You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2020.

This isn’t about me. We are living through a stressful, uncertain, and scary time. But I understand that for our Black, Indigenous, and People of Color siblings, much of their experience living in this country is stressful, uncertain, and scary. I know that, as a white woman, I will never truly appreciate what that’s like. But I am committed to listening to, respecting, and amplifying other people’s truths. I am committed to learning about other people’s perspectives and experiences. I am committed to talking with other white people about why it matters to stand in solidarity with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and that it is my obligation to become–and keep becoming–anti-racist and work to dismantle white supremacy culture and institutional racism. No one said this would be easy. Just like living as a Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color isn’t easy. I will do the best I can to stand with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and to work for equity and justice, even when it’s hard.


I know there’s a lot you can read or watch about what’s happening right now in the world as the result of the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other innocent people who were killed because of the color of their skin and our white supremacist society. I wanted to lift up a couple items that might help you understand if you’re having trouble.

Trevor Noah’s video: https://youtu.be/v4amCfVbA_c

Kareem Abdul-Jabaar’s op-ed in the Los Angeles Times: https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-05-30/dont-understand-the-protests-what-youre-seeing-is-people-pushed-to-the-edge

Rachel Cargle’s Ted Talk: https://youtu.be/VgufOtRq488

Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

My friend lost her mom today. Not to Covid-19, but to a torturous form of cancer that took her brain long before it claimed her body. I don’t know if there’s a good way to die, but from the stories my friend shared, this experience sounded excruciating. What I imagine as the small blessing that shone through the abyss was that my friend and her siblings and father were all there together for the last several days. And they were at home, surrounding their mom with love.

I learned about her death as I was with my own mom, delivering a key lime pie and homemade cards from my kids for her birthday. I sat, wearing a mask, across the living room from my parents. We don’t usually sit in the living room when it’s just family, but it seemed safer. I was keenly aware of how lucky I am to still have my mom.

I am aware of how lucky I am to have my kids and my husband with me all the time. Sure, it would be lovely to have just a smidge more alone time now and then, but I have no shortage of touch. Someone in my house seems to be hugging me at any given moment. Or holding my hand or sitting in my lap or just leaning on me. I am more grateful for this than I used to be.

I talked with Zoe tonight about the murder of George Floyd. We need to talk more. I need to make sure that what she understands about the racism of Amy Cooper and the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor is not just from Instagram, and that she recognizes our responsibility to fight against white supremacist culture. Then I have to talk with Zeke about all this, which is considerably more daunting. Books to the rescue, once again. In the few days and hours since the recent torrent of news about racist cruelty, I’ve also seen a proliferation of resources and actions and ideas for white people who want to be anti-racist and teach their kids to be anti-racist so we might actually have any hope of fixing our fractured society. I read about excellent children’s books on the subject on Embrace Race and The Conscious Kid. And in my emerging efforts to support local bookstores instead of relying on the convenience of Amazon, I ordered some from One More Page. I also prioritized several books I’ve had in my to-read stack for a while—Stamped, White Fragility, and The Fire This Time—and committed to reading them this summer and talking with others about the implications for our lives. There is always more I could be doing, and I know it’s not only up to me. But all of us have to do this work to make a change. Until we do it, Black and Brown people will continue to be victimized at the hands of white people. We cannot stand by and watch. We cannot wait for someone else to step in. As Bernice Johnson Reagon wrote in Ella’s Song, “we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

Ella’s Song

Lyrics and music by Bernice Johnson Reagon 
Sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock 

We who believe in freedom cannot rest 
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes 

Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons 
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons 

That which touches me most is that I had a chance to work with people 
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me 

To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail 
And if I can but shed some light as they carry us through the gale 

The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on 
Is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm 

Not needing to clutch for power, not needing the light just to shine on me 
I need to be one in the number as we stand against tyranny 

Struggling myself don’t mean a whole lot, I’ve come to realize 
That teaching others to stand up and fight is the only way my struggle survives 

I’m a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard 
At times I can be quite difficult, I’ll bow to no man’s word 

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

Here are things I need to be reminded of:

I cannot save or fix everyone and everything. Or anyone and anything. In recent days and weeks I find myself increasing feeling frantic, as if I have to act urgently to keep people I love safe and healthy, and I have to buy things and order food to keep businesses and restaurants I like from going under. I have to find things to do to help. I have to find ways to keep my kids busy and engaged and not on a screen all summer. What I actually need to do is take one million deep breaths. It is not all up to me. In fact, very little is up to me.

Why is this so hard to remember?

