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When a tickle in your throat strikes terror in your heart, it’s hard to act like everything is normal. When you wonder every single time you wash your hands, which seems to be in the high dozens every day, if there was any virus on your hands and if you washed it off enough or if you left some on the faucet handle, it’s hard to return to what you were doing with your full attention. When you already personally know two people who have lost loved ones to this virus but you know there will be many more, it’s hard to concentrate on anything.

You can distract yourself for a little while at a time. I finished a great YA novel last night and started another one today. I cleaned the kitchen and planned meals for the week. Zeke and I played Uno. I started studying A Little Bit of Tarot along with the cards in the deck my friend Tracey gave me before she moved away. Our family watched a sweet and funny movie–The Unicorn Store, starring Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson like you’ve never seen him before. Tomorrow we’re going to watch online church and take the kids and their bikes to an empty parking lot to practice riding.

Of course you have to live your life, because that’s how it works. And when you have kids, you have to keep things moving so they don’t absorb all your anxiety, because they will if you aren’t careful. And right now I have a lot of anxiety, and I am notoriously bad at hiding my feelings.

I’ve been through difficult situations before when people told me I had to keep it together for the kids, and not cry in front of them. I understand the need to be strong and reassuring for your kids, but I also believe kids learn from their parents that it’s ok to have feelings, and it’s ok to have negative feelings, and that they’re part of life and you have to figure out how to handle them. Life isn’t always pretty or easy, and if you don’t have a model for how to face the hard times, sometimes you refuse to face them, or you fall apart. I know there are lots of ways to be a parent, and this isn’t a subject covered in the instruction manual. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here. Parenting is already fraught with uncertainty, and living through a pandemic unsettles everything that much more.

I was just too tired to chronicle day 9. I’ll wrap it into day 10.

Amazon recently delivered to our house a five-pound box of plaster-impregnated gauze. In another time, I may not have granted Zeke’s wish for this stuff, which he used several weeks ago in his afterschool art studio to make donut sculptures. But now, hey, we have plenty of time on our hands so why not figure out what to make with five pounds of plaster-impregnated gauze.

Tonight I ordered him a dozen chisel-tip black Sharpies and a package of colored chisel-tip Sharpies. Apparently all the black Sharpies in the house have now been used up because Zeke has done a LOT of drawing over the past week. He has been watching Mo Willems’ daily drawing tutorials since school closed last Monday, and recently we added Grace Lin‘s and Jarrett J Krosockza‘s to the mix. He also watches instructional videos on a couple other YouTube channels. He told me that all the professional artists and illustrators use the thick black Sharpies (which we discovered are called chisel tip) so we figured he should have some.

At bedtime I asked Zeke what he would miss and not miss about school, since we learned this afternoon that Virginia schools will be closed for the rest of the school year. He said his afterschool art studio, his art class, his first-grade teacher, and seeing his beloved kindergarten teacher in the halls. Truthfully, it’s been kind of a rough year for him. All his best buddies from kindergarten either moved away, were rezoned to other schools, or ended up in other classes. He made a couple friends in his first-grade class, but none were as special as those from last year. More significantly, however, he’s struggled to deal with the disruptive behavior of a few kids in his class. There’s enough there to write another whole post about, but what matters is that Zeke has felt a lot of stress at school, and I think he’s a little relieved he doesn’t have to go back. He asked me right before he fell asleep if after the homeschooling is over he’ll be a second grader. I said I imagined so. Hopefully his second grade class will be more peaceful.

As a soon-to-be teenager, however, Zoe will suffer more from having to stay home, I believe. Friends are often your salvation when you’re 13, and Zoe has tight ones. I had already scheduled a Zoom call for her to check in with her squad from school this afternoon. But when we heard the news from Gov. Northam, she asked if she could start the call earlier, then commandeered my computer for the next three hours so she could commiserate and laugh with her friends. She came down to the kitchen twice during the call to get snacks. In terms of schoolwork, Zoe already has years of experience using the school-issued iPads and nearly two years of receiving and completing assignments online. She has been conscientious about her schoolwork so far, although it’s only been a week. I have no idea what the long-term plan will be or how she will respond.

The same can be said of everyone else right now, I suppose. I am feeling surprisingly sanguine at this moment. Today I’ve been angry, frustrated, disappointed, impatient, indignant, exasperated, and just really sad.


