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Archive for the ‘Chief Complaint’ Category

Indignant Update: IT IS NOW SNOWING.

We had actual honest-to-goodness sunshine yesterday, and temperatures around 70 degrees, and Carla and I played outside for THREE HOURS and I got a horrific sunburn and now I’m really grouchy. The grouchiness has to do with my being so careless as to forget to wear appropriate sunscreen and also with my inability to sleep due to the fact that my chest, back, shoulders, and arms are so sunburned that I could NOT find a comfortable sleeping position. Plus, I am irritable that I am in such discomfort – and, not to mention, I look RIDICULOUS because the sunburn is all streaky and uneven and the same shade as my red T-shirt – purely because of MY OWN IDIOCY.

Anyway, I am in a very cranky and judgmental mood, so I thought you might join me in being extremely disapproving and critical this morning. Surely there is SOMETHING that fills you with disapprobation, no? Perhaps it is my overzealous use of capitalization, perhaps any of a million other things you could rightly judge me for.

  • Carla likes to go bike riding in a nearby school parking lot. It is just down the block and, obviously, there is no one at school these days. So it’s the perfect big, empty space for her to ride around in. But increasingly often, we are finding TEENS gathering there. Now, I expect that the Stay at Home Order is especially tough on teens. And that they should probably get props (are we still giving props? is that too 1900s a term?) for being creative about socializing. But zooming into a school parking lot and then setting up a sort of tailgating-esque situation that doesn’t appear to separate its participants by more than three feet MAX… well, that just makes me feel crabby. Some of the teens have been better than others about maintaining distance. But I definitely witnessed one person exit a car and enter another car and I can’t imagine that two people quarantining together would drive to a parking lot, separately, only to then get together in a single car. I am watching you, teens. Not in a creepy way. Just in a very impotently condemnatory way.
  • And SPEAKING OF the school parking lot, which I know we have no actual claim over: People have been using it as a cut-through. If you think of the school as being on a corner, with a busy road as the northern border and a busy road bordering the east, and our street lying on the school’s southern border, people are using the parking lot to cut off the corner intersection. There’s a stop sign between the school parking lot and my street, but people are ZOOMing through the parking lot and then ZOOMing straight through the stop sign and I am getting Very Peeved. People live here! And drive past! And ride their bikes! This is not your own personal shortcut!
  • When I went to pick up pizza for dinner last Friday, there was one customer inside the store already (two-customer limit, for the interior of the store), and two customers in line after me (outside). Of the four of us, I was the ONLY person wearing a mask. Then I had to go INTO Target to pick up an online order, due to some sort of oversight on my part (I was NOT PLEASED), and so! many! people! were just wandering around without masks! A man and his THREE tween/teenage daughters walked into Target without masks on! The staff inside had masks “on,” but not covering their noses, or hanging loosely around their chins. I am trying not to be TOO judgey about mask wearing; I ordered my mask online and it took a couple of weeks to arrive. My husband ordered a mask several weeks ago and it just now is “being prepared to ship,” whatever that means, website. So I get that not everyone has easy access to masks, and that even if you are trying to be a good mask-wearing member of society that you might not have one on hand. (I had to turn around halfway to Target — when I discovered that I had somehow not ordered the curbside pickup, but instead the inside pickup; what is going ON with my brain? — and go home for my mask; now I have my second mask in my car, waiting for just such an occasion.) But also you can make a mask out of ANYTHING; my husband made me a makeshift mask out of a dishrag and two hairties before I had my real masks in hand. So please. WEAR A MASK.
  • And ALSO, why are people SO OPPOSED to wearing masks? Listen, I acknowledge that there are probably cases where wearing a mask is not possible. But probably, for those people who CANNOT wear a mask for some reason, masks for the REST of us are extra important. I have seen horrifying news stories about mask-related violence and I don’t get it at all! If you don’t have a medical reason for not wearing a mask, JUST WEAR A MASK. Yes, they are uncomfortable. Yes, they look odd/ridiculous/scary. And yes, they make me feel claustrophobic and trapped and damp around the mouth area. But if they can help slow the spread of this disease or even just make people feel a teeny bit more comfortable, WEAR A FREAKING MASK.
  • Going back to being critical of people at the pizza place: I’d placed my order in advance online. You can specify a pickup time, and I’d said 6:00. I arrived at about 5:50, and waited until 6:00 on the button to go into the store. The very kind but harried staff person who took my name said, “Okay, just a second.” And maybe all of four minutes later, he handed me my pizza, and apologized for taking so long, they’d been so inundated with orders, and he appreciated my patience… And… It was probably 6:04 at the latest. Which makes me think that OTHER PEOPLE had been rude to him which makes me feel so angry I could cry. This poor guy, working in a hot restaurant for probably not very much money, providing a very helpful service to all of us in this time of need, putting himself and his family/roommates in potential danger, and having to keep up with what I imagine is a lot of business. And for someone to be RUDE to him? Obviously this is all conjecture and I have no idea what, if anything, happened at all. But I am ready to LEAP FORTH with indignation at the slightest non-provocation!
  • There was a centipede on our kitchen floor the other day. As I approached it, I informed my family – with solemnity and sorrow – that I was going to squish it and flush it down the toilet. They protested. Yes, yes, I am also of the mind that we should return a creepy crawly to the great outdoors if we can, if we can being the operative phrase and also containing multitudes of unspoken caveats, including but not limited to if we can without being crawled upon. I told my family that they were welcome to intervene, and transport the centipede to the outdoors themselves, but that I wasn’t going to risk it. They valiantly recommended ways that I could capture and transport the centipede. Again, I demurred. Again, they protested. Finally, my brave daughter leapt up and said she would extricate the centipede from certain-death-by-squishing and put it safely outside. But she took too long trying to find an appropriately stiff piece of paper and the centipede started to run away. I tried to waylay it and it crawled on my hand and then fell to the floor and made for the no-mans-land beneath the refrigerator so I squished it. I am very irritated indeed about the way the whole thing went.
  • In addition to the centipede, we had a silverfish sighting. READ THE ROOM, CRITTERS. Perhaps they are well aware that I can’t exactly call the exterminators at this moment, and so are taking advantage of the situation. To which I say, in a tone of utmost withering disdain, I expect opportunistic behavior of humans but not of YOU.

