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Archive for the ‘Worries’ Category

I need a root canal. Deciding that the tooth pain was bad enough to warrant a dental appointment wasn’t super fun. Confirming that I needed a root canal – first at my dentist’s office, then at the endodontist – was agony. 

The dentist kept saying he was sorry for causing me pain, even though the whole point of the tests he was doing was to elicit pain. It was kind, but I have that reflex where I say, “that’s okay” or “it’s not that bad” in response to someone apologizing, which felt a) silly and b) untrue. 

The endodontist did not apologize; not in a sadist-y way; he was kind, but just sort of stood there watching me clutch at my jaw as tears leaked from my eyes. He also offered me an Advil. His tests – which were very similar to the ones my dentist had done, just 30 minutes earlier – elicited a MUCH higher pain response. One test – he put liquid nitrogen or something on a swab and swabbed my tooth – hurt so bad that I cried. And then I felt ridiculous for crying. I tried to comfort myself by thinking that I couldn’t be the ONLY person to ever cry in that office; that must be why the assistant had tissues at the ready for me to dry my tears.

My dentist thinks, based on how nervous I get for dental work, that I need some sort of extra medication. Either something like V@lium or @tivan prior to the appointment, or conscious sedation during the procedure. He said, kindly, “That’s what I would recommend for my wife; she gets nervous about dental work. But I’m just telling you the options – you don’t need it. I wouldn’t do it, myself. Dental work doesn’t bother me.” Which made me wonder: ARE there people who are unbothered by dental work??????? This was a wholly novel concept to me. I figured that there was a spectrum, of course, from moderately nervous to requiring sedation just for a simple cleaning. But I never once imagined that there exist human beings who don’t mind dental work. 

(As for my spot on the spectrum: I get nervous for a simple dental cleaning; I clench my hands into fists, my arms and legs are rigid the entire time, I have to do anti-anxiety breathing while I’m in the chair, waiting for the exam to begin. I did a LOT of focused breathing today, let me tell you. And then cried in my car all the way home.)

The thing is, for me to do any sort of pre-medication, I need someone to drive me to and from the appointment. And my husband is unlikely to be able to do that anytime in the near future, if at all. And I don’t know that I have any friends who I would feel comfortable asking. So I am feeling very sorry for myself indeed. I suppose there is always Uber, but I have never once used Uber so that’s another hurdle to surmount.

Part of the reason I cried in the car (aside from the lingering tooth pain following the swab) was that I felt so ridiculous about crying. The crying was bad enough on its own. But then I couldn’t stop crying. And even when I finally got the actual tears under control, I still had Wobbly Voice. Ugh. I couldn’t stop thinking of that awful anesthesiologist who commented on my ability to withstand pain when I was in labor. Maybe I have a very low pain threshold, and other people are going around dealing with similar or worse pain without being fazed one bit. And maybe everyone thinks I am a huge baby who is making a mountain out of a molar pain. And I am FORTY YEARS OLD for floss sake, why can I not just GET IT TOGETHER like the adult I supposedly am instead of acting like a whiny child? 

This is just the latest in a run of negative self-talk that I can’t seem to squash. It started with my writing and has since spilled over into every other aspect of my life. 

I am suspecting – and hoping – that it has at least something to do with the calendar: both the monthly calendar, which has spun right around to canker sores and chocolate cravings, and the annual calendar, which has turned once again to the anniversary of my friend’s death. Not to mention, we are now sliding down the dark slope of fewer hours of sunshine each day and facing the looming pressures of the holiday season. 

While I do my focused breathing and wait for the calendar to flip a few pages forward, if you have any advice for how you pull yourself out of this kind of self-talk tailspin, I would greatly appreciate it. For now, I have self-medicated with Trader Joe’s macaroni and cheese and some of my only-on-the-weekends good tea. And, of course, I am blabbering it all to you. (Thank you for listening.)

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What day is it, anyway? I have been off-kilter, day-wise, all week. And I just checked the date and was very surprised that it is somehow the 19th. I guess I think it should be Friday but also only November 15? Well. Time has taken on very strange and malleable properties this year. I should be accustomed to it, by now, but am very clearly NOT.

Last night was a 3:30 a.m. wake up night. I hate nights like that. They happen so frequently that I feel like I should have a better handle on them, or at least know how to get back to sleep. But somehow, in the dark, with the wind doing its best freight train impression outside my window, and the gate shrieking in protest, none of my getting-back-to-sleep techniques occurred to me at all. Instead, my brain decided to first fret extensively about the pandemic and how everything is so much worse than it was in March and yet no one seems to care, and so many people are dying and my loved ones have been spared so far but that extreme good fortune simply cannot hold for much longer. Well. I couldn’t go on thinking about THAT. So I forced my brain to choose a different line of thinking, and it decided to chart exactly how I am a failure, and how I am nearing forty and have not yet finished the book I have been working on for far too many years and how it is now too late and I should just give up in disgrace. Great second choice, brain. You dick.

This is when I pulled up Swistle’s archives on my phone and started reading old pre-Trump, pre-pandemic posts. Very cheerful and soothing. At around 5:00, I fell back to sleep.

That’s when I had a dream about being at some sort of ski resort where four little girls went sailing over a cliff and three of them died in a horrible, violent way. Really, truly gruesome. And in the dream, not only could I do nothing to help, but no one else seemed to register the horrific tragedy that had just happened in front of them, and everyone sort of shrugged and kept on skiing. Thanks, brain. 

