If my teenager devotes as much time and attention to preparing for and applying to college as she has plotting and organizing her efforts to buy tickets to see Taylor Swift, she will get in anywhere she wants with scholarship offers to boot. In fact she has said that she and her friends (both real life and online Swifties) are comparing receiving the magic presale code by text (required to buy tickets before the general public, if any are even left at that point) to hearing whether you’ve been accepted to your first choice school. Her excitement and anxiety around this concert tour have been enormous. She has said many times, “I am so scared.” As in, that we won’t get tickets, or maybe won’t get tickets for the right show, or won’t get good seats. The emotional intensity is palpable. I get it. This is someone whose music and persona she cares a lot about. I’ve certainly felt that way about musicians throughout my life. I know that problems, like gas or water, can expand to fill up all available room, regardless of their overall seriousness or significance. Hopefully we will be able to get the tickets tomorrow morning and all will be well. And between now and two years from now when she is actually applying for college, we will take lots and lots of deep breaths.

Meanwhile, we are also facing the superficially less dramatic but actually much more daunting prospect of her learning to drive. She and I attended a mandatory two-hour presentation about driver safety and education last week. Her school auditorium was filled with other sophomores and their parents and I wondered what was going through all of their heads. Here’s what I learned that night:

You’re no longer supposed to position your hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel. Now 8 and 4 are recommended, so you don’t have to cross your arms when you turn and if the airbag goes off you’re less likely to sustain injuries from your arms being crossed, and to reduce fatigue from driving. I thought this was an interesting tip, and wondered why no one is making an effort to tell adults who have already been driving for years to change their habits. There’s also a new way you’re supposed to position your side mirrors to eliminate the blind spot and avoid accidents. I know if you have a newer car you have the fancy indicators that tell you when someone is close by in the lanes next to you, but I drive a 2010 minivan so I have no such luxury. There were actually a few driving tips that seemed useful and I wondered why adults are required to do so little to renew their licenses. Not that I want extra administrative hurdles in my life, but I am sure my driving has gotten worse and I could use a little refresher course. I guess that’s what I was getting last week.

Allegedly, parents have the most influence on teens’ driving habits. The presentation was heavy on telling us to get ourselves together to both model proper behavior when we’re driving and set the rules and to feel free to take away driving privileges. We are supposed to go through step-by-step driving lessons in the booklet they gave us, and log 45 hours of driving practice with our kids while they have their learners permit. And review and sign and make them sign various contracts in the back of the booklet outlining what they are and are not allowed to do and what happens if they mess up. That is all in addition to the classroom portion of driver’s ed they take during gym class, and the behind-the-wheel training they have to take with licensed instructors. No pressure. The driver’s ed teachers who were presenting emphasized the importance of establishing a bond with your children to effectively encourage safe driving habits. If you haven’t already established a bond by the time they’re 15 and 6 months, it may be a challenge to start now. The slide show also included a smiling dad and daughter sitting in the front seat of a car and advised us to leave our family problems at home when we practice driving, to make it a fun experience for everyone.

I wondered how kids who don’t have reliable parents, or parents who drive, or parents who own a car, are supposed to manage all this. Today as part of my job I was downtown meeting with DC Council Members and their staffs to discuss issues related to youth homelessness. Included in our group were three young adults who have experienced homelessness and are now advocating on behalf of themselves and their peers for tailored workforce development programs and mobile mental health services that meet their needs. One of the service providers mentioned that abundant driver jobs are available in the DC area, working for Amazon or FedEx or UPS, among others. And many young people she works with are eager to apply for the jobs, but they don’t have driver’s licenses because they grew up taking public transportation, and they don’t have parents available to teach them to drive, or cars to learn on. One of the young people said that the logistical barriers are so significant that many teens don’t bother with them, and drive anyway, often taking cars that don’t belong to them because they literally have no legitimate way of getting a license and buying and insuring their own cars.

Which brings me back to the driver’s ed presentation and the talk by the police officer. He was there, ostensibly, to talk about how to behave when you’re pulled over while driving. He did that, but only after he offered a lot of his own perspective on teens and driving and how judges where we live don’t like to see teens in court for traffic violations because the judges know the teens should know better and are very strict. All of it felt like a lecture designed to scare the kids, which it probably was. But it irritated me. Perhaps because this is not my preferred parenting technique and I am not a police officer and I know a lot of the people in the audience probably bristled the moment the officer walked up to the front of the auditorium. I should mention that the officer was Black, and at least half if not three-quarters of the young people in the audience were people of color. So the officer said that if you’re pulled over, you should roll down the windows and put your hands on the steering wheel where they’re visible. He said that if the officer asks for your license you should say, “it’s in my pocket, can I reach behind me and get it out of my wallet,” or “it’s in my bag on the passenger seat, may I reach over and get it,” or whatever the case may be, so you have permission to move. “So we don’t have any accidents,” the officer said. Which translates to, “so we don’t shoot you and kill you for no reason,” I guess. He said, “Be polite. When you’re pulled over it’s not the time to practice your trial lawyer skills. If you feel like the officer did something wrong, your parents can deal with that later. It’s your job to be polite.” Are your parents really going to sort it out later? Whose parents are going to do that? Maybe parents who actually are trial lawyers? The more he talked, the more I did not want to listen.