 

What or who’s behavior has you putting on your prissy pants these days?

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Yesterday, I parted my hair on the opposite side. It felt and looked very weird and I do not think I will repeat that particular experiment.

 

One of the remarkable things about These Unprecedented Times is that going to the grocery store has now become such a major source of stress. I realize this is not a new topic nor a concern specific to me. But I am Right In It now and it’s so odd. I literally had stress dreams about the grocery store last night – where I discovered at the last minute that the store was open a whole hour before I thought it would be and I was able to dash in and grab some half-and-half. I mean, this is causing Major Anxiety these days which is absolutely ridiculous.

It’s been about twenty days since I last set foot in the grocery store, and a little less than two weeks since I picked up a curbside order (which did NOT contain half-and-half). I was supposed to go to the grocery store yesterday, a plan I’d been working toward for many days. Our store opens at eight and has seniors/immunocompromised shoppers hours until nine. My plan was to arrive right at nine and get in and get out quickly. But my husband actually had patients that morning (which is A Good Thing) and had to go into the office, so I couldn’t go. He has patients this morning, too (also A Good Thing). So yesterday we decided I would go later in the afternoon, once my husband got home.

I ordered a mask, which is supposed to arrive sometime later this week. So I fashioned a mask out of an old baby blanket and hair ties. And I got all dressed — in actual Real Clothes — put my hair in a bun, even put my contacts in, and drove to the grocery store. And then I chickened out. The parking lot was SO FULL. And there was a line of people outside stretching along the entire side of the building. Which I know is a good, smart innovation. And yet it made me feel all panicky and trembly so I turned around and came home.

But we obviously still need groceries. So I filled a virtual cart at the grocery store that offers curbside pickup. Curbside pickup is not ideal – for one thing, I worry that I am taking a spot from someone who has limited mobility or is immunocompromised or for whom going into an actual store is otherwise difficult/impossible. Plus, on a selfish level, it’s so much easier to be able to decide on the fly that the store doesn’t have fresh strawberries so I am going to get frozen berries or blueberries instead, rather than counting on the grocery store shopper to find an appropriate substitution. Curbside pickup is not something I am relying on, is what I’m saying. But it worked fairly well the first time I did it. And I figured it would be good to have a backup if I can’t get to the store myself, or if I do  get to the store but they are out of half-and-half.

The app for curbside pickup allows you to choose a date and time from a selection of five upcoming days. At least, that’s the idea. These days, all the spots are full. This means that the earliest possible date I could hope to pick up my order would be this coming Sunday. And that’s only if I happen to open the app at the exact right time and catch the new pickup times before they fill.

This happened last time, too. I stalked the app for three days at all hours of the day. The timeslots opened up one morning and I was able to grab one. So I tried it at midnight last night… and then woke up at five to try it… and then seven… and then kept checking all through the eight o’clock hour… At nine o’clock, the app added Sunday as an option… But all the timeslots were full.

This is not anything to be Truly Panicked about. We still have plenty of food. But we are down to our last package of ground beef. We have only one remaining can of chickpeas. We have no eggs. And we are going to run out of half-and-half ANY MINUTE NOW which makes me feel very anxious.

This is all SO RIDICULOUS. I know that I am in a very, very privileged situation. I think of the news footage of miles and miles of cars lined up at food banks across the country and I feel ashamed. We can OF COURSE survive just fine without ground beef and without half-and-half. We have PLENTY of food. Obviously, we are FINE. But it turns out that running out of half-and-half is my personal grocery store breaking point.

