fevers. And in the midst of that, the world started to burn, but really the fire was already here, just as much as possible swept neatly away from mainstream (white) culture.

And here’s where we encounter problems with the narrative right away. Do you see it?

I have been shifting my worldview about race now for several years, that’s right, only a handful of years. I spent a long time keeping step with the status quo, and honestly I haven’t pulled that far away from it yet. I’m learning.

I think it was the idea of white privilege, and really pursuing wrapping my mind around it, not reacting to it, that made me press in. We live in a deep and layered racist system. This is reality. My mom found this on white privilege, and it’s really a great way to begin understanding. It’s funny how my family have all been on this journey, but from different angles and catalysts in our lives. Once you’re on this path, you begin to reach out further and further, to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Wish we had done it sooner. Confession time. I grew up in a small town in Texas, and yes, laughed at racist jokes that we thought weren’t racist (I’m not sure how), I told jokes or stories that perpetuated racist stereotypes, not a lot of them, I didn’t realize, and I didn’t mean them that way, blah, blah, blah. Oh and they were things that really happened! —sometimes anyway. We never said the “n” word… we didn’t feel like we were racists… There’s a reason, in a racist system hundreds of years in the making, that narratives with stereotypes have truth in them sometimes. Just because something happened, doesn’t make it not racist to perpetuate that stereotype (remember white privilege here).

Then we had close black friends, and had I’m sure already hurt them, but had also stopped it with the joking around that was clearly wrong (because it was always clearly wrong), and I did something awful. As an older teen (I’m not sure how old), I had been introduced to Blazing Saddles by my dad, who had explained its history to me, and how it was the exposing of white people being racist in this funny way. And I know, in the time it was made, that it did have an impact shining light on racism. It also, even it its day, was harmful to black people. There’s a lot that is harmful to black people. I didn’t know (“I didn’t know” means nothing). And I showed it to a group, including a black friend who was younger than me by several years. And I didn’t explain it to her. Right, you get the sinking feeling. I’m still ashamed, and I should be. I found her crying on the floor of our home office. I did my best to explain, and apologized deeply. But it didn’t erase the harm. There is a good end to this story, but I hesitate to even tell you. Because then the narrative is that all you have to do is say sorry (and “I didn’t know”), and that’s simply not true. My friend is incredibly gracious, and I do not deserve the love and trust she’s continued to give me since then.

I think the first thing that happened for me was picking up books by black authors, fiction actually, really really good fiction (and I didn’t even realize these authors were black at first, so I wasn’t trying real hard). I adore Helen Oyeyemi, and didn’t even realize she wasn’t white, until I was halfway into Boy Snow Bird (I highly recommend Gingerbread by her). It’s funny how you picture most people white until you’re told they’re not, well, no, it’s not funny. (Maybe you don’t do that, maybe you’re color blind and you see people in all the colors of the rainbow… I digress.) So when reading The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemmison, I had this experience —awareness of how I was viewing even an imaginary world. And then to find as well, layer upon layer of how we use each other, mistrust each other, prejudice thrown every which way, and a whole group of people secretly/openly enslaved and oppressed. It was amazing, the parallels. Fascinating. The whole Broken Earth trilogy is amazing, the human drama, a complex mother-daughter relationship, volcanoes, magic, and it’s just a good read. Read books by black people.

Instagram, oh Instagram. I really do love it. I was really getting into it a couple of years ago, following people after looking at comments or reposts, following someone else. Ended up seeing a post (from a white snarky sweet anglican writer) with recommendations of people to follow for racial justice and racial reconciliation. I followed several, and I was about to go into describing them, and then I realized, no. Please go follow them. Here are some current-ish links to posts for each one. I love all of these incredible black female voices. I have learned so much just reading their posts and the comment threads. I want to center these voices for you. (And if you don’t know, read their first comment posted with the photo, sometimes the photos are words.)

imagine what could be  – @austinchanning

we did not acknowledge  – @blackcoffeewithwhitefriends

how long, O Lord?  – @oshetamoore

be the bridge  – @latashamorrison

a sense of calm  – @mockingbirdhistorylessons

So that brings us to protests, and riots… oh no. Ok, if you actually looked at the posts, you know where I stand, and who I’m standing with. Blatant harmful racism throughout this country, a minority maybe, but not a tiny minority. Among the people who lawfully have the power, the upper hand. Forever, it feels like. And complacent white moderates.

Mom found this —what it’s like to be in a protest. I haven’t been, so I found this video really enlightening. And there have been peaceful protests, like in Flint & Camden, maybe look at why.

Martin Luther King Jr. said this in “The Other America” (and I know everyone is posting this, because it’s the true narrative of where we are, and should be incredibly convicting that we are still here):

“But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.”
The transcript in case you want it.

I am not endorsing rioting, I am saying it should not be a surprise. And that maybe we should listen very closely to these peaceful protestors, and their heart’s cry. Righteous rage.

Within the productive good things happening out there, there’s vulnerability, and a real life risk being taken for one another. Not all will go well, that’s what true risk is. But we could shake up the mainstream narrative. We could elevate those that have been subjugated. The clear picture, if you’re looking, is that in America, black bodies are expendable. That’s why #blacklivesmatter is important, and relevant. Obviously, other bodies matter. My brother is a cop, and so was my dad, “blue lives” (or people’s lives within these institutions) obviously matter.