I am a middle-aged white woman who has been pulled over a handful of times for stupid things. Mostly I have avoided getting tickets, perhaps because I legitimately didn’t know my tail light was out, or I wasn’t actually drunk but just trying to get the hair out of my eyes with a barrette (that did actually happen). Maybe I just seem idiotic and pathetic when they pull me over because I get flustered easily. And I seriously didn’t know that it’s illegal to drive through a parking lot in order to get onto a different road if the traffic is bad. Did you know that? (I did get the ticket for that one, and as a result I was even later to pick my kid up from day care). I am acutely aware that I have never been racially profiled and no officer has ever pulled out his gun when I reached for my license or registration. My daughter will likely be treated the same way because she is white. Unfortunately some of her friends and some of the teenagers in that auditorium will not be. We have to do a lot more to change the way police officers behave or even at a more basic level how we approach and achieve community safety with or without police, so no one else who is unarmed, nonthreatening, and completely innocent, gets killed by a cop for any reason.

Our lives are not perfect or without challenges, but I understand how privileged we are. Listening to the stories of these young people today talk about times in their lives when they were trying to find a place to stay from day to day, without any support from family, was important. One of them, who is currently studying for the LSAT and trying to figure out her path to law school, was homeless for her final two years of college. Another talked about the value of his lived experience as a prospective employee. He wants to be a social worker and he can draw on his knowledge of earning his GED while incarcerated, having been part of the foster care system, and being a parent, to help others. He’s already doing that by serving on several advisory boards and speaking at meetings and events across the city.

I try to provide all kinds of fun and enriching experiences for my kids. I want them to be exposed to all kinds of things. But hopefully they will never have to know what it’s like to be homeless or involved in the justice system or profiled by the police. Hopefully I will be able to model good behavior when I’m driving so none of us will crash because we’re distracted or sleepy. Hopefully my daughter will get a job so she can afford the concert tickets and the merch and the meals out with friends and excursions to Starbucks. And we will all keep in mind that even when we struggle, we do it with privilege.

Picture this: I am making a delicious lunch for Niki to bring to school because although they woke up at 7:45, they have decided at 8:25 that they want to bring lunch and will not eat the “baked fish treasures” on offer at school. They are supposed to leave for the bus stop at 8:30.

They are dressed except for socks and shoes, which they claim they cannot put on until I help them put their halloween costume in a bag. I have not yet done this because they came downstairs saying, “You need to put my halloween costume in a bag,” and refused to rephrase this as a polite request instead of a direct order. I told them I do not take orders.

Meanwhile, as I spread the sun butter and strawberry preserves on bread, I am suddenly overcome with an urgent need to use the bathroom. I drop the knife on the counter and sprint to the bathroom. On the way I somehow encounter a shard of something (glass? plastic? no idea) that impales my foot. I make it to the bathroom but while I am on the toilet my foot is bleeding all over the floor. I try to stop the bleeding with toilet paper, and end up with bloody toilet paper stuck to my foot and all over the floor. Niki is asking through the door if I’m ok and what’s going on and I am shouting instructions about filling their water bottle and putting it and their lunch bag into their backpack and where to find a tote bag for their halloween costume and oh by the way can you ask Daddy to come downstairs with the bactine and bandaids since I am bleeding all over the floor. 

Randy (who is weak and feverish from his covid booster yesterday) comes down with first aid supplies and cleans the floor while I clean my foot. I hobble upstairs and roll up Niki’s axolotl costume (size adult medium because that’s all that was left when they decided on a costume) and they stuff it in the aforementioned bag. I gingerly put socks on over my bandaged foot and slip on my Birkenstocks to drive Niki to school, since we’ve long since missed the bus.

They insist, as usual, on taking an umbrella. They repeatedly try to open the umbrella in the hallway despite the fact that it’s not necessary to do that in the house AND IT’S NOT RAINING. They insist that it is “rainy” and I counter that no precipitation is happening and tell them they may not open the umbrella at all. I say (because we are currently reading a book together that takes place on a submarine) that that’s an order from their captain. They say “you’re not my captain, you’re my mom.” I say, “moms are captains.” They say, “no, moms are caretakers.” I say, “They are both captains and caretakers.” They say, “I’m not taking orders.”

AND scene. 

Tonight I testified before my local school board in response to Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s recent threats against trans, nonbinary, and gender expansive young people. It was important to me that I make a statement, even though Arlington has expressed (in writing and at tonight’s meeting) its commitment to affirming LGBTQIA+ students and upholding current policies respecting their rights and autonomy (for which I was grateful). In recent days I have joined Arlington Gender Identity Allies, stepped up to play a larger role in Equality UUCA, and participated in a webinar by Equality Virginia to learn more about advocating against Gov. Youngkin’s policy. The 30-day public comment period for this policy begins on September 26. You can submit comments here.

Here’s my testimony:

Testimony before the APS School Board | September 22, 2022 | Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso 

Good evening members of the school board. Thank you for the opportunity to speak. My name is Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso. I’ve lived in Arlington for 25 years and have two children in APS. I am a fierce ally of LGBTQIA+ children and youth.

I applaud Arlington for being one of only 13 school boards to fully adopt the 2020 VDOE Model Policy for the Treatment of Transgender Students, which enabled students to go by their chosen names and pronouns in school and use bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

Now Governor Youngkin wants to reverse the progress we’ve made in affirming our gender expansive kids. His newly proposed policies undermine young people’s autonomy, self-expression, and safety. What the governor wants to do is at best dangerous and at worst, a matter of life and death. 