So today I am fretful and draggy. Going to walk on the treadmill for a while would probably help, but the act of getting TO the treadmill seems unsurmountable. In terms of productivity level, I score a solid Low. I did have to go to Wal-Mart, for a “contact free” pickup, where I had to wait in a smallish area with another person for the staff member to go get my item. (A present for my niece. She lives in a different state, and I want to wrap her gifts and mail them to her because her mother does not need to wrap extra gifts.) (I do not need to wrap extra gifts either, but I have resigned myself to doing it as I have been doing for several years now. Grim it’s-not-really-as-big-an-imposition-as-it-feels-like face.) (I GET it. Sometimes it just much simpler – and MUCH less expensive! – to order from a website, often with free shipping, and have something shipped directly to your recipient rather than shipping it to your house, wrapping it, then paying to ship it to the recipient. And sometimes gift wrapping isn’t available through online retailers! I totally understand! Occasionally wrapping gifts on behalf of a family member is totally fine!) Then, after eleven minutes of standing around, counting the number of Wal-Mart staff members whose masks covered their mouths but not their noses (final count: 3 of 5), and telling two other staff members who approached me that yes, I was pretty sure I was already being helped, the staff person who’d gone to get items for me and the other shopper returned. He handed the other shopper his item. And then went to a shelf right beside where I was standing and fetched my item. Sigh. Well. I never considered Wal-Mart and efficient to be synonyms.

I was counting the minutes because I needed to get home for my microwave installation. (I made it home in time. And had enough time to wrap my niece’s gift and put it in a box to ship.) Turns out that our old microwave had been installed… badly, is the word I am coming up with. And it’s a good thing a) we never needed it repaired, because the way the previous owners installed it immediately voided the warranty and b) we never had a FIRE. Because they had “installed” it by cutting the wires of the microwave and basically hot-wiring it to the wall. Good times. But! The installation company put in an actual outlet and installed my new microwave correctly and it works and looks basically the same as the old one, so I am pleased. 

(The microwave installation people, by the way, were very nice. They wore masks. I kept the doors open while they were here and also wore a mask. They were gone in about forty minutes. But I asked one of them if they’d been extra busy during the pandemic, you know, just to make awkward conversation, and he said yes, and then went on a [very] little rant about how so many people are going SO OVERBOARD with precautions, and using too much hand sanitizer and wiping everything down, and people just need to chill out a little. Omg.) (After they left, I kept the doors open until the frightful wind started slamming them for me and I also washed my hands and wiped down the entire microwave and everything else they possibly could have touched.) 

What else can I fret to you about?

Oh yes. In Completely NOT Important In The Grand Scheme, Or Even In The Small Scheme, Really, Frets: I am worrying about Santa gifts. 

Let’s take a step back here and offer context: I grew up with Santa. I believed in Santa much longer than most children, in part because my parents were magicians at making Santa gifts appear beneath my watchful eyes, and in part because the magic was so special to me. My parents always gave us gifts, but Santa would give us the big, splashy gifts. A new bike. A Barbie Dream House. A new guitar. A kayak. Skis. (These were not all gifts for me, but various big Santa gifts I remember various members of my family getting over the year.) Anyway, they were the most exciting gifts. And it was such a delight to venture into our living room and see all these fabulous things that Santa had managed to sneak down our chimney. I have always sort of thought of Carla’s Santa gifts the same way. Santa got her a play kitchen one year. Santa brought her a Barbie Dream House a couple of years ago. Big, splashy gifts that really wow her.

My husband did not have the same experience growing up. He has never seen the gifts for Carla as “Santa gives the big gift,” but more along the lines of, it makes more sense to have a Barbie Dream House appear as from nowhere on Christmas morning rather than sit, wrapped, under the tree. And while we have discussed our different views on Santa gifts, and have very carefully said to one another that we know our own personal experience is not The One True Way, neither have we come up with a Defined Way to proceed.

With that context in mind:

As I mentioned in the Gift Guide post, we were planning on getting Carla a sewing machine for Christmas. In my mind, this was going to be her Big Gift from Santa.

But this year, another family member also had the idea to get Carla a sewing machine. And it’s a very generous gift, and very appropriate from this person. But now I am agonizing over giving up our “claim” on the sewing machine because a) now what does SANTA get for Carla? and b) what if the sewing machine doesn’t get here on time? Because this person has a lot going on this year, some very out-of-the-ordinary things that are occupying a lot of time and energy… Plus… even in normal years, this person has a very spontaneous, last-minute type of personality and gifts often arrive the day of a birthday/holiday/event or, sometimes, after the fact. In a year when shipping times and product availability are unreliable, I admit that I am extra concerned about gifts arriving in a timely manner. (That doesn’t give a lot of credit to the family member, I know, which is unfair.)

This is good practice in serenity and flexibility, isn’t it? I can only control my own actions, I cannot control the actions of others. Carla does not know she is supposed to get a sewing machine; she has not even asked for one. So if it doesn’t work out for Christmas this year, we could always get one for her next Christmas, or for her birthday. It will be fine. And, of course, Christmas is not ABOUT presents. It is about family togetherness, and the joy and satisfaction of generosity, and gratitude for all the blessings in our lives. (Yes, I realize Christmas foremost has significant religious meaning, but we are not particularly religious so it is much more of a secular holiday around here.)