Can I also say that my husband and I are having… disagreements about grocery shopping? We have always been on opposite ends of the preparedness spectrum. Even in The Time Before, I have always been the type of person who prefers to have a backup ready to go before I even start to run out of something. For instance, Carla eats a lot of frozen pancakes, so I always have two boxes in the freezer. When we get down to the last two or three of the first box, I put pancakes on the list. That kind of thing. (I also grew up in a remote, cold place where it was prudent to never allow your gas tank to be under half full; even today when I have a gas station within walking distance of my house, I still get very nervous if the gas dips below the half-full point. Maybe the food thing is related.)

Yesterday when I went to mix the ingredients for chili powder, I discovered that we are nearly out of paprika (which I use A Lot), and that we are – for me – uncomfortably low on garlic powder, oregano, and cumin. My husband sees that the (admittedly giant) canisters are still about a third full and says we don’t need the spices urgently. But to ME, I don’t WANT to need them urgently. I want to have backups ready to go.

The same goes for tortillas and chickpeas and sour cream and cheddar cheese and pancakes and iceberg lettuce and carrots and ranch dressing and chicken breasts and black beans and taco shells and hot sauce and onions and all the other things that make me feel like I can put together a normal and/or comforting meal. Do we need  cheddar cheese to survive? Of course not. But does it make me feel better to have a backup in the fridge? Yes.

This is how I would feel in Normal Times, too. But I feel it even more acutely now, when a) who knows when I will be a store where I can purchase these things and b) who knows if the store will even HAVE these items when I do manage to get there.

So my husband and I are experiencing a little friction on the groceries/necessities front, I have to say.

Part of it is that he is frugal and doesn’t see the point of spending money on something that you don’t actually NEED. (To which I say, but we WILL need this thing. Or, if not need, WANT.) Part of it is that he is not the designated shopper, neither now nor in Normal Times, and so doesn’t really fully understand the current shopping situation. I would guess he hasn’t set foot in a grocery store since late February, so he just doesn’t get how different it is. And/or he is in denial about how quickly the situation is going to improve. (Possibly never, says my doomsday brain.) He was surprised when I said that our online options for ordering spices (Costco and Penzeys are the ones I checked) were experiencing delays. (Not to mention that Costco’s website reacted as though oregano is a concept I made up out of thin air.) And yet, even when I point these things out – shortages and delays – he still seems to believe that we can just get whatever we want whenever want it. When I told him I was going to order curbside pickup, he said, “Oh great. Are you going to have it ready to pick up tomorrow?” and I had to temper my incredulous tone when I responded, “Of COURSE NOT, it will be Sunday AT THE EARLIEST before I can hope to pick up the things we ordered, and even then it is HIGHLY LIKELY that we will not get all of what we wanted.”

I would think that he would defer to me in this case, WOULDN’T YOU AGREE?

Pant,  pant,  panic, panic!

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Last week was a decent one, I’d say. I mean, one day I lay in bed most of the day. And one day I was filled with despair for most of my waking hours. But SEVERAL days, I felt pretty good. There were two or three days where I felt truly cheerful. Ugh. That should be a good thing, right? But it felt so WRONG. Or not wrong, exactly. But just… unsuited to our current situation.

It’s that gulf between perception and reality that’s getting to me lately, I think. I’ve done a pretty good job of reducing my News Intake, so I am not actively bombarded with horror all day long. But the disjunct between what life FEELS like and what is actually going on is… hard to compute.

Does that make sense? Have you had these instances, too, of feeling like things are one way and then being snapped back to reality?

Saturday, I went out to run some errands (no-contact dropping off of Girl Scout cookies, putting our housecleaner’s check in the mail, going through the drive-through at the pharmacy) and it felt so normal. The streets weren’t anywhere near as busy as they are of a typical Time Before Saturday, but there were plenty of cars out and about. The parking lots of pharmacies and gas stations and grocery stores were full. There were people on the sidewalks, walking their dogs and waiting for the bus. But those people had on masks and BAM the façade of normalcy shattered.

It’s been so nice – So. Nice. – to have my husband home. He has been splitting up the job of helping Carla with her distance learning, which has reduced my frustration DRAMATICALLY. It’s been nice to have him around, to kiss or hug or chat with whenever I feel like. And he and Carla have been having so much fun – their relationship is the biggest joy of my life and sometimes, while I’m supposed to be reading on the couch (which – utter luxury!!!!!), I will instead listen to them chat over a Kiwi crate they are building or smile as Carla shrieks with glee while they wrestle or play air hockey or close my eyes with happiness as they perform a duet in the basement – my husband on the piano, Carla on vocals (and sometimes drums). It is absolutely purely wonderful. But… the reason my husband is home so often is that he’s not working.