In a recent survey by the Trevor Project of approximately 35,000 LGBTQIA+ youth, nearly half reported they had seriously considered attempting suicide during the past year. More than half of those respondents identified as trans or nonbinary. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Honoring someone’s gender identity is vital to preventing suicide. 

Trans and nonbinary young people are much less likely to experience serious mental health challenges or consider suicide when they are called by their chosen names and pronouns. Such a simple, yet deeply affirming act can be life saving. Not surprisingly, young people whose families are supportive of their identities are also less likely to struggle. Unfortunately, only one in three respondents to the Trevor Project survey said they live in a gender-affirming household. So for many of these young people, school becomes their safe haven–a place where trusted friends and caring adults fully value and respect them. Gov. Youngkin’s proposed policy would take away that sanctuary, increasing the likelihood that our young people could experience rejection in–or even ejection from–their own homes. 

Immediately after I learned of the governor’s proposal, I reached out to APS to ensure our schools would continue to uphold welcoming, affirming, and inclusive policies. I was heartened to receive emails both from Dr. Durán and our school principal reiterating their commitment to supporting trans and nonbinary students. I’ve seen firsthand what it means to gender expansive kids when their humanity–which absolutely includes their gender identity–is embraced and uplifted, and the devastation that can result when they are treated as less than whole, and who they are is disrespected, discouraged, and dismissed. It is up to us to do the right thing–to protect our kids and make sure they know they are loved for who they are.

Somewhere, somehow,
among the thrill of
knocking $40 off my total
at CVS (thanks to the
careful collection of
Extracare coupons)

three trips to Target on
three consecutive days to
find,
return,
find,
return,
and find
the appropriate school supplies

endless sorting and dissemination of
unwanted and outgrown items
(on Buy Nothing,
to Goodwill,
and literally left on the curb
in the hopes of making some passerby’s day
and saving myself another task),

I got lost.

Throw in the mix
obsessive playing of games
on my phone–
NYT crossword
Spelling bee
Wordle
so much
matching of tiles.

I am a sucker for
those teeny
tiny
hits
of dopamine.

Plus the undefined hours
since I took time off
to be with my kids
this summer
now they’re back in school
the enormous amount of
space in my brain taken up
by thinking about them
and doing my best to
advocate
encourage
nurture
without
helicoptering
smothering
alienating

There have been
many
naps.
Some amount of
guilt
about the naps.
But not always.

Underlying
all of this
is the fractured
uncertain sense of
community that comes
from living through
a pandemic
for three years.

I crave
belonging.
I have
felt adrift.
I need
purpose
to shape my life
meaning to
tie it together.

Yet the world still
unravels.

When I pulled up in front of her high school, Zoe ran over to the minivan to collect her backpack and duffel bag, packed the night before and stuffed with everything she thought she might possibly need for the next three days. I offered to carry something for her and she declined. I started to walk with her to the entrance of the school where the rest of the crew team and the coaches and the parent chaperones were gathered. She stopped me.

“I was just going to walk you over there,” I said. “And give you a hug goodbye.”

“Can you just do that here?” she asked. I got it. I gave her a hug. Told her to have fun and not get hurt and do a good job cheering or rowing, whatever she ended up doing. She told me not to cry and walked away toward her friends.

For the record, I didn’t cry.

I don’t think of myself as an embarrassing mom, but I guess no parent ever does. I went home and got a consolation hug from my husband.

Now, several hours later, my favorite app–Find My Friends–indicates that Zoe made it to Philadelphia and actually all the way to the river where the regatta will take place. I think they’re scoping out the course, or maybe even practicing, before the race tomorrow. Zoe was invited to go with the team as an alternate for the women’s freshman eight boat, because if one person in an eight gets ill or injured, the whole boat is sunk (not literally). So Zoe will be as supportive and enthusiastic a cheerleader as anyone could want, unless of course someone wakes up tomorrow with a fever or trips while carrying an oar and breaks their leg. I would never wish this to happen, but it’s hard not to hope just a little bit that my kid would get the chance to row in what’s apparently the largest high school rowing event in the country. She, however, seems perfectly content to go along for the ride–basically taking a field trip to a cool city with people she loves.

This is the last regatta she will participate in this season. Next weekend is the national championship, and although her novice women’s eight boat took silver in the state championships earlier this month, novices don’t get to go to nationals. Don’t ask me why. But truthfully, this fact has saved me some amount of stress, because she’s also a member of the courtship for her good friend’s quinceañera that weekend. If you’re not familiar with the quinceañera, it’s a huge party (maybe somewhere between a bar/bat mitzvah and a wedding?) to celebrate a Latina girl turning 15. And the courtship is like a bridal party. Part of the courtship’s responsibility is doing a choreographed dance at the party with the birthday girl. Zoe is helping choreograph. The morning of the party, the courtship kids are gathering to get hair and makeup done, and then taking a party bus downtown for photos. So this is, you might imagine, a big deal. Also we need to get her a gold, floor-length dress. We haven’t yet found said dress. But we will!