And yet the anxious, catastrophize-y part of me is worrying and worrying this not-really-a-problem-problem to death, because I feel like there is tremendous extra pressure to Make Christmas Special this year. What if this is our last Christmas on earth? my doom-and-gloomful brain intones mournfully. What if one or all of us get sick and die and this is our final Christmas together? I realize, fully, that EVERY Christmas has the potential to be our last Christmas because terrible things happen all the time. But that very cheering reminder that this year is, in fact, no different from any other is not as comforting as one would hope.  Instead, it has plunged me deeper into despair and ignited within me a desire to counter that despair with retail therapy. A fleeting and overall ineffective therapy, yet a very appealing one. Except I don’t know what Big Splashy Gift to buy in place of a sewing machine, and I don’t know that I can get my husband on board even if I find one. 

I feel stupid and petty, stressing about these very inconsequential and privileged things when there are so many BIGGER and MORE IMPORTANT things to stress about. But that’s what this is, right? At least partly, it’s a reaction to how helpless I feel about everything else going on in the world. I am trying to regain control over my own little corner, and even that is proving difficult. 

I cannot be the only one wasting energy and angst on ridiculous things, right? RIGHT?

Okay, while you tell me about the inconsequential (or very consequential!) frets you are having right now, I am going to try to climb out of the pit of despair I have mired myself in. Or maybe take a nap.

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Well, yesterday’s sunshine has been washed away by an hours-long thunderstorm that woke me at 6:00 am and seems to have settled right over my house for the duration. It is very dark and wet with intermittent startling bursts of lightning and the grumpy follow-up of growling thunder and I am trying Very Hard to tamp down my School Is Actually Starting Anxiety. So I am retreating into happy memories – forcibly, this time – and still dreamily eating my way through my childhood summers. The food nostalgia is real strong, folks. 

Let’s talk about food! 

Today, for Labor Day, we are having ribs (it will be very fun and soggy to grill them if the downpour continues) and lemony potato salad.

(As an aside, potato salad is one of my Family Tradition Foods. We had it several times a year when I was growing up: New Year’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday, Fourth of July, Labor Day. My mom makes the BEST potato salad – it’s got a mustard base so it’s a nice sunny yellow, and it’s speckled with little bits of pickles and celery and red peppers and also – hork – hard boiled egg. My mom performs some sort of magical chopping technique on the egg so that it becomes dust and I barely even notice it. The potato salad is amazing and when I go to visit her, she makes a big batch of it and I eat it for breakfast. There is NOTHING that beats my mom’s cold potato salad for breakfast, you have to trust me. But even though she hand-wrote a copy of the recipe for me, I cannot make it so that it tastes the way her potato salad tastes. There must be something special she does, or maybe she doesn’t measure the ingredients as exactly as the recipe implies, or maybe she includes some sort of special ingredient like – hork – love. Whatever it is, I cannot replicate the flavor. So I have found my own potato salad recipe that I love but which tastes NOTHING like my mom’s. So even though it is Tradition to eat potato salad on Labor Day, it doesn’t really feel like tradition, because we’re not eating the traditional potato salad. Have I used the words tradition and potato salad often enough to create semantic satiation?) 

(My family is still sort of floundering to find our own Family Tradition Foods. Even for Thanksgiving and Christmas, we haven’t really settled on specific meals that are so good we want to eat them every year forever and ever amen. And that’s okay! I think variety is wonderful! But I also have such fond food-related memories of holidays growing up. The foods we ate at specific times throughout the year took on such significance – and eating something like my mom’s potato salad can bring so much warmth and happiness flooding back that I would love to create the same kind of thing for Carla. Of course, there’s the added hiccup that Carla doesn’t EAT anything, so…)

(Family Tradition Foods must be a thing for other families, too, yes? Do you have any that you remember with fondness? Or horkitude, I suppose – I’d be interested to know about the Special Food your dad made every September First that only he liked to eat, or, like, the hot dish Aunt Violetta used to bring to every family barbecue that you all pretended to love, but would dump behind the shrubbery at the earliest opportunity, or whatever.)

Back to the Labor Day holiday pigging: my husband made these AMAZING brownie crinkle cookies for dessert. We may have eaten some yesterday already. You know. To make sure they weren’t poisonous, and weren’t going to ruin the holiday or anything. They are so fudgy and delicious. You should make them immediately. 

Here’s what else is on this week’s menu. Spoiler alert: it’s full of comfort food.

Dinners for the Week of September 7-13

As I have already mentioned, several times, Carla is starting in-person school this week. She goes to a very small private school that has expended significant money and thought into how to make in-person school work safely for all involved. We feel hopeful and grateful and that this is the best decision we can make for our family at this time… but I am still nervous. Any and all distractions, especially but not limited to food-related memories or your dinner plans for this week, would be MOST welcome and appreciated. 

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Let’s pretend that we don’t care one way or another about the outcome, and let’s act like we are confident that we could calmly and resolutely march forward into the coming school year whatever it looks like, and let’s denude the entire situation of ALL its anxiety and stress and fear for the world and our own particular children, and let’s talk brightly and cheerfully about Back to School Shopping When We May Not Know Where School Will Take Place.

(Edited to add: We are currently anticipating sending Carla back to in-person school. Things could change; the school year doesn’t begin for a few weeks yet.)