I wanted an apple the other day. It sounded so good – crisp and sweet and healthful. But I kept thinking to myself, “No, I shouldn’t.” Why not, self? We have a bunch of apples in the upstairs fridge and a whole other bag of apples in the downstairs fridge. Apples are perishable; they won’t last forever. But I keep feeling like I should SAVE things like that, because I don’t know how/when I’ll be able to get more. (I logicked myself into eating the apple, but it took some coaxing.)

Just in the past two weeks we have branched out into getting occasional takeout. It’s been nice to know that I have an alternative to cooking YET ANOTHER MEAL, plus I feel good about supporting local restaurants. The first time we got pizza, it was so easy: we ordered everything in advance, the pizza place was completely empty except for one worker (and I effusively thanked her for being there), and I was able to no-contact collect my pizza, put it in the car, and bring it home. My husband and I developed a Takeout Plan, wherein I touched all the boxes and containers and he helped me transfer them to our own dishes and then I wiped everything down. It worked great.

This weekend, I went to get barbecue. The place was HOPPING – so many cars, and so many people going in and out even though the restaurant offers curbside “delivery.” As I pulled up, I noticed a man and his tweenage daughter leaving the restaurant with a heavy plastic bag laden with takeout containers – it was notable because he had his daughter with him (although, listen, you have to do what you have to do; I don’t know his situation or whether she was capable of staying at home or in the car or anything about them; I just noted it). I tried calling the curbside delivery line, but it kept disconnecting. So I steeled myself and went inside. I’ve been in the restaurant a million times, and it looked the same – although nearly empty – and there were two dudes jawing away at a high-top table near the entrance. My food wasn’t ready yet, but the bartender said he’d bring it out to my car so I escaped – gladly – and waited. I’d arrived at 6:40 – that’s when I saw the man and his daughter emerge with their takeout and get into their car. At 7:00, they walked back into the restaurant with their takeout package. I immediately had a bad feeling. My husband has a common first name – along the lines of Chris or Steve. I guessed that the father had the same name. When they re-emerged a few minutes later, this time with a big brown paper bag, it was clear what had happened. I even heard the man telling his daughter something about “another Steve” as they trekked back across the parking lot. Then, the bartender came out seconds later with a now-familiar white plastic bag and tried to hand it to me through my window.

Listen, this kind of thing would have made me squicky even in The Time Before: The other Steve and his daughter had clearly LEFT with my food. I don’t know whether they opened it up in the car or at home, or whether they’d started to put the pulled pork on plates or if a three-year-old had had a chance to poke around the fries with his fingers before they realized the error. At the very LEAST upsetting of the Possibility Spectrum (in which they didn’t open the bag but simply looked at the receipt and noticed it didn’t list the food they’d ordered), my food was more than twenty minutes old at that point. In normal times, I would have calmly told the poor bartender that I’d seen the food leave the premises and return, and that I wasn’t comfortable taking it home with me, and could they please make me a new batch. Instead, I burst into tears and blubbered at him about how they had taken the food home and I was FREAKED OUT. He said he’d get me fresh food – which I wanted, but of course then I felt guilty because the restaurant is probably barely squeaking by and I don’t want to contribute to its hastened demise – and I kept sobbing in my car outside the restaurant until he returned AGAIN and assured me they were making me everything fresh (which they did; it was all steaming when he finally returned to my car for a third time). I was able then, at least, to calm down enough to smile at him and apologize for being so hysterical. I certainly wouldn’t have reacted that way in normal times.

But it’s NOT normal times. And I keep going along as though it IS and then being slapped across the face with the fact that it ISN’T.

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When it comes to a big, multi-room tidy, I have a strategy, which I will pass on to you in hopes that it works just as well on your children (I have not tried it on my spouse, so no promises there). My strategy is setting up a Cleaning Challenge. Carla LOVES a challenge, especially if there’s the potential of besting me. And it makes cleaning into a game, and games are fun.

What I do is I get out a big colorful sheet of construction paper. At the top I write Cleaning Challenge! in big cheerful letters. Beneath, on one side, I write out a list of things I need Carla to do (make her bed, pick up stuffed animals, tidy the living room, put her socks and underpants away, etc.) and put little boxes for checkmarks next to them… and on the other side, I write out a list of things I need to do (unload dishwasher, clean toilets, vacuum stairs, etc.) and put boxes with checkmarks next to them. I have found that it helps if my list is longer than Carla’s, because she likes to have an obvious advantage. (To her, it is not obvious that “washing the floor” is much, much more time consuming than “picking up the crayons scattered all over the counter.”) Then I masking tape the Challenge to the kitchen wall, masking tape a marker to the wall as well, and set a one-hour timer. Then we RACE to complete as many of our tasks as possible in the allotted time, checking off each task as we complete it. This is Carla’s favorite part, I think – making a checkmark on the page, while loudly proclaiming, “Checking off another one!” – and taping the marker to the wall makes it extra fun for her for some reason.