I’m sure I’m not the only person whose feelings of anxiety and despair manifest in weird ways. I know I’m not the only parent desperate to figure out a plan for their kids for the summer. When you’re isolated with your family it’s easy to forget that you aren’t the only one spinning in this vortex of stress. I text and talk and zoom with friends and family, but most of the time I’m just in my head. Also, my head hurts. Often.


A friend pointed out to me recently (in a conversation via Facebook Messenger) that one thing we’ve lost to the coronavirus quasi-quarantine is informal connection. I don’t get to see and chat with the other parents and kids and the awesome staff at EvolveAll while my kids are doing martial arts. I don’t get to engage in unplanned conversations before or after church or get hugs from friends there or run into people in the parking lot and say hello or smile. I don’t see parents and teachers at school drop-off or pick-up or chat with parents when delivering my kids to playdates. None of these interactions is replicated with a zoom call. A lot of life’s most interesting moments happen by accident. Not that life isn’t still interesting, but it’s much narrower now.


I’ve been spending way too much money lately online, but all in the service of education, family togetherness, and food. I must be Outschool’s new favorite customer, as I’ve signed my kids up for a zillion classes. I decided I need to cut myself off from any new registrations for a while. Today I ordered supplies from Michael’s for several of these classes. Perhaps if we’re lucky we will have a house full of embroidered, knitted, and hand-sewn creations by the end of the summer. Not to mention stunning photographs and other works of visual art.

I was super proud of myself because I ordered a four-bike bike rack (on sale) from REI and consulted with a mechanic about the hitch required to install on our van to attach the bike rack to. The mechanic recommended a hitch but suggested I consult with the manufacturer of the bike rack to make sure it was compatible, which I did, and it was, so I ordered it. The mechanic is going to install the hitch when it arrives and then we can take our bikes…somewhere…to ride them down a country lane while we breathe in virus-free fresh air far away from other humans.

In an attempt to simultaneously encourage Zeke’s love of reading and support my local independent bookstores and used book sites, I invested a significant amount of time soliciting recommendations for new books for him to read, and then ordering a bunch of them from different places. Man, do I miss the library. I really really really miss the library. I am excited for the arrival of all these books, none of which Zeke knows about yet. It’s always fun to talk about books with teacher friends and parent friends and booksellers. And books are always worth spending money on. In my opinion.

But now I need to rein it in. I don’t need to spend any more money for a long while. Except, of course, on food, since everyone in my house seems to want to eat constantly. And somehow I still forget to feed them sometimes. We have everything we could need right now to educate and entertain us. We have each other. We could honestly use a little more space. The 12×12 tent I bought and put up (with the kids’ help) in our backyard is nice, but not without its challenges. Since our townhouse is part of a condo complex, the condo association hires a landscaping crew to take care of maintenance. This is great except that we don’t know when they’re coming or what they’re going to do. So this morning I was sitting in our family room trying to work when I heard the mower approaching out back. I ran outside and unstaked the tent and more or less held it up and scrunched onto the patio while the guy went back and forth with the mower. Meanwhile, he moved the hammock out of the way because I couldn’t move the hammock while holding up the tent. I really can’t do everything. I know that. I’ve just got to learn to stop trying so hard.

In my closet hang 21 summer dresses in shades of blue and red and pink with flowers and stripes and paisley patterns. I usually wear them to church on Sundays and to meetings with clients and to plays. I have several pairs of strappy sandals with wedge heels to wear with the dresses. I like the kind of sandals that show off my toes because usually my toenails are painted some vibrant color with an impossible delicate design of daisies or something similar on my big toes, courtesy of the artisans at Nails 2000.


I am so not a girly girl. I hardly wear makeup and I haven’t blow dried my hair in decades and my typical outfit is a t-shirt and jeans–or in recent months–yoga pants. But it’s easy to dress up in the summer and it’s literally cooler. I don’t envy men who feel compelled to wear jackets and ties when it’s 80 degrees.


I suspect that this summer I won’t have any occasion to wear any of my dresses. I watched church this morning in my pajamas. All the concerts and plays have been canceled. All my meetings are online. And it doesn’t really matter what you wear online, as long as you’re clothed.
I recognize that none of this is a serious problem or anything worth complaining about when juxtaposed with the incomprehensible (and inexcusably somewhat preventable) suffering in the world right now. I understand that.
I only mention it because I spent hours cleaning out of closet yesterday and rearranging my clothes by season and seeing all my dresses reminded me all over again of what’s wrong with our world.