So! My first question is about backpacks. How long do backpacks last? And, even if they are Sturdy Enough to last for multiple years, how long do they last from like a… user-preference standpoint? My husband says that Carla’s backpack – a Pottery Barn find of the Sturdy type – is totally fine for her again this year. She’s had it for three years, though, and – while it is still in Good Shape, it is looking a little dingy. My husband also reminds me that her backpack is a child’s size, and that he thinks a full size backpack would be too big for her. Maybe he’s right. But… at what age/size does a child need to pgrade to a full size backpack? I am not going into Pottery Barn kids anytime soon to compare sizes or have her try them on, so I realize we can only speak hypothetically here. Or perhaps – I am hoping – from experience. My own experience with backpacks is that I think I got a new one every year? I could be misremembering – conflating the Extreme Excitement I felt during the possibly fewer times I DID get a new backpack with general New School Supplies Excitement. (Oh man, is there anything as delightful as the purchase of a new TrapperKeeper and a colorful array of folders to snap inside it? I don’t know that many things in adulthood properly measure up.) Anyway: When it comes to backpacks for Carla, is it time for an update?

I am also wondering about school clothes. Carla’s school has a no-jeans dress code, with some other stipulations that I find less difficult to adhere to than “no jeans.” But I am not particularly inclined to buy her a whole closet full of new dresses at the moment. (See how I deftly sidestepped talking about WHY I am reluctant to do so?) She has a whole closet full of dresses, many of which still fit. And those that are too short, well, it’s harder to care about that sort of thing when you might only interact with other students over Zoom. (Whoops – got a little too close to The Subject We Are Avoiding there for a minute.)

She does need new pajamas, though. Her current jammies show off three or four inches of shoulder and wrist.  That’s not technically a Back to School Shopping Item, though.

What about shoes? Will there be a lot of shoe-wearing in our futures? WHO CAN PREDICT.

I think we are all set on water bottles. We have two, even if one is pretty battered. And we have masks galore (my dear friend, who said she would make Carla a mask, made her TEN MASKS and then made me a mask as well with the extra fabric she is a SAINT), so I am not worrying about facial protection.

Carla’s school provides all day-to-day school supplies, like crayons and paper and scissors and such (yes, I know we are deeply, deeply fortunate), so we don’t need to buy any of those things. Plus, we are All Set on that kind of thing at home from the end of the last school year.

Part of the thing about Back to School Shopping, though, is that it helps build excitement for the school year. I mean, that’s how I remember it. Getting new clothes and new pencils with perfectly sharpened tips and notebooks filled with fresh, crisp sheets of paper was all tied up in that thrill of nerves about the new school year beginning. Even if we have replaced the delicious anticipation about which teacher we’ll get and which kids will be in our class and which wing of the school we’ll be in with – skipping briskly over stressful subjects la la la – other things, we should still get to be excited about a new year, no? Maybe a First Day of School dress is in order? Maybe a new backpack or a new water bottle WOULD be a good use of money? Maybe I could get her a bunch of erasers in fun shapes and pencils in fun patterns and hand sanitizer in cloying scents and cute fidget toys? If they aren’t exactly necessary, maybe they would HELP nonetheless?

It feels like we’re all in this endless holding pattern. And, okay, even once Decisions have been made — and I know that What Happens With School has already been determined for a lot of people — life still isn’t The Way It Was. So all these routines and seasonal purchases and annual Things We Look Forward To just… aren’t there right now. I think I’m leaning toward getting a few things, just for the sake of (fake) normalcy, fun, and creating joy where we can. If there’s anything on the list, it should be those three things.

Plus, I have my own personal Back to School Shopping List, and let me tell you, it starts with tequila and ends with gin.

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Have you ever had a friend you talked to regularly, with whom you shared a lot of your life? And then, for whatever reason – opposing schedules, illness, vacation, depression – you fell out of your regular pattern of conversations and then just… couldn’t get back into it? After a while, you feel like you have so much to tell your friend that you can’t really find a solid block of time for the surely Epic Catch Up you are going to have. And then, after even more time passes, you feel a little… embarrassed. Like maybe you weren’t as close as you thought you were, because clearly it’s OKAY that so much time has passed without talking. And maybe your friend won’t even be interested in all the mundane details of your life that have accrued since your last conversation. More time passes, and you begin to a) feel like the little things you normally would have shared with your friend are meaningless and stupid and not worth sharing and also b) forget the things you would normally have shared with your friend. And maybe some Big Things have happened during your communication break – but they feel too big to share casually on a catch up call; they should have merited their own immediate phone call. And maybe you have gotten really into How to Get Away With Murder or have started going to bed really early and you just aren’t sure how to work regular friend conversations back into your life.

But you miss your friend. You have to pick up the phone at some point and be your dumb, normal, overly awkward self. And hope that your friend won’t be too disappointed in/annoyed by/indifferent to the prolonged stretch of silence.

 

I stopped blogging back in May because I was having a tough time. Nothing was Specifically Wrong; my family and I are very lucky to continue to enjoy good health. I had just become mired in one of the bogs of sadness I periodically find myself stumbling into, and then everything – gestures wildly at The Entire World – grew so overwhelming I didn’t know how to grapple with it here. Writing about Good Things seemed like it missed the mark. Whining about feeling overwhelmed when I am one of the lucky ones seemed like it missed the mark. Posting my Pandemic Dinner plans seemed wrong. I don’t know. Nothing felt right, so I stopped.