Anyway, I haven’t tried a Cleaning Challenge! lately, but I will do so today because it desperately needs doing. (It’s my normal Day Before the Cleaner Arrives technique, and it’s worked well for many months.) (By the way, being surrounded by mess has been making me feel incredibly extra wistful and thankful for our housecleaner, and I am writing her “paid leave” checks with gratitude and hope that one day she will be able to clean for us again because I miss her SO VERY MUCH OMG.)

The Cleaning Challenge! is a good strategy for the type of clutter that accumulates over time, between housecleaning appointments for instance. But I am struggling more, lately, with the HUGE VOLUME of day-to-day messiness. Everything is so much more messy than it was prior to self-isolation. Don’t get me wrong — the tendency of a child to start one project, abandon it, and begin another project while the first is strewn about a different room is, shall we say, a familiar concept. As is the concept of piles gradually accruing on every possible surface. But it turns out that my little whirlwind can make SO MANY MORE messes when she is at home for an additional 35 hours a week. Plus, I am guessing I do a lot more of-the-moment tidying when I am not staring despondently at the news 400 hours a day.

I think the utter relentlessness of the mess is what has begun wearing on me. It was simple enough at the beginning, to breezily say things along the lines of, “Of course it’s going to be messier than usual around here! You have double the people at home all day and one of them is a tornado, so mess is inevitable! But you can live with a little mess!” And this is true. I never claimed to be The World’s Tidiest Person, not by a long shot. But it turns out that a little messiness, while endurable for the short term, over time begins to feel like NOTHING IS EVER CLEAN. And, after a few days of enduing “a little mess,” the mess balloons into a LOT of messiness and then it begins feeling like I am living in squalor and there is no point in anything anymore because we are drowning in a sea of clutter. I am already walking around in a constant state of irritation/distress/anxiety and the added mess is NOT HELPING.

So I am starting to lose it, messwise. I need a new system. Otherwise I may as well lie down on the living room floor and be layered over with magnatiles and board games and construction paper and stuffed animals and remnants of pillow forts and Barbie shoes.

I had to have The Talk with my husband last night that I need more help with the housework… But man, I feel guilty about that. He is working all day, and putting his health at risk to help other people, and he is exhausted and anxious all the time, so I WANT to be able to take the pressure off at home. But also I am here ALL DAY EVERY DAY, doing nearly all the childcare and housework and meal planning/preparation, with maybe five minutes to myself at a time and… it sucks.

For those of you who have multiple children in your care all day every day… for those of you who have multiple children AND spouses who are now ALL at home with you nonstop… for those of you who are working from home WHILE your children and/or spouses are at home with you… well, you have my deepest, most sincere sympathy and compassion. My one cheering thought is that we are ALL dealing with this right now, with our own varying levels of tolerance and manageability. Additional people in our spaces, additional maneuvering required, new levels of irritation and stress, new strategizing and planning and letting things go.

I asked a fellow parent what she was doing to keep the mess down, and she said she was trying to clean a bit every day. Well. Yes. As am I. This is a tried-and-true strategy. Every single day, I do the dishes and wipe the counters and straighten and try to get Carla to move things off Obvious Surfaces. Every single day, I try to do at least one Other Thing — a load of laundry, moving all the collected water glasses from my husband’s bedside table to the sink, moving a bundle of precious artwork from the overcrowded craft cupboard to the trash. But it’s NOT ENOUGH. The mess is a rising tide and our house is a leaky boat.

If you, too, are just trying to clean a bit every day, what does that MEAN? Do you have a checklist? Do you have a rotation of Big Items? How are you enlisting the other members of your household? If you have young children, how are you helping them get into the habit of cleaning up after themselves? I am TRYING, believe me, but a) I don’t have the energy/patience to supervise all the cleaning that needs to be done and b) it feels like just one more source of potential tension between me and Carla when we are already getting on each other’s nerves and c) sometimes the ONLY WAY I can get a few minutes to myself is to ignore what is certainly a HUGE mess in the making.

So. What are YOU doing to Keep the Clutter at Bay?

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Today was the day I started using sweetener in my tea again. First, Swistle said she’d just resumed using sweetener, which gave me an automatic stamp of approval in my mind. Second, I made myself a slice of cinnamon toast to accompany my tea and it just seemed overly rigid to purposefully avoid sweetener when I was about to eat bread sprinkled liberally with sugar. Maybe “coated” is more accurate than “sprinkled.” Or “slathered.” Can you slather sugar? (This line of thinking sounds dangerously close to the “why order a Diet Coke if you are eating a burger and fries” argument, but it’s NOT. I would totally order a Diet Coke with a burger and fries because a) I like Diet Coke and b) regular Coke STILL has more calories than Diet, no matter what you eat with it, and fewer calories is fewer calories, if that is something you care about. Boy, I am sure getting indignant over NOTHING, aren’t I.) Back to my non-confrontational tea: I only used half a packet of Sweet’n Low, and it was plenty sweet enough, and made the whole tea-drinking experience much more pleasant.