Rowing has been one of the most challenging and exhilarating things Zoe has ever done, on par with earning her black belt in martial arts, or maybe she would say even harder, as martial arts practice was never held at 5:30am. During the spring season, the crew team practices six days a week. Typically, freshmen and novices practiced in the afternoon and varsity in the morning (at 5:30, arriving at the boathouse in the dark). But on several occasions Zoe’s coaches asked her and various combinations of other newer rowers to come in the morning. The first time they asked her to come to morning practice, she was thrilled. I was slightly less so, since I was the one driving her at 5am, but I got used to it. And she did too, although there was definitely a night when she had been at practice in the afternoon and her boat (a double that day, not an eight) had flipped, and she hurt her foot when it got stuck in the shoe of the boat (where you put your feet while you’re rowing) and she was supposed to go to morning practice the next day and I sat with her in her room trying to reassure her because she was worried that she just couldn’t do it. Of course, she didn’t actually do it because when she woke up at 5 she couldn’t put weight on her foot and we had to go to urgent care. But she was back at practice three days later, preparing for the next day’s regatta.

Over the course of three months, the skin on Zoe’s hands was shredded from gripping the oars. She complained that everything hurt. She was exhausted. But she was tough. Every night she made her lunch for the next day, and packed her crew bag. We went to the chiropractor a few times. She took a fair amount of Tylenol. She spent a lot of hours rigging and de-rigging boats. She has learned so many technical and practical things about boats and rowing that are beyond my understanding. It took me months to understand the difference between novice and freshman, which is relevant because Zoe was moved back and forth between the novice and freshman boats throughout the season. A freshman can be a novice but a novice isn’t necessarily a freshman–just someone new to the sport, which can include 8th graders. So the freshman boat is usually just a little bit faster than the novice boat. There are always going to be people who are faster and people who are slower. Such is life. And even when you work really hard, sometimes you’re not going to make it into the fastest boat. But there are many boats to fill, and someone has to row in all of them. In the midst of all this I had a good conversation with a friend of mine whose kid also rows. She reminded me of his similar struggles the year before and how she, like me, was hoping he would make a certain boat and he wisely said to her, “I row where I row.”

Then there’s this tension. There’s my core belief that you should do things because you love to do them, and you have fun, and you make friends, and you work hard, whether or not you have any natural talent or skill, and whether or not you’re getting any better, and whether or not you plan to do the thing in the future or just for a season. It’s what I tell myself when I play soccer. It’s what I told myself when I was singing in gospel choirs. It’s what I tell myself when I make art. I’ve done all those things because they bring me joy. I don’t have to prove myself to anyone. I don’t have to win any contests or demonstrate excellence. I can just do it.

And yet. And yet when you see your kid doing a thing, especially a sport, you want them to be great at it. Right? That’s not just me, right? Even if it’s against all odds and you yourself were never good at a sport and none of it matters at all. It’s like this pernicious little voice in your head, that hopes your kid scores, wins, achieves, masters whatever it is. Even though in your heart you know it doesn’t matter. You know all the ways that doing an activity is good for your kid, whether or not they ever win or score.

Niki is on a soccer team. Most kids around here who play soccer start in kindergarten. So Niki is a bit late to the game, and it turns out the boys on his team take soccer a lot more seriously than the girls on Zoe’s elementary school team did. You can tell these kids all watch soccer with their dads from the way they yell on the field and their goal celebrations. To put it diplomatically, not all of Niki’s teammates have been patient with the fact that Niki is more of a beginner than they are. An enthusiastic beginner. A fast runner. Also an anxious player who has been known to crack their knuckles a lot while playing and sometimes hop toward ball instead of running. The main point here is I want Niki to enjoy being on the team. I don’t want the other kids belittling them. And of course if they were a little more skilled, the teammates would probably have less to say. But that’s not the point, right? They’re having fun, they’re exercising, they’re practicing teamwork. And they like watching soccer with their dad too.

So we go to regattas, we go to soccer games, we drive to practices, we wash a lot of gear, we make a lot of snacks and refill a lot of water bottles. And always we tell them how much we loved watching them do their thing, and how proud we are of how hard they’ve worked. And how we’re glad they had fun. That’s all we can do.

The absolutely delicious chocolate cream pie I had for my birthday at the Beeliner Diner. I’m going to get fitter but I’m not going to completely deprive myself.

As a birthday present to myself, I got up at 6am on Tuesday to attend a 6:30am metabolic conditioning class at a gym I’d never been to but that I’d seen an ad for on Facebook. This is not something I usually do, and to be honest, something I am likely to do again. Metcon, as it’s called, is when you do several sets of an exercise for 30 seconds at a time with 10 second breaks in between, then switch to a new exercise and do it all over again. The exercises were hard and I had to take a few breaks. By the end it was clear to me that this kind of class is not for me. The owner of the gym talked with me during one of my breaks and said, “it gets easier every time,” and then as I was leaving, one of the other women in the class said to me, “I’ve been doing this for a year and it’s still really hard.” But I’m really glad I went.

Tuesday evening during Niki’s martial arts class I talked with my friend Brian, the general manager at EvolveAll, where my kids have done martial arts forever and where I have occasionally taken classes. Brian is extraordinarily kind and understanding and I knew I could be candid with him about my desires and fears. He explained the options for classes and training at EvolveAll and I decided on an assessment as a first step. Meanwhile, I signed up for a 10-class pass at Sun and Moon Yoga. And yesterday morning I got up at 6, again, for a 6:30am yoga class. I have intermittently loved yoga. I hadn’t been to an in-person class since before the pandemic. I tried online classes for a while but my house (especially when the kids were home from school) was not conducive to a peaceful, focused yoga practice.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a morning person and I am typically at my most alert and creative late at night. But as a mom, I’ve learned to do plenty of things that are not in my nature. Since she’s been doing crew this spring, Zoe has had to get up at 4:30 or 5:30 for various practices and regattas and I am usually the one to drive her to the boathouse when it’s still dark. If she can do this, which I know she does not enjoy, I can too. But I am old enough to know that if I’m getting up early, it needs to be for an activity I will enjoy at least a little, and not dread.