And then Officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement took center stage, and popping back up to talk about the extreme awkwardness of Zoom meetings or plans for my daughter’s birthday cake seemed intensely off topic and inappropriate. Black lives matter. But talking about my own response seemed equally inappropriate; no one needs another overprivileged white woman chronicling her bumbling attempts at anti-racism. The things that I am doing – filling Carla’s summer learning sessions with Black voices, talking to her about racism, explaining to her what’s going on in our country and how Black people are marginalized and criminalized and killed; buying and reading books by Black authors and other people of color; interrogating my own internalized racism and taking a cold, hard look at how my own privilege has enabled me to ignore what for many people is a life and death situation; looking for ways I can become involved in anti-racist activities in my community; working out how to get past the inertia/laziness and uncertainty/fear that keep me from being an active force for change – are small and inadequate and hardly worth talking about.

However, I started to worry that NOT posting that Black lives matter was wrong, too. And I found I was on a seesaw between “you must say something or saying nothing says everything” and “this is a time to listen to and learn, not to say something just to say it.” The kind of extreme, all-encompassing ambivalence that leads to paralysis.

What it comes down to, for me, is this: this blog is not really a space for deep thinking; I’m not over here excavating deep moral and ethical topics and inspiring people to change their lives, and I don’t pretend to do so. This space is for frivolous and mundane things like dinner plans and mooning about my kid growing up too fast and proving how socially awkward I am. It’s an escape, for me — and, I hope, maybe, for you — from the constant barrage of awfulness we get from all sides. Or, if not an escape, exactly, perhaps a gentler exploration of some of the less (ha) fraught things we’re going through — grocery store trips, mask wearing, socially-isolated childcare — in These Unprecedented Times.

Well. All of this has been swirling around in my brain these past two months. I stopped writing, and the longer the silence has stretched, the harder it has been for me to know how to break it.

But I do miss this space. And I miss you. So, like it or not, going about it the right way or not, I am going to try to fumble my way back into blogging again.

Well. I can’t promise anything. Maybe the next post will be about cake.

 

P.S. Thank you so much to all you lovely people who have checked in on me via email or comments. I appreciate you more than you know.

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It seems that melatonin doesn’t work particularly well for me. I had been having such trouble sleeping because of my personal-carelessness sunburn that I took a melatonin to help me fall asleep… and then woke up at 2:30 and couldn’t fall back to sleep. Obviously, 2:30 is when my brain does its best work. And by “best work” I mean cycling through all the things I could possibly worry about and over which I have no control at an increasingly frantic pace/tenor.

It strikes me that as we enter this new period of the pandemic – “re-opening” – that I am feeling the same kind of Fear of the Unknown and Abject Terror I was feeling in the early weeks of Coronavirus Has Reached My Country And Things Are Falling Apart.

Maybe it’s even worse, now? I’m not sure. Am I MORE stressed now than I was then? It’s hard to say. My stress levels have certainly been getting a workout over the past few months, though. So I decided to chart them. For posterity.

Pandemic Stress Level

This chart begins, for me, in the last week of February; the news was covering coronavirus all the time at that point, but we hadn’t yet discovered it/confirmed its presence here in the U.S. I was putting extra flour and ground beef in my grocery cart. I bought an extra package of toilet paper, even though we had a big package at home already. I felt a little silly, but the CDC was recommending setting aside enough supplies for two weeks of quarantine, so… Anyway, that’s where this starts for me. And now I have just completed Week 12 and I feel like I’m back where I was in early March, stress/panic-wise.

This chart has flaws; there are no call-outs for “distance learning is going to kill us all” or the sharp punches of Anger at People, Specific and General or the surprising spikes of happiness when I found myself spending a delightful day with my family. I think there should be an overlying chart that shows a steep rise in Comfort Eating that has since plateaued at the highest level; alas, my chart-making skills/desire have failed me. But overall, I think it represents the passage of time pretty well.

How are YOU? Are you feeling the anxiety ramp-up as the country starts to experiment with re-opening? Have you, too, experienced an Online Shopping phase?

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Our state is taking small steps toward “opening up.” And I have gone straight from Worrying About How Long the Shelter In Place Order Will Last to Worrying About What “The New Normal” Will Look Like and How Will I Possibly Participate In It. After being told, for weeks, that staying at home is the safest possible choice… how can we all of sudden just start… LEAVING THE HOUSE?

UGH.

If only I felt like there was A Reasonable Plan. A plan based on actual scientific evidence. Instead of all of our leaders feeling immense pressure to Do Something and so throwing a handful of re-opening spaghetti against the metaphorical wall of our society and seeing what sticks.

I am SURE I am not the only one fretting about this shift towards “normal.” You’re worrying about it too, right?

Here are some specific things my brain-hamster is running frantically toward without actually moving an inch:

When is it reasonable to ask my housecleaner to come back? We are fortunate to have been able to continue to pay her while we’ve all been staying at home. But how long is she going to hold our spot? Is she working for her other clients again? Is it safe for her to spend hours in our possibly-germ-filled house? Is it possible that she could be bringing in germs from her family/other clients that could make our family – or the people we are necessarily in contact with (grocery store workers, my husband’s patients) – sick? Could I reasonably ask her to wear a mask while in our house? And would I need to provide her one (this would be ideal, of course)? And would that make her uncomfortable? Obviously I can continue cleaning our house myself; a housecleaner is not a necessity, it is a luxury. But I don’t know if we can/should continue to pay our housecleaner to stay home. At some point, doing so becomes less “this is an interim solution” and more “I am paying someone I don’t intend to see again.” Not that I don’t intend to see her again! Most of all, I don’t want to let my wonderful, beloved housecleaner go because I am being overly cautious about coronavirus. But… IS there such a thing as being overly cautious?