Of course, I did note that we had allowed the Sweet’n Low supply to dwindle PRECARIOUSLY low; I think there may be four packets remaining. So now I will have to decide if I now add Sweet’n Low to every cup of tea, or just occasional cups. And, if the former, whether I truly need it enough to go to the grocery store or order it from Target, with all the associated frets and risks of either choice.

In other news, my husband opened the bag of Reese’s peanut butter eggs I’d purchased from Costco and discovered that they are MINIATURE. What a huge disappointment! I want a nice, big peanut butter egg. Not a teeny tiny portion-controlled egg. BOO. I count on Costco to provide me with unconscionable amounts of Full Size treats, not stunted little egglets, you know?

Sweet’n Low is one thing. But inferior Reese’s eggs is a whole other kettle of fish… so that’s another item on the list for a Target trip.

Thinking about Reese’s eggs makes me think about Easter, which is something I have been avoiding thinking about because it makes me feel simultaneously anxious and exhausted. Carla is still at an age where holidays are magical! and fun! and, especially since we are stuck inside, I want to do what I can to make even a quarantined Easter seem magical and fun. On the other hand, maybe this is a good chance to put some pennies in the plastic eggs we have, shove some leftover Valentine’s candy and a book Carla’s had for months but never actually read into an Easter basket, maybe make some Easter cupcakes, and call it a day. On the other other hand, what about the full size Reese’s eggs? So now I am wondering if Target has a shortage of Easter supplies or not.

Of course, this is all ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS. I don’t actually need sweetener or normal-size Reese’s eggs OR Easter supplies. There is no reason for me to go to Target and risk my/others’ health for any of these things, even in combination! This is a prime opportunity to Make Do With What We Have!

Well. Ordering Target delivery or doing curbside pickup are still options. And I will have to go to the grocery store at some point, likely before Easter. And there is still time to mull, and fret, and plan.

 

If you celebrate Easter, especially if you have little kids, what are you planning to do?

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In college, I wrote a paper on the juxtaposition of the profane and the sublime in Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost.” Wow, is this ever a boring way to open a blog post! My memory of the whole thing, poem and all, is fuzzy, but the (very hastily summarized) point was that Milton would bring up sacred topics (God, angels, the Garden of Eden, etc.) but describe them in irreverent or disrespectful ways, often using language that would never be associated with the holy (bodily fluids and excretions abound in this poem). It was one of the distinctive hallmarks of the work — this discrepancy between subject matter and treatment. How could you talk about God and farts in a single line?

The reason I keep thinking about that, now, is that I feel we’re living through a similar dichotomy – the extreme/emergent walking hand in hand with the mundane. It’s so disorienting.

On the one side, we literally have people dying. We have hospitals that are overcrowded and suffering from shortages of vital equipment – both protective and life-saving. We have medical staff that are overloaded and fearful and putting their lives at risk. We have medical professionals who are trying to determine whether to resuscitate people with Covid-19, for God’s sake. We have countless people losing their source of income and stability. We have the looming specter of more of all of this – more death, more fear, more people at risk in immeasurable ways. We have what feels like a hopelessly irreparable political schism, and lack of leadership (understatement) at the highest levels. We have the ever-present possibility that we or our loved ones will get sick, be hospitalized, and even die.

These things are too much to bear. I find myself turning away, guarding my heart and my mind against the horror I feel when I think about any of them.

And then, far, far away from the frenetic life-and-death urgency of emergency rooms and ICUs all over our country — all over our planet — I am stuck at home. My family and I are (relatively, for now) safe. We have food (and toilet paper) and plenty to occupy us. And still I am able to find fault with our day-to-day.

I ask myself each morning if this is the morning I return to putting sweetener in my tea. I stopped when I started keto and haven’t resumed the habit. But my tea would taste so much better if I just put a little sugar in it. Why am I depriving myself, in These Unprecedented Times? But also… it seems like things could/are about to/definitely will get much, much worse… so maybe I should be doling out the indulgences a little more sparingly?

Things make me tear up, out of nowhere: a television commercial for T-mobile, of all things, in which people are social distancing but connecting via phone. A phone call from my kind neighbor, who has cancer and is afraid to leave her house but still called to see if Carla would want some things her granddaughter had outgrown. Seeing other neighbors out and about on our walks – but keeping a careful distance; watching Carla strain so hard to keep herself from petting all the neighborhood dogs. Canceling a long-planned dinner with friends.