Yesterday we enjoyed a nice outing to Shenandoah. We did, in fact, stop at the Apple House and pick up lunch and apple cider donuts. Then we sat in the back of our van, which I had cleaned out and laid blankets down on, to have a little picnic in the parking lot. Then we walked through the woods. After a while we realized we might be on the wrong trail, but by the time we got back to the parking lot to scope out the right trail, we were tired and decided to go home instead. On the way home we listened to Dvorak‘s New World Symphony, which was Randy’s request and seemed fitting as we drove down the mountain. On the way to the park, we listened to a family playlist that we created that morning. I don’t know why I’d never thought of this before because we always have arguments about music in the car, even though we have a tried and true system of taking turns. I guess everyone’s coronavirus creativity is on fire, so I suggested we all add songs to the playlist and put it on shuffle. And it worked! No arguing. And some really funny juxtapositions of songs.

Today Arlington County announced that all parks, dog parks, playgrounds, fields, and basketball and tennis courts are closed. Trails and community gardens are “closed to groups.” The announcement said “exercise or garden alone.” In the past week we’ve seen tons of clumps of teenagers hanging out and playing basketball when we’ve been hiking or walking. We’ve seen little kids on playgrounds. Clearly none of these people were social distancing. I’m going to exercise my judgment that our family group of four can go on a trail together because A) we have been quarantining together and B) our children cannot “exercise alone” on a trail. I know we can work out in our living room, if we move the furniture, but we’ve got to get out of the house sometimes. And I am not a rule breaker by nature.


I am not a superstitious person either. But I keep thinking about how a few months ago I was thinking about what the advantages of homeschooling might be. I started contemplating it after talking with three different women in one week, coincidentally, who were homeschooling their kids. Unlike the stereotypical idea of homeschoolers, none of these families are super religious or conservative or anti-public school as a concept. All of them just realized that their kids’ needs were not being met by their schools, so they decided to do something different. And given the challenges Zeke has experienced in his classroom this year, I started thinking about how it would be nice if I could give him a less stressful environment to learn in. But at the same time, there’s a lot he learns at school that I cannot teach him, and there are things he enjoys, and there are kids there and, oh, professional educators. But now I’ll get my chance!

I’m better now.

I slept a lot today, then showered and fed my family, then Randy and Zeke and I went for a hike at Difficult Run near Great Falls. Zoe refused to go. But while we were gone she did dishes and laundry and homework, so ok.

We so needed to get outside. I have gone on more hikes in the past week than I usually do in a given season, but they are critical to our emotional and physical survival. Tomorrow we’re headed to Shenandoah. Our house is 1,584 square feet. I can only imagine how much more challenging it is for people who live in tiny apartments, or shelters, or other less than luxurious accommodations.

After my middle-of-the-night post last night I received some commiseration from other souls who share my highly sensitive status, which was reassuring. I’ve also seen quite a few Facebook posts from friends who are in the throes of struggle. It is a good reminder that we are here to talk each other down, listen well, and just affirm to each other, “yes, this is freaking hard.”

Tonight we did our first-ever Zoom call with my parents, which was unsurprisingly comical. Once we ironed out the technical difficulties, we chatted about our days and played with the settings on Zoom. Although I’ve used Zoom for a few months, I never realized you could change the background–at least for your own image–to one of their preset backgrounds or any photo you choose. During our call I was accompanied by pandas, lions, younger versions of my kids, and various landscapes. Randy was upstairs in the office maintaining the illusion that he was either levitating above or being sucked underneath a river. Zoe shared her screen so she could show everyone photos of Taylor Swift. And we did a mad lib together, engineered by my dad.

Randy started a 2000-piece puzzle of seashells that I gave him last year. Zoe beat me soundly at Kings in the Corner. I started drafting a schedule for Monday, mostly of things I need to take care of myself. On Monday I need to change things up in terms of our homeschool situation, although I’m not sure how yet. I have to motivate myself to get my tasks done, as well as motivating the kids. I keep hearing that 1) it’s important to maintain a routine and stick to a schedule and 2) I should not worry about all this so much, and feel less pressure to make sure the kids are on task. This reminds me of so many times in my life where the guidance I was being given seemed totally contradictory.

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to the apple cider donuts tomorrow that we will hygienically pick up curbside from the Apple House on our way to Shenandoah. Maybe the answers will all become clear when we’re out on the trail.

No one can sleep.

