Blip.

I am the first to admit that I am struggling without access to friends and places. I am the first to say that my anxiety is through the roof, that I am sick of looking at the inside of my house, that ordering out has completely lost its appeal, that I hate thinking ahout wearing masks and buying masks and worrying about masks.

But also: when my 11-year-old looks back on his life 70 years from now, this will be a blip on his radar. I mean, it will be a bright blip. He will remember it vividly forever, but it will be a blip nonetheless. A year. Two maybe. Three, if we are incredibly unlucky (which, based on 2020 overall so far, we kinda are.) But it won’t be forever. Even though it’s hard to see it happening now, eventually this virus will be manageable, whether through herd immunity or a vaccination or some other treatment. It will not ruin everything forever.

It’s important for me to remind myself of this. A hundred years ago and with way less science, the Spanish Flu eventually ceased to be an issue. I have to believe that this will not be forever. And I do. And now I want everyone else to believe it, too.

It’s ok not to join the pool this summer. It’s ok not to go get a haircut or send your kids back to school (if your schedule can accommodate that.) I know we are all sick of being inside and wearing masks and we are grieving all of the losses of this first year much like a widow grieves each new season. But it’s going to be a blip on the radar one day. So just hang on. Maybe don’t go to the beach and sit unmasked next to a hundred people. Maybe don’t go to the hair salon that opened up before it was allowed. Maybe skip the swim club this summer. If we could do it for three months, we can do it for a little bit more.

At least, here’s hoping.

Bullets.

  • The “excitement” of the protests is dying down and, predictably, so is the activism. I hope that the thrust of letter-writing, book-reading, article-sharing, sign-holding, and other activism has moved the needle some, but even if it has, it’s not enough and it’s not time to stop. It’s hard to motivate a bunch of comfortable people to take action. Inertia and everything. But inertia works both ways: an object in motion also tends to stay in motion. We can’t stop moving now. There’s still so much work to be done.
  • Every day I watch people walk down the sidewalk past my house while I am working in our sunporch. Nine times out of ten (which is not an exaggeration) they are either not wearing masks or wearing masks around their chins as they talk. These are groups of teenagers, carrying snacks and sodas from Wawa. Pairs of moms pushing double strollers. Quads of Boomers out for an afternoon stroll. I have to believe that these people either don’t believe the science, don’t understand the responsibility they have to others, or believe it, understand it, and have still decided that their personal comfort is more important. I hate to wish illness on anyone, but is that what it will take for people to just do what they’re told? The message isn’t ambiguous. No one is saying that wearing masks and staying home might help, but we’re not sure. They’re saying this is what works. Do it. And yet…
  • If I ever doubted my extroversion, these past three months are cementing it for me. I miss people and outings and hugging so much. Also: pedicures and haircuts and eating out. But not enough to go out and do them. That said, I have caved to socially distant outdoor (kid and adult) playdates. We’re picking and choosing very carefully and taking all the precautions. It feels like an essential activity. We’re in the eye if the storm; I’m sure of it. And this stuff won’t even be an option come fall.

Nothing.

I keep going to Facebook to publish some status about…what, exactly? I’m not sure. Everything I think to write doesn’t make sense. “What’s on your mind?” That used to be all I needed for a prompt. What’s on my mind? Oh, you know. Some reality TV bullshit. Some awesome snack I just made. Some parenting humblebrag.

What’s on my mind these days is hardly fit for a little box on Facebook. Not today. Not in the middle of this. So I’m silent. What’s on your mind? Nothing. But also everything.

There’s this game I play when I have trouble falling asleep (which used to be basically never.) I go through the alphabet letter by letter, thinking of one thing I saw or did during the day that begins with that letter. I almost never make it to “H” before falling asleep. I really only had to bust it out once a month or less — usually when I was woken in the middle of the night by something and just needed to get back to sleep. But these days, it’s every single night. It’s the routine now. I can’t shut my brain off and this is such a weird space for me to be in. Never an over-thinker (at bedtime anyway — always during the day!) Never a mind-racer or an insomniac or someone unable to quiet my mind. I have to work really hard to focus on the alphabet letters every night now. It’s like meditation. Keep clearing my mind. Starting over. And this is always past 1am, my quarantine bedtime — when I am so tired I can’t see straight. And yet.