How will I feel about sending Carla to camp, if that happens, and, eventually, school? The camps Carla is enrolled in have not yet made a ruling about whether they will happen this summer. It seems unlikely, but… I guess it’s possible? When I think about the possibility of Carla going to camp, and then going to school in the fall, I am ripped violently in two directions. The one direction is MASSIVE RELIEF, because distance learning is not going great and because I know Carla needs in-person interaction with people who aren’t her parents and because I have not had more a shower’s length of time alone in two months. The other direction is CRUSHING FEAR because I don’t want her to get sick. I don’t want her to bring home the virus and get us sick. I don’t want her to bring home the virus and give it to my husband and have him a) unable to work or b) INFECT HIS PATIENTS OMG. I don’t want to constantly be worrying about her counselors/teachers and her friends and checking to see if she has a fever and perking up instantly if she sneezes.

Are we just going to be able to… GO PLACES now? Seeing as going to the grocery store – or even the PROSPECT of going to Costco – is still a dreaded activity, I can’t really imagine going to less essential businesses on purpose. For instance, it has become clear that we need to get Carla a real desk (her little child-size folding table has been working for now, but it’s not a good long-term solution – and I sense more distance learning in our future), but I am not finding anything reasonable online (the Pottery Barn Kids desks seem to be around EIGHT HUNDRED AMERICAN DOLLARS) and it would be so nice to go to IKEA and see some options in person. But… The very thought fills me with horror.

What is work going to be like for my husband? This is a very big complicated snarl of Unknown and it is filling us both with extreme anxiety. I will not get into the details but OMG.

And then, of course, is The Big Worry. What happens if/when (it’s when, right?) there is another spike?

It feels like the very best thing I, personally, can do to help is to continue to stay home, to continue to keep Carla home, to continue – at least for now – to pay my housecleaner to stay away. But someday it will be okay to do other things, right?

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I still feel like I’m on a ship. Sometimes the seas are smooth, othertimes the waters are choppy and nauseating. Still others, the storms pummel the briny deep into great stomach-churning, heart-jolting valleys and peaks and I’m not sure whether my body or mind will break first before I am swallowed by the foaming depths. Every day, the wide indifferent ocean stretches to the horizon on all sides and I don’t know how long it will take to reach the shore. I do not like boats or water or the thought of nameless shapes shifting in the void below. Small — but significant — comfort to know that you’re out here too, guiding your own craft through the murky waves.

What better way to deal with such a mental state than to talk about food? I mean, what’s more basic than food? We all need it, for survival, for comfort, for distraction, for pleasure.

Of course I’ve been craving carbs, and making rice and noodles and various nacho-like concoctions with abandon. Well, not abandon exactly because I am conscious that finding replacement carbs may not be as easy as I’d like.

The surprising things on my quarantine cravings list? Raw carrots, celery, and bell peppers. Perhaps I can attribute these desires to the gargantuan vats of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing I am using as a veggie dip. But I think it’s more the potential scarcity of fresh veggies – or, if not the veggies themselves, but my ability to access them. I bought two one-pound bags of carrots right as self-isolation was beginning, in the second week of March. And then on my most recent trip to the store, I bought a third. (I recognize that this must sound absurd to those whose families include more than three humans.) I think I am halfway through the second bag; I used a good half of the first bag to make mirepoix, which I froze for future soup-making.

It is just past breakfast time, now, and I am already thinking about a tidy plate of crunchy carrots and my last stalk of celery. Stranger than this, I find myself craving these veggies but then… not eating them. A self-rationing, I guess. Are these the last carrots I will be able to get? I clicked IMMEDIATELY and FORCEFULLY away from the one article I saw that said the food supply chain was not as sturdy as we all think it is, so I don’t know if it was a breathless panic piece or something more reasonable. But I am always worrying that something will be the last. My daughter is eating a rotation of PB&J sandwiches and Lunchables each day, and when I noticed we only have two of the latter left, I dutifully put it on the grocery list. But… when will I be able to get groceries? And, when I can, will there be any Lunchables?

Best not to think about the worst case scenario, and just move forward as planned. Add things to the list, assuming I can get them – if not immediately, then at some point.

Lettuce is also, for similar reasons, on my cravings list. Oh how I long to cut a quarter of a nice, crunchy, nutritionally vapid globe of iceberg lettuce and, yes, drench it in ranch, and eat it without a care! But I do care. And I am saving our iceberg lettuce for tacos.

What are you craving the most, during this strange period of isolation?

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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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To those of you who have reached out: thank you. You are so sweet and it makes my heart so full to know that I have such a loving little community here on the internet.

My household is fine. I mean, we are all supposed to assume we are infected with coronavirus, right? but we are currently showing no symptoms.

I have been so grateful to those of you who are blogging through These Unprecedented Times. I keep wanting to blog – I keep thinking of things to tell you – but it is very difficult to write when I am obsessively refreshing the fifty or so news sites I now check in with each day. Usually I avoid all news because it causes me such roiling anxiety, but… well, now the roiling anxiety is just a state of being so, why not feed it on a minute-by-minute basis with frenzied updates from all possible media outlets? (My news roll includes Washington Post, NYT, the Atlantic, and CNN, plus a conservative news site that my parents follow so I can read what they are reading, plus three newspaper sites from three different areas of my home state, plus the news site from my brother’s city, plus my own city’s primary newspaper, plus Buzzfeed because sometimes you just need a 17 Cranky Cats in Tiny Sweaters palette cleanser.)