I’ve just ordered 3 books that I’ve been meaning to read for 6 months now. I was lazy, so now I get to wait cause they’re all backordered. Don’t worry, Chris has books, and has been researching these subjects since grad school, so I got stuff to do. The books I’m waiting on:

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, by Reni Eddo-Lodge

How To Be An Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi

If you made it here to the end, thank you for listening. Let’s all keep listening.

nameit

I saw this from Latasha Morrison’s stories this morning on IG, really hit home to me. Posted by Daniel Hill (@danielhill1336).

The New Normal, Thor’s Memorial

Two years ago, Thor left us for several weeks. We thought he was gone for good, and then the powers of facebook happened, and he was returned (from 5 miles and 2 highways away). While he was gone, I wrote an obituary for him, which then was made null and void. After he returned in March of 2018, he continued to be a reincarnated grumpy old man with a heart of gold, trying to redeem himself and help the world around him. During that time, he continued to calm us when we were stressed, and to bite us when we didn’t get him food fast enough.

There was one night when Jack was having an SPD meltdown and was scream/crying in the shower. Thor had asked to go outside, and I ran to the backdoor to let him out. When I opened the door, Thor hesitated, looking out and then back at the bathroom door where the distraught voice was emanating from. He did this several times, and then went back in the other part of the house. 20 minutes later, I had managed to get a still sobbing Jack into his bed, but it was not looking good. And there was Thor, hopping up with us, slowly and insistently walking up on Jack. Laying down. Purring super loud. I knew exactly what Thor had done for Jack, and for me. And I was grateful.

It should have occurred to me why he did what he did yesterday. But it didn’t until the middle of the night last night. Thor’s been not exactly himself for many months now. He hadn’t lost his mind. But he had stopped biting altogether. He was also less cuddly. He lost eyesight in one eye. He had cancer. We still had sweet moments. But mostly our interaction was trying to find ways to help him eat, which became more and more of an uphill battle we were losing.

So yesterday (Friday), when we were close to the end, and I was holding him and crying, a lot, I only thought how sweet and gut wrenching it was that he was so much more relaxed and apparently happy and comfortable in my arms. As I was telling the vet (through masks because covid) his story and how special he was to us, he stood up to greet her, and then curled himself so deep into my arms, wrapping both front paws around one of my arms. It got to everyone, but I still didn’t recognize. He wasn’t showing them that he loved me. He was, one last time, comforting me in my distress. In my sadness and my anxiety, which he felt and gravitated towards, he gave me the last of his almost exhausted strength.

I am grateful. I wish we had had more than 9 years. I can be thankful and angry.

Yesterday morning, I took this, while he was in agony, about to puke, again (wish I had realized sooner what was happening). When I looked back later, I noticed St. Francis in the background. And that gave me some good thoughts.

And then he walked, slowly and kind of sideways, and found a cozy place to collapse.

Thor was gorgeous and ridiculously soft (he didn’t let us pet him enough). And he was ours. And we’ll miss him.

If you want to see him in all his glory, you can look on IG, search #thorthemustachecat.

Thank you to all of my friends and family who have sent loving notes and emojis, and called me so I could cry and process.

We made a marker for him yesterday afternoon, and I planted irises my dear friend unknowingly fortuitously sent earlier in the week. 

The New Normal, Mom’s Birthday

[Written 4/16/2020; posted late because the editor is negligent.]

Yesterday I had friends over to socialize distantly in the backyard. Chris and I ran and got more firewood from his dad’s stash. Driving around, I had a minute away from the kids to reflect. I told Chris it still all feels so strange. Maybe even more so now, and why are we doing all this, if it’s just like the flu? I’m so flipping tired of wiping down groceries, and all the anxiety if you think maybe you didn’t get it perfect, or god forbid you touch your face. And I just want to quit. But it’s not the flu. I know that; Chris and I talked again about how different this is. Thank goodness it doesn’t kill like SARS. Thank goodness it’s not as severe with kids (although some have died). But this virus is not like the common flu. It’s better at what it does, very efficient. [Ed: see also this, this, and this.] And the timing is what really gets us, this whole two weeks of not showing symptoms. It appears that we are beginning to ramp up here locally with cases. There is very little testing happening. I have a friend who lives about 30 minutes away, and needs to be tested, and all the testing facilities in Dallas are closed. Hmm. Her specialist is having trouble getting any of his patients tested. I have another young healthy friend who is recovering who said, “I had a mild case and it hands down is the worst I’ve ever felt in my human life.” You don’t want to get this. Really.

On the other hand, I’ve been reassuring family through texts, who might have been exposed. It’s not ebola. It’s not the plague. They should be ok. This is also true.

When we got back from getting wood, I had a moment of inspiration, and told Mom we should drive around the area she grew up in this morning for her birthday.

We had trouble finding the creek, or the bridge over the creek where the turn off to her Granny’s was. But we ran straight into the cemetery (used to be a church, too), where her family is buried. She was sad to see the huge old oak gone —it died last summer.

And then we tried again for the creek. I saw two irises amidst the wild flora as we drove, and, thinking about that, I felt like I had just seen white rock. So mom turned around, and we found it.

The creek she had spent every Sunday afternoon in or around, as a girl. She would “fall in” and lay out on the rocks until her clothes dried. So many memories playing with cousins (of which there were many). And sometimes her Granny would get in with them and fish for tadpoles. We could just see the roof of her Granny’s house from the creek, still there!