The loop: Schedules. Activities. Groceries. Meal-planning. School in the fall? Social bubbles? Masks that fit. Masks that don’t. Face shields? Backyard haircuts. Teacher gifts. Travel. My parents. Racism. Fear. Wifi. Zoom links. Weather. Disappointment. Anxiety. So much anxiety.

So, what’s on my mind? Everything. All the things. And also? Nothing.

 

All of This.

There are three ongoing conversations in my head all the time. One is about The Who and how I am managing him during all of this. The second is All of This. And another is My Face. It’s late and I’m not sure I have the energy to get through them all, so I should start with the least palatable one (to me.)

1. My face. I’m looking at my face all the time these days. So much more often than I ever did before. There was always the first look in the morning — the close examination in the magnifying mirror in the bathroom. Checking to see if any zits cropped up overnight that needed attention, looking to see how my rosacea fared while I was sleeping. Then there was probably a distanced glance in the full-length mirror without my glasses on while I was getting dressed. Once more, if there was time, up close again, in the car before going into the office. A quick swipe of the mascara wand. Eyeliner. And that was really it. Maybe I’d check my hair while washing my hands at work, but more often than not, it was a cursory rinse and then a minute under the air dryer before I was back at my desk.

This new lifestyle (and my inclination was to write my new lifestyle, but it’s not mine; we’ve all got it) is forcing me to basically look in the mirror almost all goddamn day. And it’s not a flattering mirror, either. It’s either the phone or the laptop, both from terrible angles. If I don’t stack my device on top of a pillow on top of a box on top of my lap, the image of myself I’m constantly staring at is reminiscent of a Hutt gangster from Tatooine.  (I only knew that because I googled. Full disclosure: I’ve seen Star Wars exactly twice: once when it first came out, in a drive-in movie theatre in the late 70s in footie pajamas in the folded down backseat of my dad’s Gremlin and then again last week.)

So, yeah. My face. My big, enormous, red-nosed stupid face is constantly on my mind because it’s constantly staring at me. It’s a lose-lose. You have to be stuck inside with yourself for the foreseeable future and also? You have to constantly look at your pasta-fed, pasty-ass face while you’re doing it.

2. All of this. It’s self-explanatory, isn’t it, though? All of this? These days, I am having visceral reactions to red counties turning yellow and businesses opening up before it’s time and photos of people in other states sitting next to each other like it doesn’t matter anymore. I keep thinking I should cull my Facebook feed to only include the people who think like I do so I don’t have to see things like people going to get haircuts, having family barbecues, heading to the shore.

So, there’s that. The agita. Also, there’s this: tonight, before I came up to bed, I shuffled into the kitchen to put my PBJ plate in the sink (this is a new ritual: the nightly PBJ.) I cycled through the following thoughts in the space of two seconds, in this order: It’s so clean in here. I’m glad I did the dishes earlier so I don’t have to do them now. I swear I didn’t do the dishes every night before this. I do dishes all the time now. I cook a lot of meals. I should put in an Instacart order because we’re running low on eggs. Why do we eat so many eggs? Instacart is so expensive. I wish there was another way that felt safe to me. What would I buy right now anyway? Chicken, I guess. We keep eating the same thing. I don’t have the impetus to think up new recipes. Or even to look them up.  I am so. sick. of. all. of. this.

Then I shut off the light, shut off the tv, came upstairs, checked on The Who, and came in here. It’s the same every single night. I go to bed at the same(ish) time, wake up at the same(ish) time, eat the same(ish) foods, talk to the same(ish) people, play the same(ish) board games with my family, work on the same(ish) craft projects, and then repeat. The nothingness is exhausting. The ennui is real.