Seeing my dresses reminded me that the president told religious congregations to reopen their doors and return to services as usual, inviting their members to get sick and infect others or perhaps die. My church, like many others, has been holding services and offering programming online and will continue to do so indefinitely. In response to the president saying churches are essential, our newly called senior minister (who will join us in August) said to her current congregation, (I’m paraphrasing) you know who’s essential? Our people. That’s why we will not be gathering, because we want our people to stay healthy and alive. My dresses reminded me that the president does not care about people. While the New York Times ran a front page filled with the names of nearly 100,000 Americans who have died from coronavirus, on a weekend where we honor those who have died in military service, the president played golf.


Who knew my dresses were so fraught with meaning?

Last night around 7pm Zoe was taking a walk around our neighborhood. When she realized she was being followed by an older man, she texted me to ask what to do. She said the man had shouted to her, “You don’t know who I am, do you?” I told her to cross the street. She did and reported that he was still watching her from across the street and keeping pace with her. I offered to come pick her up and she said yes. When I picked her up she pointed out the man who was still directly across the street from where I found her. After we pulled back into traffic I asked Zoe to take a photo, just in case. We drive home with Zoe clutching my hand.

Once home, after many hugs and reassurances that she was safe, and after we ate dinner, I shared the story on Facebook. Several friends urged me to report the incident to the police. The thought had crossed my mind but I dismissed it, figuring that the man hadn’t committed any crime. He freaked out my teenager, but that’s not illegal. Eventually I decided to report it online, and Zoe described everything again in detail as I filled in the web form.

Afterward Zoe told me how glad she was that I had talked with her about how to handle situations like this. A few years ago when I gave her permission to walk to a shopping area with friends after school, I instructed her to always be on the lookout for people who made her feel uncomfortable and to listen to her gut. I told her if someone was bothering her she should go into a a store or restaurant and tell them what was happening and they would let her stay there and call me. I told her if she’s out somewhere and there’s no place to go inside that she should find a group of people to attach herself to until she can get somewhere she feels safe.

A friend (and mom of teenage girls ) on Facebook tagged a self-defense instructor in her response to my post, suggesting the need for online self-defense classes as so many kids are out walking now for exercise. I mentioned that Zoe is a black belt in martial arts. If she were standing on a mat with this man, she could certainly punch and kick and put him in holds. But she does that on the mat. With other martial artists. Not when she’s walking down a street feeling nervous. I took self-defense classes in my 20s and I struggled to get past the verbal part of the practice exchanges with potential assailants because I didn’t want to be rude. I feel like there’s a chasm between an impulse to escape to safety when you feel threatened and actually preparing to fight or defend yourself physically. I imagine the last thing Zoe was thinking of on the street yesterday was what techniques she would use if the man caught up to her and attacked her. But maybe I’m wrong.

A couple friends on Facebook also suggested I share the story on our community Facebook page to alert others, which I did. What I discovered then was that this man seems to be well known in the neighborhood. Several people who I do not know in real life commented that they have encountered the man many times and some know his name and his story. A few commenters said the man seems to show signs of “cognitive decline” and that “he drinks a lot” and acts “disoriented,” but that he’s “sweet” and “harmless.” A few people said they had been wary of him getting too close to them or their kids. A few said the man reminded them of relatives or people they knew with Alzheimer’s.

I noticed that most of the people in the “he’s harmless” camp were men, and more people in the concerned camp were women, but neither perspective was entirely along gender lines. Two women asked if Zoe was ok and praised her for being aware of a situation that made her uncomfortable and knowing to ask for help.

The gist of the discussion, which, keep in mind, was among people (with one exception) who do not know my daughter or me, was that this man likely meant no harm to Zoe. So that is somewhat reassuring. Except for the fact that he is evidently experiencing significant enough cognitive decline or disorientation or intoxication that he doesn’t know or remember it’s not appropriate to follow and stare at and shout at 13-year-old girls walking down the street.

So here’s where it gets tricky. One man on the community Facebook page said he talks to the guy frequently and that we should “treat him with the kindness and respect we’d want for our own parents.” While I am all for treating people with kindness and respect, I also hope and expect that I—and members of my family—will be treated with kindness and respect. And it did not feel kind or respectful to Zoe when this man was following her, watching her, and shouting at her.

I understand that this man has the right to walk around his neighborhood. I understand that he is friendly and talkative and seems to want to engage with people. I also understand that my daughter has the right to walk around her neighborhood without feeling harassed or threatened or unsafe. These things are both true at the same time.

Of course I want my parents to be treated with kindness and respect when they are out walking in their neighborhood. But if my dad was following girls around and staring at them and make them feel uneasy, I would be concerned about his health. I would want to make sure his freedom to enjoy safely walking down the street wasn’t keeping other people from enjoying that same freedom.