I am annoyed because I have a canker sore on my tongue. It’s my own fault – the inevitable consequence of an entire week eating mainly chips and salsa – but it’s still irritating, and I can’t just run out to Target or Walgreens to get some Biotene mouthwash. And then I feel super guilty that I just placed an order from Target, because… was that the right thing to do? It is certainly preferable to order things than to take my own possibly-infected self to Target… but I didn’t truly NEED Oreos and sidewalk chalk. Am I helping someone keep her job? Or am I forcing someone to work while sick, to risk infecting someone else?

Where is our mail carrier? I really hope she is okay. We haven’t had mail all week and that seems… ominous. Do I call and check on her? Or will that get her in trouble? Or annoy the post office manager, who is probably dealing with A Lot right now?

My child won’t leave me alone. And it’s a BLESSING, that she is healthy and safe and wants to be with me. But I just want thirty uninterrupted minutes to write or read a book or think. She told me yesterday at 5:00 pm, after I had spent ALL DAY with her and asked her to go play by herself for TEN MINUTES that she feels abandoned – she literally used that exact word and OMG child, just play by yourself and cut the dramatics in half.

Is it time to pull out my giant bag of Reese’s peanut butter eggs – the one I went to Costco specifically to get, back in the first week of March, when I was doing keto and when buying things I couldn’t eat made me feel like I was staving off some of the panic I felt reading those early news reports about coronavirus? Or should I wait until I really need it? What will it look like, when I really need it?

My husband keeps going to work. We are so lucky that he has a job. But my heart is breaking because he has had to furlough some of his staff – people he loves, who support him and his patients – because the patient load has virtually dried up. He is taking a half day today, which should be cause for delight… but… our sole source of income is him seeing patients. And then I feel guilty about worrying about this, because we have savings and presumably he will be able to see patients again at some future time, while others are just completely out of a job and a paycheck and have no idea how they will pay rent or buy groceries.

We have some romaine in the fridge and I want to eat it before it goes bad, but also don’t want to eat it in case we can’t go to the grocery store and replace it.

I keep fretting about Carla’s extracurricular teacher. Like my husband, she has no salary; she only makes money when she gives lessons. Back when All This was just beginning, I asked her about it, and she was breezy and confident – my husband makes money, we will be fine, please don’t worry about me, she said. But… I AM worried about her. And I have no idea how to send her some money without offending her. I thought maybe I could buy a gift certificate to a restaurant doing takeout near her house… but I have no idea what she and her husband eat or if they are comfortable getting takeout or if that would offend her anyway

It’s all but certain that school will be cancelled for the rest of the year. Am I really going to be solely responsible for Carla’s education for the near term? HOW am I going to do that?

Are we being careless, not isolating ourselves from my husband? He is out in the world, every day, seeing people who may be infected. Am I putting Carla at risk needlessly? But then… I wouldn’t be able to sleep without my husband in the same bed, and Carla needs consistency and normalcy as much as possible, so… do those things balance out the risk of contracting the illness?

HOW am I going to listen to the same episode of Wow in the World one more time, when Carla seems like she can listen to them over and over and over and over?

 

Maybe I should be ashamed about feeling petulant that I can’t just go to the store and get some fresh raspberries. For marveling at how the book I am reading got published at all, it was so clearly NOT edited. For skipping over the news of how awful things are in some of our cities. For getting irritated with Carla when she interrupts a phone call with a friend.

But also, aren’t these feelings little glimmers of normalcy, and, therefore, necessary? Feeling anxious and bad and steeped in guilt and fear all the time can’t be healthy, can’t be conducive to getting through this, right?

 

It’s such a roller coaster between normal, everyday (well, not NORMAL or EVERYDAY), very MINOR annoyances… and huge, terrifying, life-altering fears and uncertainties. That alone – that juxtaposition between the mundane and the extreme – is enough to make me feel constantly off-kilter. And selfish. And numb.

 

The sun, FINALLY, is shining; we’ve had springlike weather two days in a row now. The robins are blustering around our yard, the finches have beaksful of twigs and grass. Carla is playing with magnetic Frozen dolls that our kind neighbor sent over the other day. I am drinking the same tea I drink every morning, typing silly words on my computer as I do every day. Everything FEELS very humdrum and typical. But it’s not. It’s not. It’s not.

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My husband and I have started watching The Outsider together. It is not a good program to watch before bed, let me tell you that. The music alone makes me jumpy, but then there’s the very creepy plot and the VERY creepy figure of a biped in a grey sweatshirt with a ruined/inhuman face peeking out from under the darkness of the hood that just STICKS WITH ME. Usually, following an episode with a Schitt’s Creek chaser helps dispel the creepiness, but sometimes it follows me to bed.