By yesterday afternoon I was quite sore. And sleepy. But I did have a salad for lunch! And I took naps. And of course Zoe told me last night that today was one of the days she had to be at the boathouse at 5:20, so I woke up at 5 to drive her. It would be nice if I could coordinate my morning classes with her morning practices, but that would be too easy, right? I mentioned to her last night that I might try to take a walk in Anacostia Park while she rowed, but it was completely dark when we got to the boathouse and I did not feel like a walk along the river in the dark would be super safe. I am determined to take a walk sometime today. Maybe I can convince Niki to walk to martial arts tonight instead of drive.

On my birthday I also went to DSW to buy new sneakers, but of course they didn’t have the ones I wanted in my size (11). I ended up ordering them online and was amused to discover that my two colleagues on the communications team at my office also have generously proportioned feet (size 11 and 12 wide). Is there a correlation between communications skills and big feet? Probably.

I know I’m not the only person to have gained weight during the pandemic. It’s a lot easier to justify eating your feelings and sleeping too much and lying around like a sloth when you’re in lockdown or you think this whole mess is going to end in a few months. It seems like a few months has become three years, and when your clothes don’t fit anymore you’ve got to take steps. Or I have to take steps. I won’t presume to speak for you. I will never be skinny or fit into my high school prom dress (why would I even want to?) but I am ready to regain some strength and be comfortable in pants without an elastic waist. That doesn’t seem overly ambitious, does it?

This morning I took the mouse that had been squeaking all night (because it was stuck in a glue trap designed to catch roaches and other insects) and carried it into the backyard and pried its little paws and matted fur off of the glue and left it in the grass. I have no idea if it will survive, but I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t kill it, although we’ve had mousetraps all over our house for months because of a persistent colony. When the mousetraps kill them, I bag the bodies and the traps and put them outside for the trash. The line between active and passive destruction is thin.

The mouse did not ask to be made into a metaphor. And yet.

There is nothing particularly wrong with me, any more than anyone else. I am more sensitive than most. I have a sleep disorder and other minor afflictions. But this world. The conflict. The cruelty. The confusion. The things that smell bad. It’s like layer upon layer of glue traps of injustice and illness and insecurity. No amount of alliteration can save us. Nothing we can do eliminates the suffering.

Today is Easter. Resurrection–to me–is another metaphor. An opportunity to remind ourselves of all the possibilities of life that emerge from the darkest of days.

This week we spent a few days at the beach. For most of our trip, it was cold and windy. Sitting on the sand and watching the waves was lovely but a bit chilly. The boardwalk was deserted at first. We spent time inside, reading and writing and drawing, and then it warmed up. Everyone else noticed too, and there were suddenly plenty of people on the beach, even though it was still too cool to swim. Who knows what all those other people were doing inside while it was cold, but when the sun came out, they did too. Possibilities opening up like the tulips that lined the sidewalks.

Traveling magnifies the intensity of parenting by 1,000. There are even more decisions than usual to make. Calculations become more complex when you factor in everyone’s desires, preferences, and needs–whether they are stated explicitly or you happen to know them or you’re somehow supposed to guess correctly what they are. Traveling reminds me that I cannot make everyone happy, and that no matter how much I might want to, it’s ultimately not my job and not within my power. I do a lot for my kids, but I can’t (and shouldn’t) do everything. The Easter Bunny did not come to our house today. I warned the kids yesterday that the Bunny was just not available this year, and that there were plenty of other celebrations happening, as both of their birthdays and mine are this month. They both said repeatedly that it was fine and they didn’t mind. Easter is much more of a cultural event to them than a religious one. They are both savvy about the nature of middle-of-the-night visiting creatures (our resident mice never bring us any treats). We just splurged on treats during our beach trip, and we still have plenty of candy left over from their Christmas stockings. Niki said, “I get it. The Easter Bunny is stuck in traffic, has bills to pay, calls to make.” They understand. They are not deprived. I had a couple flashes of guilt, but they were fleeting.

This afternoon I stepped outside to see if the sticky mouse was still in the grass where I had left them. I did not see any sign of them. I hoped that they managed to find refuge somewhere (other than back in our house, maybe?) and some way of removing the residue from their paws. I wonder if the mice still in here are missing that little dude. I can’t think too much more about this or I will become very sad. Absolutely there are much larger and more pressing problems in the world, but it comes back once again to my compulsion to bear witness to suffering, and examination of my role in alleviating it. The mouse remains a metaphor.