Randy and I were just settling into bed after watching Lady Bird when Zeke came into our room. He opened the lid of his water bottle, took a big swallow, and put it down on my nightstand before turning to look at me expectantly. Over the past several nights he has made his way into our bed at some point during the night, a practice which he had long since abandoned. But since the quarantine began he has started turning up again. Usually he snuggles in between Randy and me and falls back asleep right away. If I’m lucky I fall back asleep too until I realize I’m so close to the edge of the bed that it seems wiser to relocate to the futon in the office.

Since it was so early, relatively speaking, that we weren’t even asleep, I suggested I bring Zeke back to his room. There I found Zoe illuminated by the light of her computer. She had supposedly gone to bed a couple hours earlier. She has had trouble falling asleep for years, but it’s gotten worse lately. Of course it doesn’t help that she sleeps late every day. I am tired of dragging her out of bed when she doesn’t actually have to be anywhere.

Today was a rough day. I am usually an optimist although I certainly have my share (or more) of anxiety. But today I just felt crushed. Bombarded by bad news. Overwhelmed by uncertainty. Unable to motivate my kids to do anything. Barely able to make myself do anything. I keep seeing all these messages on social media about how we should support small businesses and artists and buy gift cards. I don’t have the money for that. I keep seeing all these messages about how we need to come together as a community during this crisis and support the food bank and other nonprofits. I’ve built my entire career on helping nonprofits, but I can’t donate now, when my income has slowed to a trickle.

A friend texted me “those messages aren’t for you.” My sister said I already do a lot for the community. My enneagram type is #2, often called the helper or the giver. Enneagram types all have strengths and weaknesses, and #2s —when things are not going well, say during a global pandemic, feel like they’re not enough. Type twos subconsciously feel like if they’re not doing enough for other people, they are unworthy. I have worked to overcome this unhealthy tendency for decades, and at times I think I’ve come pretty far. But then coronavirus hits and we’re quarantined at home and supposed to homeschool our kids and do our jobs and help our friends and family and neighbors—from a safe distance of course—and then how on earth could I possibly be doing enough to help? I couldn’t.

Thank God for my people who text me off my ledge when I need it. I received a lot of empathetic messages. I won’t lie—I cried a lot today. This thing is hard. I know we are super privileged and lucky and so far healthy (knock wood) but it is really freaking hard to have everything you’re used to called into question all of a sudden with no understanding of what comes next or how you’ll come out the other side.

I put a lot of thought and effort into being a good parent. And I realize that’s much easier to do when my kids go to school every day and I have time to work, socialize, eat, and just be in the world on my own. It feels counterintuitive to prioritize myself over my kids when my kids are in the same room, or even in the same house. Our house is small. There are not a lot of places you can go to have privacy, and the floors all creak. You can hear through the vents.

Every Wednesday the Unitarian Universalist Association sends out an email called Braver/Wiser with short essays by UU ministers and seminarians. I was struck by a recent piece https://www.uua.org/braverwiser/two-sides-same-coin about highly sensitive people. I first read about this concept several years ago, but I didn’t tell many people that it described me because I knew they would laugh it off, just like how the author writes that it sounds like “hysterical,” or some other disparaging term. Like snowflake.

I’ve come to realize the highly sensitive classification applies—at least for me—to both physical and mental stimuli. I can hear conversations that other people don’t. Strong smells can make me feel instantly ill. I can often intuit what people are going to say or do just before they say or do it. Not like I’m psychic, but perceptive.

I am not trying to say I’m the only person who is struggling in the unbelievable new reality of our current existence — far from it. Just that I understand why no one in my house is sleeping. It’s quarter to two and my mind is still wide awake with no signs of slowing.

It’s too much effort to write it all out.

Just got home from the grocery store. Got everything we needed except eggs. Also got panicky and was just shy of hyperventilating by the time I checked out. I washed my hands in the bathroom at the store, then sanitized them twice in the car, and washed them again at home before and after unloading the groceries. I am worried that there is virus on the groceries but I don’t really have anything to wipe them down with. I guess we will all wash compulsively before, during, and after cooking and eating. Oh wait, we’re already doing that.

I bought an insane amount of groceries, realizing that all four of us are eating three meals a day plus snacks at home every day. That never happens. I guess we’re saving money and eating healthier.

I find myself overwhelmed by the deluge of online activities and zoom invitations. I feel like I’m supposed to participate in everything but I can’t and don’t really want to.

Zoe did her schoolwork today and Zeke read a book, did some math apps, and drew a lot. His teacher has posted a ton of first grade material but I don’t want to deal with it. Zeke is on some sort of writing strike. His teacher pointed out at his conference that he’s not writing as much as he should be at this point in the year. He knows how to write and he has an amazing vocabulary. He’s rather eloquent and witty in conversation, but somehow it pains him to write. I feel like I should take this opportunity to work on that, but I’m not sure how.