I try not to engage in weighty conversation with strangers on the internet because I know where that goes and it’s usually nowhere good. I’ve been trolled and vilified by strangers in the comments. I am so conflict averse that sometimes if I post something that ends up sparking debate or argument among my friends I will delete the whole thing. I keep considering taking down my post to the neighborhood group, but I haven’t. What about the kindness and respect we would want for our own children?

Some of the subtle and unsettling changes in daily life that you notice 65 days into quasi-quarantine:

Instead of searching through the piles of clean laundry on the couch looking for some underwear or the pants that still fit, you’re mostly looking for a clean mask that fits.

You don’t realize until nighttime when you’re on a zoom call with friends that you haven’t looked in a mirror all day and had no idea that your hair looked like that.

Instead of showering at your convenience, you have to negotiate shower privileges with your spouse because both of you roll out of bed and start the day without bothering to shower until a) your first zoom call of the day or b) you need to leave the house to go to the grocery store or pickup takeout food.

Even though you can’t see it behind the mask, you still put on lipstick before leaving the house. Some habits stick around.

Instead of attempting to clean the house, you engage in micro cleaning. If one kitchen counter is wiped down, or one table cleared, or one shelf tidied, you count it as a victory. It is impossible to clean the whole house when everyone is in it all the time.

You realize that Target brand toilet paper is actually fine. Even though you’ve always been a toilet paper snob, both a Charmin loyalist and disdainful of Scott, when you found shelves filled with Target brand you snapped it up and have been pleasantly surprised.

You are grateful to three different friends who generously gave you gifts of dish soap. When you ran out, before your friends came to the rescue, you ordered dish soap online. Then it arrived and now you are blessed with dish soap to last for a while, which is good because your family continues to eat and drink with gusto.

You cannot concentrate on anything for mire than 30 seconds except when you are alone, which typically happens only after midnight or before 9am if you are able to wake up at 8. You seldom use these hours wisely, but that’s nothing new. Occasionally you meditate or write, and that has to be good enough.

So I went a little berserk this week signing my kids up for classes on Outschool and evangelizing for Outschool and checking our Outschool account every five minutes. I worked hard to convince the parents of my kids’ friends to enroll their kids in Outschool classes with my kids.

I’m not sure why I became so obsessed with this platform all of a sudden, except that perhaps it seemed like salvation. We haven’t had real school in our house in a while now and word on the street is kids won’t be going back to school in pre-pandemic fashion anytime soon. It’s likely that all of the day camps I carefully researched and scheduled and paid for for Zeke will be canceled. Zoe now has no summer plans at all. Especially with everything else in the universe feeling so tenuous and uncertain, this company that offers short, interactive bursts of creative and intellectual stimulation and challenge was irresistible.

Part of me just enjoys scrolling through the course offerings. I get that same rush that I experience when I walk into an art supply store or even a hardware store–even though I’m not handy and I don’t build things–that there is unlimited possibility all around me. I could (or someone could) create anything. Browsing the Outschool classes I feel the same way, even though I personally cannot enroll in any of the classes. But theoretically there is so much out there to learn! Mandarin! Astronomy! Ventriloquism! Animation! Hip-hop dance! Criminal law! Knitting! Medieval castles! Raising chickens! Don’t you feel like if you just learned about all of those things, everything in life would just be better? Or maybe that’s just me.

Zeke’s second class–on how to design a superhero costume–is tomorrow afternoon. He is super excited about this because his career ambition is costume designer for Marvel. There is a vast amount of space between spending one hour chatting online with a costume designer and making a sketch to working for Marvel, but perhaps it’s a start. Or even if it isn’t, if Zeke does something fun and creative for an hour, that’s good enough for me.

What’s beautiful
and enticing
about the woods is
everything that
isn’t there:

Zoom calls
group texts
dirty laundry
to-do lists
lesson plans
screen time requests
calendars
pans and plates piled in the sink
budgets
bills
bad news

Oh and also
there is clear water
flowing over mossy rocks
unending trees
unexpected flowers

a tiny toad
a noisy woodpecker
and
my children
laughing

Zoe and I have been sitting in a parking lot waiting for a text message. The orthodontist office told us to text a certain number when we arrived and await further instructions. So I did and we waited. I received a response from a different number asking if Zoe or anyone in our household had any Covid-19 symptoms. I said no.

Meanwhile two other masked teenagers appeared in distant spots around the parking lot. One of them was pacing back and forth. The other was with her mom, although parents were told to stay in their cars.