Walking around to get a closer look, there were the irises, in the remains of her Granny’s front yard. We couldn’t get up to the house, but I wanted to so bad. We might have to go back.

Driving on country roads, I was telling her how Chris looks out at the rolling grass and shrubs, and loves it; I look out and see chiggers and ticks. So many ticks. She told me her mom would happily let her run in the fields (like all the time, her dad had a farm as well). They just planned that there would be a full body tick check, and pull off the little suckers, before bed.

I got to thinking about our lifestyle. How that’s not part of our day to day life, and the thought of dealing with it is anxiety producing. But for them, it was just general maintenance. Like taking a shower. And that lack of anxiety, coupled with vigilance, meant freedom. I can just see my mom running wild and free, not one or two times, but as a lifestyle. And I think we’ve lost something.

Mom doesn’t seem to be struggling so hard with the current changes. Then I thought about my exhaustion with all the corona dos and don’ts. Maybe the answer is just this: don’t panic and be vigilant. Figuring out the gravity of this is almost impossible, because things change daily. We won’t know any solid statistics for months or years. And everyone’s bending numbers and ideas around different directions.

Yesterday, in telling Chris how I felt like giving up, even though I know why we’re still doing this, I was like, I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s tired. And this is how we’ll lose traction really fast. We’ve done well, here. Could we keep it going just a little longer? We still need to wipe down our groceries. We still need to wash our hands. A lot. We still need to practice social distancing. Actually more than we realized we would need to at the beginning of all this. It’s hard. It’s emotionally devastating for some, and definitely worse than wiping down groceries, or evening tick checks. Luckily this is not forever! Let’s help each other be creative. What are you missing? What have you tried? Maybe we could try something else.

Has someone found something that worked for them? Let’s talk about it. Our sweet friends social distanced in our front yard a month ago. And it still makes me happy to think about.

Bear had a hard time that night when they left, but admitting we’re hurting is part of this whole thing. And not letting go of each other is helpful.

Just being out in the fresh air all morning today was amazing. Getting to go somewhere and not be worried… wow. Mom and I are making plans to take Bear to the creek, and possibly abscond with some irises from the now huge patch at Granny’s.

This afternoon we came home and started working on Mom’s cake, which was a whole big thing. I saw it a few months ago on instagram, this 6-Layer Salted Caramel Cake with Swoopy Chocolate Frosting. Elanor baked the cakes while we were gone this morning. It took the third try to get the caramel right this afternoon. The icing took two tries. And in the end, it was pretty messy. But crazy good.

Dinner. Cake. Then we all watched the new Emma, per Mom’s request. We enjoyed all of it immensely.

I just keep thinking about that creek. The deep feeling of childhood magic. I had no idea how perfect it would be. And I’ve always loved my mother’s stories. Today is a gift. I’m grateful.

The New Normal, Easter Edition

Confessional:

For 8 years, this holiday has not felt quite right to me. And I’ve fought it. I’ve worked so hard to scoop up everything I could that would fill in the gap. This year, I finally give up. Completely. I haven’t done church, online. I haven’t even read the devotionals I intended to; I might still, tonight. While I’m writing this, I remember (in-time as opposed to this morning) there’s a church service I do want to stream right now. Be right back. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Mom and I sat together on her couch and streamed Church at Texoma’s live Facebook service. And it breaks me down further, just how I need to be. Beautiful readings, the liturgy is always poignant, and Aaron Brown’s sermons from the last few weeks are worth a listen. When it was over, we sat and discussed briefly the upside-down way that God in Jesus came and worked, and the lessons for us.

My identity was entirely caught up in church, and my place in it. I didn’t realize how much I thought I was “safe” because of where I sat. But the limbo I was thrown into eight years ago still surfaces.

When my dad began to really not be himself, I didn’t even have time, much less strength, to realize I didn’t know myself. When he returned to his right mind completely, but only for brief moments, four years later, it was horribly painful to find myself again, and realize I had been lost. I would say that whole experience was mostly awful for me. Those things did not “happen for a reason.” One thing gained was my sense of self through my father’s eyes, and the ability to let it go. To have that happen at the same time I lost my church community, well, I flail.

I’ve been dragging my family to multiple churches, especially on Easter, for years. Trying to get everything for everyone. And, I think, trying to get that sense of self. People who know me now, and didn’t then, I still feel like don’t really know who I am. But I shove all that aside, and mostly don’t look at it. I focus on what I can do. Like I did with my dad. And what’s interesting is, I’m not that person. I’m different than I was eight years ago, and I’m definitely different than I was before I lost Dad, all the ways and times I lost him.

I’m not the only one who’s trying right now to navigate a deep change in life, and possibly a deep change in purpose, or perceived purpose. Losing the places we go, and our identity within that. Easter has reminded me, I’m still right here. Grieving. And I’m done refusing to acknowledge that I’m here. I feel sad about so many things. It can be traced to selfishness. I’m sad for the loss of relationships and work that made me feel like me.

I have a friend who’s been mostly homebound for four or five years now. We sang beautiful music together. We were working on the most gorgeous Latin chant pieces she had found (really old music) when it fell apart for us eight years ago. Music for Lent. And Easter. She told me last week that she’s been unable to go to church for so long, she’s lost the rhythm almost completely. Every day feels like every day. Two other members of that small group have passed away. I ache for those moments, singing with them all. But I know better than to actually want it back. (I got my Dad back, and it was horrifically painful, and then I got to lose him over and over again until we were all finally released. I still can’t pull that apart and figure it out.) My friend has many sufferings to endure right now, in this moment. I can’t do anything but love her, and honor her honesty.