Anyway, what I am saying is that I should probably tone down the fear scrolling and instead do more reading/commenting on your posts and writing some of my own. After all, what we all need in These Unprecedented Times is more of my semi-hysterical trying-too-hard-to-be-funny overzealous-use-of-capital-letters-and-parentheses day-to-day-ridiculousness, right? Okay, so literally no one needs that. But distraction is useful.

When it comes to Blog Block, there’s also the Carla Consideration, as anyone who is both trying to work from home and now taking sole charge of Every Single Moment of their children’s time will be INTIMATELY familiar with. Just now, I had to move my computer from the kitchen table to my office because Carla was busy coloring some unicorns in a coloring book. And by “busy coloring” I mean saying, every six seconds, “Do you like this? How do you like how I colored this? Mommy? What color should this unicorn’s hooves be? And its ears? And its eyes? Is this the color you meant? Mommy? Should I make polka dots on the unicorn’s skin? Do you like this shade of aqua? Look, Mommy.” And it’s adorable and I am actually (SO FAR) cherishing this extra time we have together, but it is IMPOSSIBLE to think when you are constantly choosing unicorn-fur shade and oohing and aahing over a unicorn’s rainbow mane. There are approximately 7,192 unicorns in this book, which is a blessing and a curse.

Any reasonable update of what I’ve been up to since my last post (ha – remember that? a million years ago in The Time Before?) (seriously – I know time has taken on strange qualities but I was SHOCKED to learn that I wrote that carefree keto post less than a month ago) should include Carla, so let’s start there.

Pandemic schedules

Schedules! Useful both for Planning Your Day and also Knowing What Day It Is! Now taking bets on how long I will keep this up, which would have been “two days” except for Carla’s semi-reproachful comment that I hadn’t made today’s list in time for her to read it while eating breakfast.