We waited some more. I glanced at my phone every few seconds. I also took the opportunity to pump up our leaky tire with our handy dandy air compressor, because why not.

Finally they texted that they were ready for Zoe. I sent her inside. By then the other teenagers had disappeared inside as well. Maybe even the rogue mom.

I am sitting in the parking lot, alone, serenaded by the sound of trucks and construction and traffic. It’s chillier than I expected. Although I never especially relished going into the orthodontist’s office with Zoe, I always did because that’s what expected and because she wanted me to be there. Usually they have the parents sitting in a chair at the foot of the exam chair where the patient sits. I guess I’m there for moral support. But not today. Also usually I’m there for fresh baked cookies, but I don’t think they’re handing those out anymore.

All this waiting and messaging seems like some sort of spy game. But less exciting. And more disquieting.


Addendum

While Zoe was in the orthodontist’s office I walked over to the Safeway that’s in the same parking lot to get her some lactaid pills. While in Safeway I realized I had to use the bathroom. I did not think that would be safe and I decided I would wait until I got home. By the time I walked back over to the orthodontist’s office I realized I could not wait until I got home. The door to the office was locked, as they were admitting patients one at a time. I texted the number I had used earlier to gain Zoe entrance, asking if I could please use their restroom. I texted again that I was a little desperate. No response. Zoe texted me to relay the amount they were charging on my debit card. I asked Zoe to ask them if I could use the bathroom. Zoe said, “I don’t think that’s allowed.” I told her it was an emergency. Fortunately at that moment one of the technicians opened the door to let another patient escape, and said “Did you need to use the restroom? Go ahead back.” I sprinted past her to the bathroom.

Frankly I am amazed that this hasn’t happened before now, during two months of quarantine. All I have to say is, whew.

Tomorrow morning Zeke is taking a class about lemurs and I am super excited about it. Seriously. My friend Dana said her kids were going to try out classes on Outschool and demystified it for me. I’ve seen ads for Outschool on Facebook for months and months–way before pandemic time-but never needed to add another thing to my kids’ schedule. And also they were in school! And learning new things there! But now, as learning has slowed to a crawl and “school” will end in a month and it’s possible that all the camps will be canceled, I’ve gotta do something. Dana explained to me that some of the Outschool classes include several sessions over the course of a week or several weeks, and some are just 45 minutes long! And they cost $10 (the short ones).

One of the reasons I have been lamenting the prospect of no camp (other than the obvious one of my kids being out of the house for several hours a day interacting with people outside their family) is that camp is where they try new things. Camp is where they learn and practice things that we don’t know how to teach them. Camp is where they explore subjects and activities that that interest them and not necessarily their parents. Turns out that Outschool does this! Of course Outschool also includes classes in reading and writing and math, but for my purposes my kids can take digital SLR photography and consumer finance and superhero costume design and, starting tomorrow, Lemurs, Monkeys & Apes! I have no idea what the classes will be like, but I am optimistic. Did you pick that up?


Today included a variety of small, happy moments. Zoe and I unexpectedly found toilet paper at Target. Randy made a delicious dinner of sausage, peppers, and polenta. We used to eat polenta all the time but then we stopped. It was so lovely to see polenta on my plate again. Zeke did the whole lesson plan I created for him today with no actual complaining.

His video was a collection of images by Yayoi Kusama, who he learned about when we were looking through the Outschool course offerings (we signed him up for this class which I am definitely going to be taking with him but silently off camera. He made it completely on his own by googling Kusama and taking screen shots of photographs of her and her work. At the end, he showed it to me and I asked him if he could add the artist’s name to the first screen. He couldn’t remember how to do this so he looked up instructions in iMovie help and on YouTube and he made the edit, 100% on his own. I was super impressed.

While he was playing with the Sculpey, Zoe joined in and made this adorable little pig.

front view of pig
rear view of pig
top view of pig

AND in an special post-Mother’s Day treat, both my children played (or perhaps hung out?) outside in our micro-back yard for a while this afternoon. I don’t know what they were doing except that involved the hammock and funny accents. But they were laughing and they were together and they were outside and that filled me with joy and delight.

(Another post-Mother’s Day treat was my husband using the plumbing snake kit I ordered online to snake all of our sinks, none of which back up anymore! It’s a Mother’s Day miracle!)


Our family decided today to cancel our beach vacation scheduled for July. We’ve gone to the beach together–in various combinations of extended family at various beaches up and down the East Coast–since I was a baby. These are not glamorous excursions to fancy resorts. But they are familiar and fun and something we always look forward to. It’s hard to imagine not going, but I understand that it’s too risky for my parents. At least we have tomorrow’s lemurs.

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