After sorting out the groceries I retreated to my bedroom to meditate with my Calm app. I am on day #13 of the 21-day meditation series I started in January. 😄 I have actually done more meditation than that, but I haven’t kept up with the series. Anyway it took about 15 minutes to slow my breathing and let the panic dissipate, but eventually it did.

It’s 75 degrees out now so I’m going to take the kids to a park for a hike. Deep breaths.

In 2020 I want to figure out how to

  1. Use my Instant Pot that everyone swears will change my life but I’ve thus far been scared to operate
  2. Not take it personally when my kids are in terrible moods
  3. Cultivate a daily meditation practice
  4. Read tarot
  5. Handle it when people serving our family in stores or restaurants refer to my daughter as “he” because she has short hair
  6. Make any money from my crazy art
  7. Get rid of a TON of the stuff in my house
  8. Get my children to ride their bicycles
  9. Eat out less while magically discovering what foods everyone in my family will eat without me having to cook everything
  10. Say no

For the past several years, each day of November I have posted on Facebook about what I am thankful for. Or, I have posted every few days a few things I am thankful for. I find it challenging to stick to doing any given task every single day beyond the basics required for hygiene and decent parenting, even if it is a task I want to do and set out for myself.

In recent weeks (maybe months?) I have found myself more anxious and stressed than usual (which is saying a lot). I have struggled to focus my attention on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. I am getting plenty of sleep. I am walking a lot. But my brain is just on overdrive all the time. It feels chaotic in my head.

I am contemplating the causes of this (not that hard to figure out, really) and working on solutions (harder). One thing I know I need to do is express gratitude. I am absolving myself from any requirements of eloquence or grace or even complete sentences. I just want to put some things out into the universe.

I am thankful that

  1. Zeke has finally made two friends in his first grade class and I’ve finally managed to contact one of the moms and have actually arranged a playdate for next weekend. I am both relieved and excited.
  2. My sister has been coaching me in how to say no. You might think this would be simple for me, but you would be wrong. I am rehearsing these lines in my head and planning to use them soon. In fact, earlier today I offered to do something for a group I am in and then I thought about my lines and I rescinded my offer! It felt good.
  3. Several people I care about are dealing with life-threatening illnesses or taking care of loved ones with life-threatening illnesses right now. This is not what I am thankful for. What I am thankful for is that these people all have access to excellent medical care, and more importantly that they are surrounded by family and friends who are providing unwavering love and support. AND that some of these people are willing and able to share what they’re going through online so that the wider community of people who care about them can know what’s going on and offer continuous love and comfort and encouragement. It’s so unnecessary to suffer alone.
  4. Tonight I watched Zoe help Zeke with some martial arts techniques with confidence and patience I have never before witnessed in that situation. It would seem that becoming a black belt and taking a recently added leadership class at EvolveAll have really made a positive difference. She was kind and enthusiastic in instructing him and he was receptive to her teaching and demonstrated immediate improvement. I was proud of both of them.

    (I was going to try to write 30 thankful things here because there are 30 days in November but as the words seem to be just spilling out of me I’ll go for 10 tonight and do the other 20 later).
  5. I have a new client that I am so thrilled to be working for and whose work is making an enormous impact on our country with the potential to seriously change things for the better in the next year. This client completely fell into my lap unexpectedly and I am thankful for the referral from someone I worked with years ago and for the new relationship.
  6. My husband is keeping up with the impeachment hearings so he can explain everything to me. He is more attuned and seemingly better able to understand political news and analysis than I am and he loves to discuss it and doesn’t mind answering my questions. And I am thankful that (hopefully) some people are finally going to be called to account for their unethical behavior. There’s so much more they should be called to account for, but I guess we have to start somewhere.
  7. There are so many extraordinary books in the world and I get to read some of them. I have read (or listened to) some absolutely stunning books in recent months, including The Dutch House; Olive, Again; The Miseducation of Cameron Post; Normal People; Every Note Played; The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl; Children of Blood and Bone; Unsheltered; Sing, Unburied, Sing; Evvie Drake Starts Over; Starworld; Little Fires Everywhere; How Not to Die Alone; City of Girls; and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. This is not an exhaustive list. But a good one.
  8. We have a washing machine and dryer and a dishwasher in our house. These are the kind of conveniences we often take for granted, but they are actually huge. We do so much laundry in our house. I am so grateful that I don’t have to take it all to a laundromat. We have nice clothes. We have warm clothes. We have plenty of choices of what to wear every day. We can be as clean and as cute as we want to be.
  9. I have choices. I am so fortunate to have plenty of options in my life. At times it may seem like too many, but what a luxury to have too many choices. What to eat, where to go, what kind of work to do, who to spend time with, how to raise our kids, what kind of vacation to take, what camp to send our kids to, how to entertain ourselves. We have immense amounts of freedom and privilege in how we conduct our lives.
  10. I play soccer with a phenomenal group of women. I love my team and I love playing with them on Monday nights and I am pretty happy with the fact that I have become a better player over the past eight seasons. And we have new jerseys for the spring season! Stay tuned for pictures come April.