Dangerous Mole

I just ordered $100 worth of dairy-free meal replacement smoothies for my teenager, to pick up at Whole Foods tomorrow, because eating anything solid causes her severe stomach pain and she’s nauseated all the time. She came home early from school yesterday, with a COVID test in hand and instructions on how to take it with a certified COVID test instructor watching her on video. She has taken dozens of COVID tests already, and she knows how to do it, but I understand they want to make sure people are doing it right. Certified COVID test instructor Mhaxine (who must recite her script a hundred times a day) had us focus my phone’s camera on various codes on the box and on my ID and on the test results. Zoe doesn’t have COVID, which I already knew. But now you can’t be home sick from school or go to the clinic without testing. You can’t go back to school without emailing the negative test results to the school nurse and attendance office. Meanwhile, we are going back and forth with the pediatrician and the pediatric gastroenterologist and Zoe is scheduled to have an endoscopy in two weeks. She’s missed two days of crew–which you’re not supposed to miss any days of between February 21 and the end of May. Tomorrow I’m going to deliver an açaí bowl to her at lunchtime because it’s one of the only things she’s been able to eat over the past few days without feeling sick. When your kid is miserable, all your priorities shift.

At least she has beautiful nails. I took her with me to the nail salon last weekend and she somehow managed to get acrylic nails without me noticing until I had to pay the bill. Even if she can’t eat, she can at least admire her nails and enjoy the sound of tapping them on her phone.

I have a list on my desk of all the appointments I need to schedule: mammogram (oh I guess I need to see the gynecologist first, to get a referral), colonoscopy, dentist, kids’ dentist, my dermatologist, etc. All things I’ve been putting off or rescheduling since COVID. Hopefully I won’t have lumps or polyps or cavities or dangerous moles. I keep thinking I could just spend a day making appointments, but that would not be a very pleasant day. Since COVID seems to be never going away, I just need to suck it up.

Also tomorrow I am taking Niki to a camp that they don’t especially want to go to, even though it seems amazing, because they would rather stay home and play video games all day, which they think is awesome but I do not. Tomorrow is a parent-teacher conference day, so they don’t have school, but I still have to work. Someday we will have a house where I can have an office that is not in the same room as the tv and the xbox, but that day has not yet come. So off to camp they go. Last week I finally finished signing them up for summer camps and classes. This year they have fencing and archery, a camp where they drive to different parks and explore them and look for little creatures and give them names (at least that’s what they did at that camp last year), book illustration, art, and Minecraft camp (I consented to one week of this since the rest of the camps are active or artsy). Three of the weeks (book illustration and art) are just half day classes rather than full day camps because I don’t have to work those weeks and so Niki will not complain about having to go outside when it’s hot or eat lunch in a room that’s smelly. I would say my kids are spoiled, but truthfully I don’t like eating lunch outside on the ground when it’s hot or in a room that’s smelly, so I can’t blame them.

Oh, how could I forget Niki is also going to sleep away camp for the first time this summer. We all think they will love it. They’ve been to family camp at Camp Friendship twice already. They know the people, they know the place. They have not, however, slept away from us in quite a while. They can go to sleep if someone is at our house, but not if they’re at someone else’s house. And they still love to fall asleep intertwined with a parent. We are having faith that it will all work out when they are at camp. Zoe will be there too, but of course not in the cabin with them. We still have six months to prepare. Zoe was homesick at night for the first few years she went to camp, even though she loved it there. She says she eventually would fall asleep just because she was exhausted. I am constantly reminding myself that my kids are capable of things we haven’t seen them do yet, and they will be ok. Hopefully we’ll be ok too. Whenever Zoe is at camp I check the website compulsively for photos of her having fun, and race to the mailbox to look for letters. I remind myself that, during a rocky first grade year, Niki dreaded school–and then it ended because of COVID. Then we homeschooled for a year. And they did not especially want to go back to school for third grade because it was so much fun being home with me all day! And they never had to get dressed! And they played video games after they finished their work! It took a while for them to get used to school again (as it did for most kids I think, whether or not they were homeschooled or virtual schooled or hybrid schooled last year) and now they actually like school. They come home and talk about what they learned, and look forward to seeing their friends, and miss school when they have to stay home. I honestly wasn’t sure that would ever happen again, since it basically hadn’t happened since kindergarten. I had started to think kindergarten was some magical year that we would never experience again and school would be a battle forever. But it’s ok now.

And there is a nation of innocent people being attacked for no reason by an evil lunatic dictator. There are a lot of blue and yellow flags and lights and tributes. But I sure don’t know what to do, except wonder why our world is such a mess. The president stood up for LGBTQIA+ kids and mental health care in his State of the Union speech, but did not mention canceling student debt, or racial equity, or DC statehood. I did enjoy seeing two women–Kamala Harris and Nanci Pelosi–sitting behind him though, instead of two white guys. And maybe if the other old white guys don’t get in the way, Ketanji Brown Jackson will be confirmed to the Supreme Court and we’ll be just a little closer to having more justices who look like the people in our country and again, not all old white guys. No offense to the old white guys I love. They are not the ones I’m talking about.

In preparation for a meeting at work today I watched this video by Georgetown Law professor Kristin Henning, author of The Rage of Innocence: How America Criminalizes Black Youth. I have the book on my desk to start reading next week. As part of my new job with DC Action, I’m working with folks to reframe the conversation on youth and crime. Professor Henning describes in the video how Black young people are targeted and often arrested or harmed because they’re seen doing normal adolescent activities. DC Action and our partners are working to help District leaders, journalists, and others understand that there’s more to the story of a 14-year-old charged with carjacking than the need to lock him up for a long time or hold him accountable. Does it not occur to anyone that when 12-, 13-, and 14-year-olds are committing crimes like these, we need to look deeper? As I’ve written in op-eds and blog posts, the people who need to be accountable are the adults who are failing to provide meaningful out-of-school-time activities, mentoring, emotional support, job opportunities, and mental health care to young people–especially young Black people–who have suffered disproportionately through the pandemic. I see the struggles in my own kids, who have as much support and resources as they could possibly need. So when I read every day about people trying to ban books by and about Black and brown people and LGBTQIA+ people (don’t get me started on Texas Gov. Abbott who would rather have queer kids committing suicide than offer their families support) and school systems prohibiting teachers and students from discussing race or racism, or people saying antiracism is actually racism, I get enraged. No wonder I can’t sleep.