I have other friends in similar emotional and physical turmoil. Then we read stories, and truly the suffering is great in the world right now. Our lives are quieter, and we can’t distract from it all the ways we did before. We feel sad, and guilty, and powerless. Many of us can’t do the things that made us feel useful, and absolved maybe. Let’s not unpack that here.

Trying to make church, or home-life normal right now is not possible, but I’m finding it also impossible to even grasp for it today. It’s good to be forced to be still. I’ve let other traditions for Easter distract me from my pain. And this year they are pretty much all gone.

We did manage a sweet Easter egg hunt in our yard. With our in-laws, and my mil’s giant bunny cake. Good, but different.

I’m glad we did it. I’m sad we weren’t at their house. They were not inside of ours (social distancing). And then I realize, those first few years without my old church, dealing with Dad’s decline, I used their house and those traditions to keep me from feeling sad. I’m sad this year. Nothing feels quite right. Which takes me back to dealing with my dad in general. And I just want to run away. But I can’t.

Here’s my promise to myself: It’s ok to not feel secure in my place in the universe. I know that sounds crazy. Maybe it would be better to say, it’s ok to stop the flailing about for security and identity. It’s not working anyway. The parts of myself I feel like I’ve lost, that death, is real. It’s ok to mourn. I think I’ve been holding on, and waiting for everything to be normal again.

The world and our place in it, is likely to not ever be exactly as it was. The truth is, change is always happening, but this drastic change will be felt deeper, it is and will be traumatic. For me, it has illuminated the traumas I’m still peeling away. I bet I’m not the only one. Maybe for some, Covid-19 in and of itself is that trauma that’s knocking them on their butt.

Last week, I think it was Chris who said, Lent will last for an extra 364 days—we’ll see you all Easter 2021. Yeah, kind of.

I know new birth happens. I know it does. But also, loss is real. My mother lost her mom when she was pregnant with me. She mother endured that loss, and still does. It won’t ever be right. Around the time I got married, my mother had a very strange dream: her hands were covered in blood, and she was so joyful. It was bizarre, she told friends about it, and they all wondered… and thought about spiritual meanings.

A year later, she delivered her first grandchild, blood on her hands, and a joy, a high, she could not have possibly anticipated. In those first few months of being a grandmother, my dad told me that every time she was with Elanor and I, it was like “gravy.” It was healing. It was the opposite of harming. It was new life.

The cross, the suffering, is still a part of it all. And triumph is not what we think it’s going to look like. And Easter joy is sometimes a long time coming. This should give us hope right now. As things continue to not feel right. As suffering extends itself.

DSCF2863

Thank you to my mother in law for taking pictures today. And Jack took the bunny cake picture.

The New Normal, Day 24 (I think)

We cleaned the sandbox; it’s been a few days, I forget when. Bear facetimed his cousin, who just turned 5, and played in the sandbox while she watched. I like to sit and look at my phone, with my toes in the sand while he plays. Rey decided her favorite spot was in my strawberry patch, but that was a while ago too.

Well. Here we are. And here we stay, for now. It’s been a while. I’ve had ideas. I’ve been tired. And more tired. Stress will do that. Grief will do that. Several people told me what we are all feeling is grief. I had a little denial, but then for reals, I got angry. Angry at our leaders, close, and far away. And deep sadness. People are dying, and suffering. Gosh, guys, it’s getting real. Here’s the thing, some people still don’t feel it, and maybe enough of us are doing our job isolating, that those people who haven’t understood, will walk away from all this feeling smug, because it never got that bad, just like they thought. Maybe that’s how it’ll work.

Isolation sucks. For us, it doesn’t. I mean, there are some things that are difficult, but we have each other. And love each other, and are committed to making it through this together. We have tools to deal with conflict. We have grace. We have mostly realistic expectations of each other. We get snappy. We get angry. We forgive. No joke, really, Chris and I have fought. The kids have fought. We’ve fought with the kids. We’ve worked through. We’ll do it again. Bottom line is, we have love, and when push comes to shove, we bend towards that love. We are flipping lucky.

qd23-LornaJack

I put on make-up for the first time today, because there was a Zoom church thing. Make-up was probably not necessary, but fun.

The biggest reason we are lucky: we are not physically alone. We have touch. Sometimes more than we want, when Bear starts throwing himself all over one of us saying, “I’m gonna getcha! I’m gonna getcha!” Weirdo.

Seriously, though, as humans, we need physical contact with each other. It’s necessary for life. And some of us will go without it. For possibly a year. God forbid, maybe more. And there a consequences to this. Deep consequences. I think my mil sent me this, but then I found it again randomly, and it’s probably worth paying attention to. The psychological damage of being alone (or maybe worse, with someone who hurts you), is real and lasting. And Zoom is not actually a replacement. I have a friend who got a puppy, who is ADORABLE, and he might actually be a decent replacement. Let’s just remember to revisit these thoughts about mental health, and touch and connection, as we go along, and when this winds down.