And, y’know what? Even though I am complaining about the repetition and the boredom, I actually don’t want it to end. I don’t want to be one of those people in other states sitting next to people like nothing ever happened. And isn’t that a kick in the ass? To both want something desperately and not want it desperately at the same time? All of this. That’s what I mean.

3. Turns out I was right. I don’t actually have it in me to write about all three tonight. The last one will have to wait.

 

News.

If we’re being honest, I was doing much better when I was off the news. Somehow in the last several days, after the initial woe of the beginning of week three wore off, I decided that I was ready to dive back into watching and listening to news. I started back with my regular morning podcast, stopped protesting the evening MSNBC that my wife likes, and fell asleep to either the Rachel Maddow podcast or the Daily Show podcast. None of these things in and of themselves is terribly heavy-handed as far as reporting goes. They are all way left-leaning, straightforward, and some even lighthearted. But whereas I had gotten good at boundary-setting around my daily news intake earlier on in this whole shitshow, I got lax recently. And I am paying for it now.

I feel like there has to be a good middle ground between some and none. The Who seems to actually have found it. He says he limits himself to one news podcast per week and only watches a few virus-related videos every now and then. A quick review of the last 15 videos he watched on YouTube reveals only one about COVID (Boris Johnson’s hospitalization) and the rest, variations on a few different themes: “How The American Flag Got Its 50th Star”, “Unibrow Discrimination- Social Experiment”, “Best High school Football Trick Plays”, “The wildest political moments of 2019”, “School Janitor Surprises Students With Creative Rug Art Designs Each Day.” He keeps semi-regular tabs on current events, but doesn’t get swept up. He is actually my pandemic role model — handling disappointment, change, togetherness, social distancing — all of it — with admirable aplomb.

As for myself, tonight, after two hours of trashy reality shows on TLC, I flipped back to MSNBC and got sucked into a feature they were calling “Coronavirus: Into the Red Zone,” which was about a news team being granted access into the Italian epicenter’s ICU during their peak. It was not good for my psyche, to put it mildly, but I didn’t turn it off. Morbid curiosity and spin-cycle anxiety.

Not knowing what the future will look like sends me into a spiral. Will The Who be able to go back to school to finish out his fifth grade year? Will summer camp be closed down? Will we be able to go on vacation in August? Will we be allowed to publicly gather for a year until a vaccine comes out? Will the businesses I love survive? Will the economy recover? I turn to the news for answers, I think, but actually, these questions are unanswerable — by the news or anyone else. And trying to suss out nonexistent truth only makes me more anxious.

I think tomorrow I will go back to my old habit of allowing myself just a few minutes of daily check-in to make sure I’m not missing anything major. Other than that, it’s going to be books and comedy and music and work and taking walks and playing Rummikub and thinking about what my birthday cake will taste like on Wednesday.

Three.

I get laryngitis all the time. Probably at least once a year — since I was a teenager at least. And every time, without fail, there comes a day where, suddenly, not only do I completely forget what my actual voice sounds like, but I am also absolutely certain that it will never return the same as it was before. This is where I am in my quarantine. I forget what it is like to make social plans, to see people’s actual faces, to have someplace to be and I am absolutely certain we won’t return to a sense of normalcy that actually feels…normal.

I had heard a long time ago about the “Icky 3s” as it related to quitting something and quitting other people seems to be no exception. “At three weeks, we’ve gotten through the shock of physical withdrawal and we’re just beginning to tackle the mental side.” Uh, yeah. That’s pretty much spot on. It doesn’t seem crazy anymore or as weird as it did. I notice I’m not (nor is really anyone else) saying things like “in these strange times” nearly as much as we all were. It’s not that strange anymore. It’s a new normal. But I’m reactive and moody and I’ve retreated pretty far into myself (for me, anyway) as a response to the social interaction craving.