This, I think, is why people are obsessed with Wordle right now. It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely solvable. You can point to it (which is why so many people post their scores, although I do not) and say, “Hey, I did a thing! I accomplished something despite my existential angst and general feeling of despondence about our country and our world and all the personal and global problems with which I am grappling.” Or maybe that’s just why I play Wordle.

I haven’t been back to church in weeks, even though they’ve resumed in-person services. Going to church has always brought joy to me and been so important in my life, but the thought of going back again where everyone is masked and I don’t recognize even my friends and hugging is no longer a thing just makes me anxious and sad. I know wishing everything were back to “normal” is futile and there’s no such thing as normal anymore. But I haven’t yet arrived at a state of grace where I can embrace the constant change and dizzying feeling of flux. Maybe some days. But not today.

Even before the pandemic we were online shoppers–it’s usually easier to find exactly what you want when you want it and we have better things to do than go into stores where there are other people. Oh wait, that second one was true before but is truer still today. And you can order something online in mere seconds. I recognize the danger in this. The allure of convenience is strong. Impulse buying is no longer just about candy bars. Is it instant or delayed gratification, when you know you have found what you were seeking, but you must wait for it to arrive? Does it matter? No, it does not matter. This is simply the state we’re living in, and we have (mostly) come to terms with it.

Here are some of the items we have bought online in the past couple months. You can guess who these were for.

  • Green Gobbler drain cleaner (worked great on our bathroom sinks!)
  • Snacks for high school teachers (the PTA is putting together goody bags–will these delicious snacks address the extreme mental and physical stress that educators are facing? Only time will tell)
  • A new recording of Mozart’s Requiem
  • A sample vial of the perfume that Hailee Steinfeld wears
  • Brightly colored extra large women’s underwear (they’re not granny panties if they’re not plain white, right?)
  • KN95 masks for kids and adults (hopefully the legit kind and not the counterfeit kind)
  • Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza card game (theoretically this was for Niki but I really love it. The whole family plays)
  • Iron supplements (who needs anemia? We don’t!)
  • Beethoven piano sonatas
  • Stainless steel cups and insulated tumblers with lids and straws because all four of us seem to break a lot of glasses and spill a lot of drinks. What is wrong with us?
  • Three angled plastic measuring cups (1 cup, 2 cups, and holy cow 4 cups! because see above we broke all our glass measuring cups)
  • Mozart symphonies 39, 40, and 41
  • A set of new Pyrex dishes with lids primarily because I was trying to make cornbread recently and realized our 8×8 pyrex was missing and remembered that we had broken it (seriously, why can’t we hold onto a piece of glassware?) and it turns out if you’re ordering a new 8×8 Pyrex it’s only slightly more expensive to order a set of 20. And this way we can phase out the plastic containers that you can never find the lids to and that crack and get stained and sometimes warp. The lids to the glass containers always stick around. They seem to be more loyal.
  • Subscriptions to Jenny Lawson’s Nowhere Bookshop Fantastic Strangelings and Happy Endings book clubs where you receive a new book each month (Fantastic Strangelings=a variety of weird stuff, Happy Endings=romance) because you know, I definitely don’t own enough books. But I do read them. And I love them. And they sustain me during dark times, which are currently all the times.
  • Tarot cards–I have a deck that a friend gave me when I said I wanted to learn to read them, but I realized that I don’t love the images on the deck and that has kept me from studying, so I started reading some books–still using that deck as a reference–but I found a couple decks online that look absolutely amazing and feel right to me. And Zoe ordered a deck because she wants to learn as well. I gave my first ever reading to her the other night (only using six cards from the Major Arcana, and completely relying on my notes) but she said it was amazingly accurate and made her think about her question in a new way. I’m excited for the new decks to arrive.
  • Venetian music from 700-1797 which comes with a very pretty book of paintings of Venice
  • Of course groceries.
  • And dinners.
  • And COVID tests.

So what does this say about our family? We are hungry and thirsty and clumsy. We love music and books and games. We are trying not to succumb to Omicron, but who knows if we will succeed. In the meantime, we will shop.

It’s just me and John Denver and the Muppets in the family room this Christmas Eve afternoon. I am wrapping presents. Everyone else is in their bedrooms, asleep or otherwise occupied by a virus (not COVID, we checked) or depression or a device. I am hoping the quiet alone time will enable everyone to muster the energy and good cheer required by Christmas Day with the family tomorrow.

Spread out across the kitchen table and counters are ingredients for treats that will likely not be baked tonight. Maybe if everyone rallies we will throw a few things together. Or not. I have secured two excellent vegan pies and a variety of appetizers and my brother-in-law is preparing the rest of the feast. Neither of my children have eaten much in recent days. My younger child suddenly doesn’t like any of the food they used to like. My older child has been dealing with stomach stuff. But we have another whole week of vacation so maybe people will be inspired to bake. Or not.