Truth is, I feel incredibly grateful for social media these days. How else would we be able to enjoy each other through all of this? And oh my goodness, how we are enjoying each other! Indoor plumbing has always made me happy, just to think about, hot water, right here, when I want it. I mean, it’s pretty amazing. And I believe for many of us, social media is something similar. Not necessary for survival, technically, but life is so much better. I think we’re better: kinder to each other overall, because of it. Who knew the internet was a miracle?

Bear has been doing @wendy_mac ‘s fantastic #drawtogether free art for kids of all ages everyday live on IG at 12pm Central Time. And from the first day, it helped the atmosphere in the whole house. We got his friends to do it with him, and we text each other pictures. And enjoy each other.

We are doing this super corporate thing right now. We all feel it, the world pulling together. A collective sadness. A shared anxiety.

All of us separate, so all of us integrally connected. Emerging hope. I was reading Richard Rohr’s Universal Christ again last night. He speaks about a dark time while writing the book during 2016 (which seemed like a rough year at the time). His words feel perfect right now.

When we carry our small suffering in solidarity with the one universal longing of all humanity, it helps keep us from self-pity or self-preoccupation. We know that we are all in this together, and it is just as hard for everybody else. Almost all people are carrying a great and secret hurt, even when they don’t know it. When we can make the shift to realize this, it softens the space around our very defended hearts. It makes it hard to be cruel to anyone. It somehow makes us one—in a way that easy comfort and entertainment never can.

Over the last few weeks, I set up chairs and benches in my front/side yard to socialize, distantly. At first it caused a little anxiety, just being around people again. It felt risky.

Our friends brought their kids over a couple of weeks ago now. They sat on the sidewalk. Jack and Bear sat up in the yard. We talk/yelled at each other until it was dark. It felt good.

qd23-sideyard

If you need a moment, and want to sit in my yard when the weather is nice, do not hesitate. Call, text, message, come. In fact, one night, my friends and I sat out in the dark, while the rain drizzled down on us, and my feet froze. When this is over, you’re coming into my house, and sitting on my couch so close to me; I’ll be annoying. All of us huggers will have work to do, to unravel the twisted-up psyche of our society. Touch is good. I promise.

We’ve been taking lots of walks. Darby is getting spoiled. Today I let Bear walk her the last of the way home.

qd23-walk1

Tonight my kids (including Ella’s boyfriend) cooked marshmallows, twice. (You might be surprised how long it’s taken to lay our hands on big marshmallows, but Chris finally found some at the store today.) We had a little fire, with the last of our wood. Really, how lucky are we… and all of me just wants to figure out a way to share it.

Most nights Bear and I say a particular prayer from Compline in the Prayer Book, and then sing/chant the Lord’s Prayer (mostly because we’re lazy and don’t want to do all of Compline). The prayer goes:

Keep watch, Dear Lord, with those who work or watch or weep this night. Give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ. Give rest to the weary. Bless the dying. Sooth (Bear always adds “and shield”) the suffering. Pity the afflicted. Shield the joyous. And all for your love’s sake. Amen.

There was a time I thought of my dad, and my mom, and nursing homes, as I said these words. Now I still think of nursing homes, and hospitals. Doctors keeping watch. The sick, the weary, the dying, the suffering, the afflicted, the joyous. We are all one. Not separate. Not really.

The New Normal, Day 11

I went hog wild, so this will be a two-parter, or three-parter, I don’t know. [Editor’s note: it’s just one post, but longer than normal. You’ll manage.]

Things I’m going to talk about: homeschooling, crisis, kids being stuck at home, screens, dads not doing enough. Hopefully none of it will be exactly what you think, because then it would be boring.

Today I’ve been in bed all day (except when I made biscuits, so I’ll still be patting myself on the back tonight—oh oh! you could say the same about like brushing your teeth, just get up and brush your teeth, that’s enough to get a smile and a pat on your back, you’re doing good).

But yesterday I took pictures and engaged with my world a little better. Jack and Klint learned about and started playing a game mom ordered for Jack called Axis & Allies, about WWII, where you can rewrite history. Last night, after 7 hours, Jack thanked Klint, who said to him, “I love games like this, and no one ever played with me when I was a kid.” Some things are working out pretty well right now.

Bear played Minecraft quite a bit. Elanor did homework all day, and was only a little salty. Thor mostly sleeps.

Chris said it was time for Janet (our minivan, named after the character in “The Good Place”) to get a bath. So we decided to take Bear to the fancy new carwash in town. We got the works! Really great quarantine-approved experience.

My perspective on homeschooling and crisis is deeply shaped by the last 4.5 years. You might or might not need backstory. Now that I’ve written it I might as well post it.

In the fall of 2016 my world was thrown into chaos (even more so than right now) (there’s blog posts probably, I’m not gonna look back). I really hope nothing is ever as bad and ongoing as that was. My dad had “early onset” everything, and it all grew over a decade culminating in 2016. And it seemed it would last forever. In fact, without outside intervention (he developed an infection from a surgery, and that was it), we might still be in the middle of it.