    It’s time to put Zeke to bed. I am thankful that he still loves to read and snuggle with me.

Zeke turned to me this afternoon
from his position sprawled on the couch
watching Spider-Man cartoons
and asked if I knew what he did
when he arrived in his classroom
this morning
on the first day
of first grade.

I asked what
and he said he cried
because he was feeling really shy.

I said I was sorry
that he had been so upset
and asked him what happened
when he started crying
he said the teacher came over
and talked to him
and made him feel better.

I asked what she said or did
to make him feel better
but he didn’t remember.

He said he only cried
for twice the amount of time
it takes him to brush his teeth.

He said there’s no one
he knows sitting at his table
but there is a boy who
speaks another language.

“What language does he speak?”
I asked
Zeke said,
“A language I’ve never heard before.”

At least at recess Zeke got to play with Jack
his best kindergarten buddy
who is in a different class
and moving to Chicago soon anyway
they played hide and seek and Zeke said
Jack is really good at hiding.

Last night at bedtime
Zeke seemed relaxed
although he said he was nervous and excited
then he told me I smelled like cheese
and I said I had brushed my teeth and
washed my hands and face
and hadn’t even eaten any cheese recently
he was not convinced
He was clutching his stuffed owl, named Even
I said, “maybe this owl smells like cheese!”

And he became deeply offended
that I did not
call Even by his name
“Why did you say this owl?” he demanded
“You know his name!”

At which point I realized
he was more upset than he had let on.

I had to leave the room to make sure
Zoe’s first day outfit was in the washing machine
and when I returned
and climbed back up into the top bunk
to resume snuggling with Zeke
he began to weep.

He asked me if I could come in the classroom
with him in the morning
even though he knew he was riding the bus
and I told him no, that wasn’t the plan
and he just cried
and wouldn’t speak
and wouldn’t answer my questions
just burying his face in Even.

originally posted on Invocations.blog

I feel like about half 
of my parenting challenges 
are deciding when to 
say to my children

Sometimes you have to be 
tough and 
brave and 
stick it out 
do hard things 
be independent 
you can do this
you got this

and when to say

It’s ok
you can take it easy
sit this one out
relax
skip this one
don’t worry about it
rest and
you can snuggle with me

There is 
no formula
no equation
no guidebook 

that tells me
which way to lean

I just have to 
figure it out
over and over again
every
single
day 

~Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
August 2019

(originally published on invocations.blog)

So much is out of our control
who moves in next door
who doesn’t clean up 
after their dog 
on the sidewalk 
in front of 
your house

When the bus finally arrives
Whether the check
is in the mail
How your boss
behaves
How anyone
behaves

Who lets you in when 
you’re trying to 
turn left out of your 
neighborhood onto 
Columbia Pike 
Who stops when
you’re trying to 
cross the street

Who is having a bad day
and takes it out 
on you
who holds 
the door open for you and
all the kids you’ve brought along
and smiles and doesn’t seem to mind
that they are oblivious to the fact of the door

How viruses mutate
whether the nurse assigned to your room 
has ever taken care of a patient like you before
Whether the people in charge of your country
decide to start a war 
against another country or
against you
Whether someone who looks like you–even a little bit
commits a crime
What DNA you inherit
What your mother did
or did not do while you were 
becoming human
Whether she brought you 
into the world with joy
or despair

Whether you get put in the class
of a kind kindergarten teacher
or one who should have
already retired or found
another steelier line of work 

So much is out of our control 
it is a miracle that we find
at the end of the day that
a single thing we set out to do
has been done

A testament 
to our optimistic persistence 
that we write out
yet another to do list
naively determined to try again
even though
so much is out of our control

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