  • As with the rest of the known universe, Carla is done with school for the foreseeable future. Her school has not gone so far as to put any sort of timeframe on our absence – but it seems like the world is moving toward cancelling the rest of the school year, so that’s what I’m anticipating. We are currently in Week 2 of her previously-scheduled Spring Break, which has given the administration a little breathing room to figure out some sort of distance learning program. We start next week and… I am VERY curious to discover how her very progressive, child-led-learning, no-homework-until-fifth-grade school designs remote lessons for a bunch of first graders.
  • Last week, because it was Spring Break, we put almost no limits on screen time. That was… awful. Carla loves screens but too much time watching shows transforms her from a curious, amiable, active child into a grouchy, defiant, hides-in-a-dark-room-with-only-the-images-from-her-ipad-as-lighting child and I do not care for it. So this week, we are doing more of a Loosely Scheduled thing. This means that I write up a list of tasks for us to complete each day (see above) and then we go through them at a very leisurely pace. It is better for Carla this way, because she just… needs expectations and targeted things to do. She’s good at distracting herself, don’t get me wrong, but unlimited screen time is NOT useful for her. It turns out that she has been very eager to complete all the tasks – more eager than I have been, truthfully; I’d rather sit and read all day than check off the items on the list I made. (Today, when I didn’t have a schedule pre-written and ready to go, she REQUESTED one. Then, when I made it, she pointed out that today’s list only has THIRTEEN items instead of FOURTEEN, when apparently the previous two days had – completely by accident – fourteen items. I am making this all up as I go along, Carla. There is no rhyme or reason to any of it!) I am relying heavily on the free daily activities and lessons from Scholastic, which requires next to zero thinking/planning on my part. Yesterday, we veered from Scholastic because I wanted to plant lettuce in Carla’s mini aero garden, so I designed a curriculum (HA) around the life cycle of a plant. If you think we are sticking EXACTLY to the schedule, you would be wrong. We definitely did not do a math worksheet yesterday, for instance. Or any exercise at all. Also, we have squeezed in lots of unscheduled cuddling/TV time – watching “educational” things like The Zoo and The Aquarium on Animal Planet.
  • We have been playing a lot of games. The games I enjoy include Exploding Kittens and Guess Who. The games I do NOT enjoy include Candy Land and Pit. We have a bunch of other games, of varying quality level, but I also ordered Sorry! from Target, which I have never played (full disclosure: mainly because I really wanted some Oreos and some tortilla chips, but they each only ship if you spend $25 and so I figured that a new game would help put us nicely over that total and also help stave off the inevitable cabin fever). Today, as you will note from our schedule, we will try out Bananagrams. Spelling work disguised as a game! Woo!
  • It is hard to tell what Carla thinks of…All This. She is, for the most part, a very happy, worry-free child. And that seems to persist, despite all these changes. I really need to lay off on things like telling her she shouldn’t eat an entire pint of blueberries in one sitting because they are hard to come by these days… and chiding her for wasting toilet paper. That doesn’t help anything. I am trying really hard to maintain as much a sense of normalcy as possible, but of course my husband and I talk about Pandemic Stuff all the time and Carla is very perceptive – I am sure she feels the palpable increase in tension around her. The only indication that she’s internalizing it is her sleep patterns: the other night, she came into my room at 4:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep until six. And last night, she wanted to sleep on the floor of our bedroom. But… these aren’t entirely abnormal for her, so it’s hard to say if they are Pandemic Related or not. I really, really hope that she is doing okay. Kids are adaptable and resilient… but man, this is all so uncertain and scary and… well, I just hope that everything works out okay.
  • One of the best things we are doing is daily chats with my niece. We have been Facetiming my niece – who lives in another state – and Carla has decided that they are going to read to each other every day. Carla is almost seven and her cousin is almost five. But they both seem to enjoy chatting with each other, and it’s nice for me to be able to have adult conversation – even if brief and interrupted – with my sister-in-law. (Ugh. I am worried about my sister-in-law, who is concerned she may be laid off. Also, she is a single parent who is currently working from home with a four-year-old. She is wonderfully creative and an excellent parent, but… what a CHALLENGE.) I should probably set up some remote “play dates” with Carla’s friends, but I’m not there yet.
  • One of the things I am as yet resisting is Group Interactions. Carla’s Girl Scouts troop leader mentioned that we could do meetings via Zoom or something (I am going to have to figure out what Zoom is, aren’t I?) and, while I get that we should definitely do our regularly scheduled monthly meeting, I am resistant to having additional meetings. It’s not like Carla can just hop on Zoom by herself. And I am not eager to participate in what will probably be a cacophony of seven-year-olds shouting at each other over various computers while their parents and troop leader try to get a word in edgewise. No thank you. Same goes for her ballet class. While the fact that her ballet teacher even suggested that they get together online makes me teary, it is so wonderful and sweet and caring of her to try to establish some sense of normalcy, I just cannot fathom how it would work. I am an introvert’s introvert, and the thought of even remote connection with other humans is challenging to wrap my head around.
  • What else can I update you on? Oh, obviously, keto is out the window. I lost nearly 10% of my bodyweight over the three weeks we did it, which was very gratifying. But I am putting keto on hold while we are in isolation because a) it is very expensive and requires a million trips to the grocery store to keep up our meat and cheese supplies and b) I need carbs to deal with the stress. I just do. On the plus side, being on keto just prior to a pandemic breaking out means that we have SO MUCH CHEESE in our house. Unfortunately, I am so sick of cheese that I have not been eating it. Except on tacos, which I have been loading into delicious, delicious shells.
  • My husband, obviously, is continuing to go to work each day. This is, technically, the most stressful thing in our lives right now. Which is fortunate; we aren’t sick, no one in our circle is sick. (Well, knowingly.) But getting sick feels… inevitable. He keeps leaving the house. He keeps meeting with people – patients, staff, other doctors – any of whom could be infected. When he comes home, he immediately washes his hands and changes his clothes. But… is that enough? I don’t know. I feel like Covid-19 is coming for us, at some point. We keep giving each other fearful, suspicious looks whenever one of us coughs or sneezes. Ugh.
  • My husband is not on the “front lines.” At least, not yet. His specialty is in the same vein as something like pediatrics or urology – where there is a wide spectrum of urgency. Some people need to be seen in the office or surgery center. Others, he can meet with via telehealth platforms or even over the phone. Some days, his patient load is fairly normal-for-a-slow-day; other days, he sees maybe two or three patients. He gets daily emails about changes to insurance and patient access and HIPAA regulations and emergency procedures. He and his partners have weekly meetings about staff changes and patient interaction. His primary office has closed all but one entrance and now takes everyone’s temperature when they enter. His hospital system, like others all over the country (and the world) is struggling with inadequate supplies of masks and gloves and other protective equipment. His hospital system, like others, is preparing for an overwhelming influx of emergent patients. His hospital system has informed him and other specialists that they may need to call on him to do Not His Specialty, but more general medicine, should the need for physicians overload the number of actual physicians available. The whole thing is weird and scary on many levels.
  • To drastically change tone, I have developed what I am referring to as Quarantine Skin. It is likely the result of a) not showering daily because what’s the point (there will come a point when I will need to shower daily for my mental health, but right now skipping showers feels more decadent than depressive) and b) near-constant anxiety and c) the leap back into an All Carbs All the Time lifestyle. I am less bothered by it than I would be if I had to be interacting with outside-my-family-humans, but I am aware that my body is not exactly happy with things at present.
  • As an introvert and an experienced work-from-homer, I am doing okay so far, in terms of our state’s Stay at Home order. Being at home is my preferred state, honestly. And we have a house full of books and videos and games and various digital distractions. Plus, we are very lucky to have a backyard – so, if it would only stop raining, we could go OUTSIDE. If I could just stop obsessing about the news, I would be much better. For the most part, I am sleeping okay. Not great – I wake up frequently to listen to my husband breathe, to listen to Carla turning over in her makeshift bed on my floor, to worry about what would happen if (when?) my husband contracts Covid-19 and brings it home to us, to worry about my parents and my brother and my friends – but okay; I fall asleep fairly easily and have been able to sleep in.
  • Sleeping in is probably the BEST part about this quarantine. My husband’s reduced patient load means that sometimes he isn’t needed at work until eight or even nine o’clock! There’s nothing any of us has to wake up early for, so we sleep in until decadent hours. Carla never seems to get enough sleep during the school year, so I am glad she is able to sleep until her body wakes her up.

 

Well. I have run out of steam for today. Please tell me how YOU are doing during These Unprecedented Times. I hope you and your loved ones are safe and well, and I am thinking of you, and I know that this will pass. There will be A Time After This, there will.  And the best thing we can do is get through today in whatever way we can.

 

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