My dad, as we would find out towards the end of 2016, was not only suffering from 7 different pain and auto-immune related diagnoses, and a lung disease (probably also auto-immune and genetic), but also he had Lewy Body dementia. This defines me less now than it did a few years ago, but it’s still a part of me. When my mom finally let us in, things were pretty bad. We spent that fall surviving and getting him into a nursing home in December (which sounds so easy writing it here, but IT IS NOT EASY GETTING SOMEONE INTO A NURSING HOME). And then our new normal was short periods of productivity, amidst low level constant stress, and spikes of panic. I took over pretty much all of dad’s appointments, and did most of the phone calling related to his care. I brought him over to our house, took him places, and took things to him several times a week. That was without the inevitable crises that would occur. So I was away from the kids long amounts of time. When I’d come home after being gone, I’d have a whiny annoying 4 year old, a crazed 9 year old, and a 13 year old who would immediately hole up in her room. The boys had had a lot of screens. She would say, “I’m sorry, I’m a bad parent, I just let them watch stuff.” I would tell her right away, “It’s ok, you’re not supposed to be a parent, thank you for feeding them.” And I would sometimes give them more screens. Crisis. But what I found was that when I was ready to dig back in, all I had to do was say “no” a lot to the 4 year old, and let the 9 year old hole up in his room with Legos and his audiobook. And that was coping. Really that and lots of attention and touch. After a day with no screens, we’d be ok again. Until the next time. We didn’t get a lot of school done. Really we didn’t. And of course I had a constant fear we weren’t doing enough, I wasn’t being enough, they weren’t getting enough.

And then I got very sick towards the end of 2017. On top of everything else, I ended up in bed for months. I had trouble walking any distance. And my kids were still here. And seriously, we didn’t do much school.

We are doing school now, because we’ve been through this before, and because homeschool is actually our normal. My mom, my husband, and I all do school with the boys. In fact, Elanor helped Jack with math last week. We outnumber them. My dad passed away almost 2 years ago now. If he was still here in the nursing home, if mom had not moved in with us, I don’t think much school would be happening right now. We’re in a good position at this point. But even at the best of times I feel like I’m not getting enough done with them. There’s always something else cool they’re missing out on, and I feel like I could do better. That’s what homeschool is, that’s the stress of it. We’re just used to it.

So my mil sent me this article by Jennie Weiner who is an associate professor of educational leadership. The article is about refusing to homeschool right now. She talks about only trying to get in the minimum work the school has sent them. And then basically letting them watch movies or whatever. Surviving, trying to love each other, while not being used to being cooped up in a space together FOREVER.

I know what this crisis feels like in a home. This slow burn we’re all experiencing together. The pressure that never really lets up. Our desire for what we want to give to our kids. Our actual emotional and physical capabilities.

If homeschool looked exactly like public school, but in your house, why would anyone do it? I’ve always said that. Why make your child sit at a desk for hours and hours? You can get the same amount of school done in a fraction of the time, when you’re working mostly one on one. It’s not even possible to have true positive intensity for that long at a time anyway. There has to be downtime. School does not need to be all day when you’re home.

Super parents out there right now, one-upping each other on who’s doing the best job, are simply continuing in the social-media-editing of their lives that we all do sometimes. My friends and I offer ideas to each other. Or inspiration. If one of us has had luck with something, we want to share it. We want to help each other. But we should all be careful about the parents out there watching and feeling really crappy. Everyone feels crappy, I promise! It comes and goes in waves.

About screens: I saw a post a long time ago, and have no idea how to find it now (let me know if you recognize it). This mom had a LOT of kids, and posted her top 10 pieces of advice to parents. I remember 3 of them. One was, have lots of sex. Ok. One was, when you’re getting really tired of your toddlers, dress them up in cute clothes, little adorable shoes. This one is problematic, I’ll admit, but also true; a clean, sweetly dressed toddler is pretty easy to smile at, no lie. And I was thinking it might be fun to reverse this one, and the grown ups get all cute, and let the toddlers take pictures. Or everyone have a dress up day! (Quarantine antics!)  The third piece of advice I remember had to do with screen time. “Screens kill the imagination,” or something like that. She went on to say, though, that it takes only a couple of hours of detox, and your child will come right back to playing happily. She’s right.

We all have to survive this time. Let’s say it’s a whole year… lots of screens. Some of us will get into a rhythm. Some of us will flail more, and THAT’S OK.

We went a long time in survival mode. My kids are ok. Elanor just got accepted to Austin College a year early. (Don’t know what that’ll look like now.) Your kids will be fine, even if they did nothing for a year. I promise. Resilience is reality.

(But, if your child is being an ass, take screens away for a day. It hurts at first, but it’ll help.)

And now let’s talk about this from Jennie’s article:

I want to send a message to parents, and in particular to working moms, who will inevitably take on most of this home labor along with working remotely: This is going to be messy and that is OK.

This makes me nuts, because it’s true and ACCEPTED, like it can’t be changed.

In the last year or two [Ed: it was last May] Chris sent me this article, then he came to me in the house, and said, “I want you to read this, and call me on it when I do this.” WHEN. I don’t like to go on and on about my perfect husband, cause he’s not, and I hate it when people do that, because it usually eventually becomes obvious how hollow this praise truly is. All that said, my husband is the best, perfectly imperfect, willing to grow, and my favorite. I really think you should just read the article. Then we can continue.

Reading it, I could see patterns in our marriage more clearly. For example, in the first couple of years, Chris stopped doing the laundry. He ruined a couple of garments, and instead of listening to me about it, he was just like, “you want it done a certain way, so you can do it yourself.” I mean, garments get ruined sometimes, things happen. But he couldn’t deal with that feeling of failure (which I know is hard, but). He couldn’t stay in it long enough to learn from me. In fact, the resistance to learning from women is there more than I think most men realize, or even women. It’s so pervasive, it’s under the radar.