I’m also absolutely enraged by people not following protocol. Anytime someone tells me they’re seeing family members because “we’re related!” I want to scream. I thought at first that it could be jealousy and a sense of fairness (if I can’t, why can you?) but then I realized that it’s actually indigence. If I will, why won’t you? It’s really no different from someone listening to a video on their laptop in a cafe at full volume. It would be chaos if we all did it and the only reason you’re able to is because I (and other people like me) are. The chaos is real. Driving your brother to CVS or having your adult nephew over for lunch in the middle of a stay-at-home order is listening to your laptop at full volume in a cafe. Those of us following the rules and staying home are making it safe for you to abandon those very same rules.

I could go on and on with various metaphors and ranting, but it actually doesn’t help me. Rage is not going to make this any better. Ennui is not going to make this any better. Wallowing in carbs is not going to make this any better (though it is going to make it taste better.) The only thing that is going to make it better is to keep slogging through it and to remember that there will again be warm, sunny days where we see neighbors from a distance and play games as a family and get work done and the goodness of people shows itself clearly.

Until then, fuck Week Three. Fuck it right to hell.

In the Bag.

I gave up coffee during this quarantine. Not at all on purpose, but I had a cup one day and I felt like crap all day. The next day, I didn’t (inadvertently) and realized I felt better. Then I had one the next day and felt like crap again. Seems like a no-brainer. I don’t miss it, but the headaches coming off caffeine kind of suck. I’ve been subbing my morning beverage out with decaf black tea (all we have) but I’m hoping for regular tea in our next rations drop. (That’s what online grocery feels like now. Brown bag on our doorstep. Knock and leave.)

The Who decided that he prefers a schedule, which is a total reversal, although I can see that predictability in this mess could be a craving. When he was in school and doing all his extra-curriculars, the last thing he wanted on the weekend was a schedule. Now that we are home and scheduled basically to the minute all week, he finds that he misses the structure over the weekend. He can’t wait to get back to it tomorrow.

And about that schedule…I’m finding it incredibly comforting, too. I like knowing what’s coming and when. It is pretty structured, but it’s also not overwhelming. It’s not like I have him buried in math problems for six hours a day. There are about 1.5 hours of academics (tomorrow it’s Civics and Art), lots of breaks (some with screens and some without), quiet time, “recess” (which is always outside, twice a day if its not raining), chores, regular practices (Hebrew and piano), and the occasional virtual extracurricular (also Hebrew and piano, actually.) It sounds full, but it’s got a soothing pace to it.

We’re also doing a very good job of keeping him off the news. We asked him not to watch news on YouTube and we are very mindful of not putting it on the TV unless he is in the basement or in bed. It’s working for me, too. I got saturated in the first few days. A quick catch-up on MSNBC in the evening is enough. Being assaulted with doom is really hell on the psyche. Who knew?

I don’t want to pretend it’s not happening, but I’m really just trying to bury my head in the sand just enough. You know how when you’re walking somewhere far and you keep your eyes down, looking at your feet or counting the sidewalk cracks, you’re there before you know it, but if you keep looking ahead at the destination, it feels like forever? That’s sort of how I am approaching this. Head down, assuming we are in it forever, and hoping to be pleasantly surprised when one day, they just say the spread is over. The vaccine is ready. The flowers are in full bloom. You get a car and you get a car and you get a car! Everybody gets a car!

Until then, though, more wiping down my groceries with Clorox wipes and singing the ABCs in front of the sink.

Stay safe. Wash your hands. Stay the fuck home. I love you.

Bullets.

  • Kids (and really everyone) talk VERY loud when they are video chatting with headphones on.
  • Outside is amazing.
  • When people are scared, sometimes anger bubbles right up to the surface.
  • Wearing real pants all day, while not the most comfortable, makes me feel more human.
  • Obvious things don’t seem the same level of obvious to all people.
  • Algebra is hard.
  • When people are scared, sometimes incredible human kindness and generosity bubbles right up to the surface.
  • Bread, eggs, and milk (ok, half and half) really are snow day/quarantine necessities in my family and it has nothing to do with French toast.
  • Having a kid has really changed my perception of my own mortality. I think there might have been a time in the past where I thought: well, if I get it, I get it. That is not the case anymore.
  • Booking future airfare in the middle of this shows incredible optimism (which, aside from my daily 10-minute freakout and nighttime news saturation, I have.)
  • Snow days and natural disasters only offer local empathy and community. Global pandemics offer a sense of oneness many have never experienced in their lives.