What I am giving myself this Christmas is the gift of letting go of expectations. The past 21 months have been like some kind of demonic algebra problem in which there are many more variables than constants. And even non-demonic algebra made me cry when I took it in junior high school. The universe is filled with ever expanding unknowns.


The kids and I just came back from a lovely drive-thru Christmas Eve moment at church. UUCA decided to cancel in-person services tonight after they learned from the Arlington Department of Health that COVID cases in Arlington had doubled from December 21 to December 22. Determined to share joy with the congregation, the ministers and staff set up luminaria along the driveway, the music director was playing carols outside on the keyboard, the ministers were festively dressed and waving their glowing Christmas wands and greeting families, then some mystery person was operating a snow blower so we enjoyed a moment of white Christmas Eve, and then the intern minister was handing out little goody bags including a candle we can light at home during the service, and he collected the hat and mittens we brought for the mitten tree. It was all very sweet and touching and we drove through a second time just to say thank you.


I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Jenny Lawson’s Broken (in the best possible way) and I am addicted to her honesty. She is absolutely hilarious. And she narrates all her own books so you definitely feel like you’re laughing right there with her. She also struggles with a host of challenging physical and mental illnesses, including severe anxiety and depression, and she holds nothing back when discussing them. Coincidentally, I just finished reading The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun, which I received at my friend D’s Jolabokaflod (book exchange party). Apparently I love reading romance novels now–some of my favorite books this year have been by Casey McQuiston (who I had the pleasure of meeting!) and Emily Henry. I always thought the genre was limited to the ridiculous Harlequin Romance novels I used to get from the library when I was 13 and flip through with my friend Diane to find the sex scenes and laugh hysterically. Or books you see in airport gift shops with terrible titles and pictures on the cover that make you cringe. But I’ve come to realize that there’s a new kind of romance novel that’s actually just a regular novel–funny and smart and compelling–whose plots happen to center on a romance and that include surprisingly charming sex scenes. Anyway my point here was actually that The Charm Offensive was a much about mental health and gender identity and how we treat each other as it was about romance. The book includes realistic depictions of OCD and anxiety and depression and self-discovery and stigma in our society.

I’ve read so many articles in the past year about how the pandemic has affected our mental health. As you might guess, or know for yourself, it’s not good news. For kids and young people, it seems to be even worse, because they’re mired just as deep in the intermittent isolation, the uncertainty, the constant churn of disappointment from cancelled plans, but they have so much less control over their lives and their choices than adults do.

My kids have been so happy to be back in school in person this year. Over the past four months they’ve made new friends, cultivated relationships with new teachers, and–not insignificantly–been able to leave the house every day, follow a predictable routine, learn things, see people besides us, and practice being their own individuals. I know the school system is prepared for a return to virtual learning if COVID demands it, but I dread that decision if it comes. Several schools in DC have already reverted to virtual learning for at least a few weeks as we ride out Omicron. It just makes my heart hurt to think about all of us home all the time again and trying to do work and school all at the same time in our little house and eventually driving each other berserk.


I love my kids so much. And I think they’re really awesome people. Not that I haven’t always felt this way, but you know how it’s easier to get perspective on people when they’re not staring you in the face 24/7? They are each unique, but they are also both funny and kind and creative. They both still want hugs all the time. They both love music. During the pandemic the four of us bonded watching live streams by Brandi Carlile, and we’re all going to get to see her perform live in 2022 if some freaking future virus variant doesn’t get in our way. For the past few Christmases, I’ve taken the kids to Five Below to shop for each other. They bought excessively sequined stockings there and filled them with treats they knew each other would like, and they opened them first on Christmas morning (in part to buy us time before we had to wake up). This year Niki learned that they too could be Santa, so at Five Below the kids chose treats for each other and for Randy and me. Today we’ve taken turns filling all our stockings with thoughtful surprises. I love being Santa and sharing Santa with them.


So we are moving slowly right now. And that is absolutely ok. We haven’t written any Christmas letters. Even my mom, who is the driving force behind this tradition, suggested that there’s not much to write this year because she doesn’t like to write about only negative things. Of course there have been silver linings. But there’s also been a lot of %*&(*^#@ (insert your favorite curses here). And when you’re surrounded by it, writing a cheerful missive seems just a little bit out of reach. We haven’t sent presents to our family members who live far away. You know who you are. I promise you’re still on our list, and we are grateful for the gifts you’ve sent that are currently under our tree. (At least we decorated our tree!) I have yet to send e-gift cards to any of my kids’ teachers. A few weeks ago I did remember to put out a box of snacks and drinks in front of our house for the delivery people. There are always a lot of delivery people and they are working their tushes off. I know they’ll still be busy after Christmas delivering the various things we ordered that are still sitting in Groveport, Ohio or Tucson, Arizona on Christmas Eve.

We’re doing the best we can. And I’ve learned this year that my best varies from day to day. Maybe even from hour to hour. Life is a lot. So many people I love have faced crises and losses this year. But we keep going. We provide shoulders for each other to cry on. We check on each other. And tonight we light candles to shine through the darkness. We hold onto hope. Neither the grinch nor omicron can keep Christmas from coming.

Merry Christmas to all. And to all a good night. Sending you all love, peace, and health.

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