Chris has always been more engaged in our household than the other dads around us. But when I got sick a few years ago, he upped his game. He asked questions, and took over the laundry. He still cooks the majority of meals here, even after I’ve mostly recovered. I will say, he does waffle into martyrdom at times. I compare him to a working housewife from back in the day, which he agrees with. And what working housewife from the 80s and 90s didn’t feel resentment. Honestly, women even now feel this way (like I said, read the article)—there’s still a discrepancy between what men think they’re contributing, and what they actually are giving percentage-wise. Chris being the only actual exception I know. And he’s willing to admit he could still slip; in fact, he expects he will slip up.

The very few times I have called Chris on this behavior, he has immediately stopped and listened, without defensiveness. And I would say that’s a lot of why he’s the best. He hasn’t always been this way, but he’s been on this path. If you’re a dad and reading this, READ THE ARTICLE. Maybe you’re on the path, maybe you could get on the path now.

For something completely different: Chris’s mom and brother were wondering how many chopsticks Chris could fit in his beard yesterday. (Quarantine antics!) So here you go…

And I think Bear must have taken this while Chris was working on lunch yesterday.

qd11-chriscook

Life goes on.

The New Normal, Day 9

When I was a child, I loved Tornado warnings. Well, I didn’t know that’s what it was called. I just loved the part where we’d all crawl into the big closet connecting mine and my brother’s bedrooms with blankets, pillows, flashlights, snacks. Or my favorite was getting into the storm cellar in the backyard, and family, friends and neighbors all piling in. The guys would stand outside and watch the sky. My mom would sing songs with us. And play games. It’s not that we didn’t have that kind of time normally. My parents were affectionate and engaged. I’m not sure what my problem was. The excitement? Certainly there was a sense of community with the storm cellar scenario, and we were including people, which feels good.

So now I find myself tapping into my inner child, when I feel the adult stress pulling on me. It’s nice to have a full house, to have enough to share with neighbors. But how weird is this social distancing? We literally can’t reach out to our neighbors and friends for comfort. And that’s going to get harder. I think I’m trying to steel myself to something that can’t be prepared for. When the best thing we can do is stay home, what about those that can’t? And we all will have sat here and watched, while the world is changing.

I saw something that made me happy on Instagram a few days ago. These young adults are picking up the slack to help the elderly and at-risk demographics in their areas. There are still no hugs, but there’s tangible love.

We went for a walk today, Chris & I, Darby, Elanor & Klint. The world before this is lost, whether we realize it or not. Here’s a (not) fun thing. And here’s a worse thought (I’m not even reading this right now, I can’t). The world after is unknown, but possibly filled with exciting adventure. I want to steel myself to the suffering between. But I can’t. We will have to love and empathize and feel and help. We’ll have to adapt how we do those things. We’ll have to view, if not recognize, how our society’s failings have become fatal. And the marginalized—the homeless, the newly homeless, those on the edges—they will pay for our lack for foresight, and our lack of fore-compassion. I wonder if Richard Rohr is right. I wonder if we are on the brink of a new evolutionary step. Would we choose sacrifice for someone else’s good? Humanity coming into focus and bearing one another’s burdens. That is an awesome and humbling thought. Surely that’s what our medical staffs and our first responders are headed into, and not for the first time. Is our path so bleak, really, if so many are already willing?

Mom asked me today if we hate the haters. Really speaking of the hoarders and the ones in it for themselves alone. I said no. Richard Rohr says:

Don’t start by trying to love God, or even people; love rocks and elements first, move on to trees, then animals, and then humans. Angels will soon seem like a real possibility, and God is then just a short leap away.

Which sounds like Marie Kondo for your heart & soul & mind. And see if it doesn’t work. If you go back to loving rocks and trees (and I do, I truly love rocks… and plants… and water), you cannot exclude anyone from love. We are all made of light, pressed together. We may start acting like it, who knows.

Now I will leave you with the Corned Beef from scratch that’s been marinating in fancy salt to turn it pink for over a week in our fridge. Chris did a beautiful job tonight with our traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal. We watched Waking Ned Divine.

There was a lone cardinal way up high in a tree while I started this post this afternoon. He called, and called loudly. Life continues, in all its avenues. We are not all there is, or all there will be.

I made Gran’s Chocolate Sauce impulsively after dinner, and poured it on bananas. Who doesn’t like to look at chocolate…

The New Normal, Day 6

Last Wednesday morning, I went to the chiropractor with the boys, and complained about people trying to ruin my fun. “I mean, I know we’re going to have to quarantine, but I don’t want to do it early,” says me a week ago. “Is it really time?” I had plans. We went to Target, and I was like, “Is it really that different than the flu?” I wanted to go places. But I felt a little under the weather with fatigue and gave up Dallas on my own. That night, Chris sat us down and convinced us. Self-isolating.

He convinced us because of Mom. Because Elanor and I take a long time to recover from even simple things. Of course I’ve worried that one of us already has it. We still could. But somewhere in there, it shifted from being low level panicked every time one of us coughed or sneezed or had a scratchy throat; it shifted to relief that if one of us does have it, we’re not walking around giving it to anyone else. If one of us gets it, we’ll deal with it, but we won’t worry about having spread it. That’s a privilege. Some people cannot self-isolate. Our first responders to start.