Despite this completely voluntary scaring-myself-out-of-my-wits, I have been enjoying a rare period of Good Sleep. It is not untroubled; I am having lots of Weird Dreams. Recently, I had what felt like a very long and drawn out version of that dream where you have exams approaching but you haven’t gone to class all semester and passing this class is necessary for you to graduate. I have not been in college for MANY YEARS, why does my brain persist in torturing me in this manner???? Anyway, by Good Sleep, I mean that I am able to fall asleep fairly easily and then stay asleep all night long. This is highly unusual for me, because I am a very light sleeper and also a champion worrier, and, as we all know, worries swell rapidly in the middle of the night when you have uninterrupted hours to DWELL on them.

But because I am unaccustomed to sleeping well, and because I am posting about this and surely jinxing it, I am sure another period of Fitful Sleep is just around the corner. (In fact, last night, I woke up at two o’clock and had a bit of trouble going back to sleep. Not enough that it was terribly bothersome, but enough that I wondered if the Good Sleep Period is on its way out.) (Cue ominous music.)

Swistle posted recently about having a hard time sleeping. I loved reading the comments, about ways to force yourself to sleep when sleep refuses to descend naturally. I especially loved one person’s suggestion to go through favorite things alphabetically – favorite foods, for instance, or TV shows, or birds, or whatever. That’s one I haven’t tried but sounds lovely.

After pondering it for awhile, I realized that I have been employing a bunch of techniques over the years to help myself get to sleep. Do you have any tried-and-true tactics that you use to fall asleep?

Get-to-sleep techniques that I have used for many years and work often (but not always, hence the multiple options):

1. A walk to/through someplace soothing. My dad gave me this technique decades ago, so it’s the one I’ve used the most. I have a family vacation spot I love, so I imagine myself leaving the house, walking to the car, getting in the car, driving down the driveway, turning onto the road, bumping over the deeply rutted gravel, passing the horse pasture, etc. etc. etc. until I arrive at the lake. The key to this one is to go through every step of the journey, imagining in as much detail as possible the surroundings and the path to get to the destination. I have also done this with the grocery store or Target – leaving my house, driving to the store, then walking through each aisle and naming pleasant/benign things as I put them into my cart. The only risk with the Target option is that I might start thinking about things I actually should get at Target, and that’s more wakeful than restful.

2. Silently reciting a poem. This one takes prep work, obviously. But it has been SO helpful. I use Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and I just go through it line by line until I fall asleep. There was a particularly brutal period in my recent past when I could NOT get to sleep and I would have to go through the poem backwards as well as forwards. I don’t think I could do that anymore, but it was a distracting brain challenge that would eventually lull me into sleep. Perhaps I should get myself a new poem to memorize so I have choices.

3. Deep breathing. This is a technique I learned during a brief stint in therapy a few years ago. It’s for dealing with stress/anxiety, but I find it helpful when I’m trying to sleep, too. In for four counts, hold for four counts, out for four counts, hold for four counts. The counting makes it hard for my mind to drift and the breathing is soothing.

4. Counting my blessings. This one has the potential to create the opposite of the intended mindset, so. Use at your own risk. But I force myself to list things I’m grateful for, even the Very Smallest of Things, like “my husband is not currently snoring” or “someone else changed the toilet paper roll.” (In such cases, it’s critical to list the thing and move on quickly or else you can wind up feeling frustrated and put upon for having to be grateful for something as toilet paper rolls in the first place.) Or sometimes I will think of a loved one and list all the things I like about him/her, from the big (“kind,” “honest,” “wakes up singing”) to the small (“drew me a picture of a cat today,” “beard tickles pleasantly when we kiss”).

5. Mindless reading.This is something I turn to only when desperate, because I’ve read enough warnings about how screens can actually prevent you from sleeping to know better. But in dire cases, I will read something boring or soothing. In the soothing category is going through the archives of a much-loved blog, like Swistle’s or the Ask a Manager blog. (Although the latter can be potentially riling.) Or I will seek out a Wikipedia article on something I have very little interest in, like engines or stained glass or animal husbandry. Best case, I lull myself into sleep. Worst case, I learn something new which I can use to bore others to sleep.

If I absolutely STILL cannot fall asleep, I have found that the next step is getting out of the bed. Use the bathroom. Get a (small) drink of water. Walk around the house, checking on the other sleeping inhabitants. (Not recommended if you are in someone else’s house, or if you are hosting sleeping inhabitants who are not your own non-adult progeny; otherwise you risk troubling other people’s sleep for the rest of their creeped-out lives.)

Making a list often helps. Things that I am worrying about. Things I have to do the next day. Things I want to make for dinner. Things I want to eat right that second. Things I need to buy at Target. The content of the list doesn’t seem to matter as much as the act of list-making.

My Last Resort technique is to change my clothes. New underpants, new pajamas. Maybe I will even brush my hair and re-brush my teeth. It’s like a getting-ready-for-bed do-over.

I suppose the last last resort would be to just get up and start my day. But with all the above get-to-sleep techniques, I haven’t had to do that.

Yet. There’s still time.

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