Shit.

In my writing group last night, the prompt was, “You’re full of shit.” This is what came out of it. The disclaimer here is that this is not memoir. But it’s not fiction either. This particular scenario never happened, but many similar ones did.

———-
“You’re full of shit,” he said, not fully understanding what the phrase even meant, but having heard it enough times to repeat it in a way that felt authentic.

“And you’re grounded,” she replied, not fully understanding the implication.

“You’re a piece of shit!” he hurled back, his face crumpling into a sadness born of humiliation and regret. He immediately thought of saying, “I didn’t mean it,” but there wasn’t time. He saw something behind her eyes change, a snarl grew on her lip, and he turned and took the steps two at a time, slamming the door to his bedroom when he got there.

She fumed. Breathed. Seethed. Slammed the cover of her laptop down and dropped her head into her hands. “That piece of shit,” she said under her breath and wondered where he had even heard the words before. She uncrossed her legs, put her feet flat on the floor, and tried to remember what he had told her. “Try counting to ten,” he had suggested, as if it were the most novel idea in the world. Breathe in and out a ten count. She tried it. One. Breathe. In. Out. Two. Breathe. In. Out. She heard stomping upstairs and then what sounded like books being thrown from a bookshelf. “That motherfucker,” she seethed. Three. Breathe. In. Out. Four. Five. When she got to six, she felt something relax in her back. The heat in her cheeks started to fade. Seven. Eight. By the time she got to nine, she was nearly blaming herself and then she heard his feet on the stairs.

“Mama?” His voice was small and choked. She didn’t even need ten.

“C’mere baby,” she practically cooed and he came to her. Leaned his surprisingly heavy body into hers, all elbows and knees, his sharp chin buried in her neck.

“I’m sorry.” He said it first. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. But maybe he was a better student than she was a teacher.

“I am too,” she said. “I didn’t mean to yell like that.”

They stayed like that for a long time, their breath falling into rhythm until eventually he pulled himself away and settled heavily into the couch next to her, lightly turning the drawstring of her hoodie in his fingers.

After a long while, he sighed. She looked down at him. “You are full of shit a little, though,” he said, a smile playing on his lips.

Fair, she thought. But said nothing.

[Name].

The first time the Who asked to add my maiden name to his middle name was a couple of years ago.

“Sure,” I told him. “Whenever you’re ready, we will help you do that.” I didn’t know exactly what it would entail, but I knew I was going to wait for him to ask again before looking into it.

The second time he asked was a year and a half later. Whether the time between asks was a function of him not being ready or just absent-mindedness, I don’t know. But this time, he was more insistent. “When are we going to add [the name] to mine?”

“Say the word and we will get the ball rolling.”

And I waited again. Three asks seemed like the right amount. It’s arbitrary, I know. But only a week later, he asked again. So after three unsolicited asks and at 10 years old, we began the process.

Turns out that while changing your name as an adult requires taking out ads in local papers and a court date, changing a minor’s name (at least the middle name) is a piece of cake. They consider it a “correction” to the birth certificate and all it requires is filling out a form, paying $25, and getting it notarized.

So here we are, a mere three months after the final ask, and The Who, formerly a boy with three names is now a boy with four, placing him in a long line of [name]s, reaching all the way back to the shtetl.

There is something about a name that connects him to me the way that even carrying him inside my womb for nine months didn’t do. It’s a lineage. A history. A mark of who he is and where he came from. His full name is now a thread that ties him from my ancestors to me, to her, to her ancestors, wrapping him in all of our stories, from generations past to generations still to come.