It’s only been 6 days. We’re eating like kings. School is a little more consistent. We’re actually getting more exercise (so far). Now we look around and worry for our neighbors. For the businesses that won’t make it, and the families who’ll suffer. This is really rough stuff. We’re all figuring out how to weather it. We’ve got to stop white knuckling now, and find our peace in helping one another.

Be kind to yourself, too. Last night I was thinking about all the people with kids at home, trying to work, trying to think straight, stressed out. When we were first married in San Antonio, I kept getting diagnosed with various chronic pain illnesses (probably all EDS related as it turns out). Eight months in, we were pregnant. A year and a half in, we had a baby. And I was trying to survive. I got very little done. And somewhere in all that, I began to stop hating my body, and I began to stop self-condemning. It was work I gave myself at the end of the day, to pat myself on the back for what I HAD gotten done, and to truly let go of what I had not managed to do. I washed dishes today! I got laundry moved through, TWICE, and I’m letting go of the fact that I didn’t get it folded. Is everyone fed? You’re golden.

It took willpower to shift my thinking. To not hear the judgmental voices in my head. But it was a lot easier to get up the next day and try hard, when I felt I was winning something. If you feel like you’re losing, it’s a quick shut down on motivation. Win at being kind to yourself. Win at being kind in general. Pat yourself on the back, and go be even better tomorrow.

If you’re feeling a tug to help somewhere, my friend and neighbor Leslie would love it if you gave yourself to this local cause. She’s having a hard time self-isolating and not being there herself. She’s one of the most amazing people I know, truly gives her all for the marginalized and forgotten. She and Jack went for a walk today, 6 feet apart. She’s helping us now just by existing, and she has much more to do on the other side of all this.

I did yoga outside in the sunshine today, FaceTiming with my mil. At the end I opened my eyes to see Rey sleeping on the chair beyond me; she snuck up their while I was listening to the birds. So when I went outside at dusk by myself, I snuck up on her, and stayed there listening to the birds until it was dark.

Feature image: The three older kids playing scrabble tonight, while I finish this and try to get Bear to actually go to sleep.

The New Normal, Day 5

Today has been the usual ups and downs. Jack’s had a rougher time of it. He started the day with a plummet, and lots of pushups to pull himself back up. This is a crazy house. It always is. Lots of laughing. Less screaming than there used to be, but still, wow. People are not coming and going like usual, but we definitely don’t feel lonely. I’m glad we’re here altogether. But also, we’re going to get tired. More tired. We’ll have to put more and more effort in to not offend or take offense. I will get tired of playing referee. But I will insist on playing it, and annoy everyone.

But back to today. We got a lot done. Jack got a lot done. And he drew every in-between moment.

Sometimes, the things he does make me feel.

qd5-drawing3

Thor (the mustache cat).

I’m sad we’re missing our St. Patrick’s Day tradition with friends this year. We make food all day, enjoying each other, reading, dealing with kids if we have to. We have an amazing dinner. Irish car bombs. VeggieTales Sumo of the Opera. Drink more. Eat Kathryn’s Grasshopper pie. Drink. Watch some other Irish-related movie. Honestly, just writing this here has made me happy. What wonderful times. Lucky.

You can click here to see my instagram post from last year in Fayetteville; there might be matching pjs.

qd5-rey

Currently I am being cuddled by Rey, and I can look up and see Thor. Life is weird. I’m grateful.

The New Normal, Day 4

I saw a post about not trying to school your kids, not having pressure or an agenda. I love that. For me. But I don’t love my kids’ attitudes when they get too much free time. We made it through the kids’ school and chores today. Chris set up to work in Mom’s room away from the noise. I think it worked. Maybe there’s a balance. Because we definitely don’t need more pressure, or to feel like we’re not accomplishing enough.

There was a balance we were trying to get to before this, and I think it’s still a goal. Do as much as we can today without overloading the circuits. Try a little more tomorrow. Or try a little less if we’re feeling overwhelmed. Most importantly, don’t self-condemn for not getting enough done. We have to occupy the boys’ time with some amount of structure, always, or we pay. But it doesn’t look like anyone else’s version of structure. And yours doesn’t need to either.

Bear had to move the bricks 3 times this morning, right out of the gate. Full disclosure: there was a lot of screaming from him, and some of our household was still waking up. He was mad. And then somewhere in the middle of the first stack, he got focused. You should have seen him when he got done, he was so proud of himself. Then he had an incredibly productive day. Got all his school done, and mopped a bunch, and helped me garden. He’s currently playing Settlers of Catan with Mom, while Jack draws.

I got my herb garden planted yesterday. And Mom and Bear did a great job on the veggies in buckets. The bradford pear trees were spitting off so many petals today, it looked like it was snowing.

My poor succulents got flooded on the side porch after being kept happy inside all winter. I’m a bad plant Mom. So I’ve repotted, but I still need to clean them up.

This gorgeous fuzzy beast Becky gave me is happy inside still, and it made babies. A couple of them have been transplanted. We’ll see.

QD4-hairybaby2

What was your day like? Normal? New normal? Super strange? Unsettling? Were you sad? It sucks we can’t physically get help to each other. Humans need each other, and touch. Does it make you feel better when people say “hugs” in an email or letter? It makes me happy to read it, but I wonder, if you’re desperately missing the real thing, if it would feel good. I’d like to get better at loving my neighbor. “Sending love” might fall very flat right now. But it’s pretty much all I’ve got. I’m sorry if you’re struggling.