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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.

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 published on Invocations.blog)

Before my second baby was born
I used to worry (a lot) about 
having a boy
thinking, “what would I DO with a boy?”
as if he would turn out to be a different
species than me
rather than another gender
and that we would lack a 
common language

Now he is almost six
and I understand that 
what I was afraid of
was that he would be 
a stereotype
of a boy
or that he would 
(alarmingly)
be a clone
of boys I had known
who had scared me
or disgusted me
because of their 
aggressiveness
or
crassness
or 
insensitivity
which I wrongly 
attributed
to testosterone
and the Y chromosome

My son loves to kiss me
and snuggle and 
make art
together and 
battle bad guys (not with me, because that’s not my thing)
and build Legos (sometimes with superheroes and bad guys 
but sometimes not)
and watch the Great British Baking Show
and do martial arts
and play with his multitude of stuffed animals, 
all of whom he has given names 
and identities 
(some straight, some gay, some trans) 
and family relationships 
(usually interspecies)

He likes to wear pink and purple (and sports shorts and Adidas) 
I told him that I’m glad he knows 
pink and purple are colors 
for everyone
and not just for girls
He said unfortunately not everyone 
at his school knows that
and not everyone at his school thinks boys 
can wear nail polish
but he knows 
how much fun it is 
to get your nails done
and how cool it looks 

I used to worry 
that people would think
I was a boy
because my hair is short
because I mostly wear 
t-shirts and jeans
In high school when I wore Doc Martens
I was told “those are men’s shoes.”
(Now I sometimes shop in the men’s department for my size 11 feet
and I receive many compliments on my brown leather wingtips)
In college when I asked the boys down the hall
to use the clipper to shave the back of my hair
I was told “that’s a lesbian haircut.”
and because I wore plaid flannel, 
“you dress like a lesbian,”
(but seriously, it was the 90s)
A little girl once asked me, “are you a boy?”
I said no but she still said, “I think you’re a boy.”
When I wake up and stumble into the bathroom 
in the middle of the night or
first thing in the morning
so many times I’ve looked in the mirror
and wondered if I looked that day like 
Richard Simmons or Andy Gibb or Michael Moore
it’s always a weird male celebrity I see
I used to think that if I didn’t wear earrings 
when I left the house
people would think I was a man
even though plenty of men
wear earrings when they leave the house
like my daughter’s 5th grade teacher 
who was a middle-aged married father of two
who wore basketball shorts to teach and sported
a gold hoop in each ear

My son notices when I have new earrings
and is the first to compliment me 
when I get my hair done
He often does not care if his clothes
are clashing colors
but sometimes he wants me to brush his hair
and help him choose the perfect outfit
for the occasion

My son recites the names of all the Avengers
(and their friends such as the X-Men and the Fantastic Four)
and their unique capabilities
and asks me what powers I would like
and then endows me with them
and says, 
“I love you with all my heart and all my dreams.”
and falls asleep with his forehead touching mine
and his arm around my neck

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 10.36.00 PMMy daughter is finishing a book in bed, reading with her book light while her brother sleeps on the other side of the room. This fills me with such delight I do not care how late she stays up. It helps that today is the last day of school, and there is nowhere she needs to be in the morning. I have turned off my 6:30am weekday alarm until September. My husband pointed out this morning that I never get up at 6:30 anyway. But that’s when I am supposed to get up, and that’s when I need to begin the process of gradually waking up and hitting snooze until it is absolutely necessary to get out of bed and start the day.

I am thankful there will be no more late passes until the fall. When Zoe and I looked at her end-of-year report card today at lunch I noticed that her teacher, or the school, or some benevolent being, didn’t even count her tardies for the fourth quarter, which were numerous. Only some of them were her fault. A few were mine. Many were caused by her brother needing to poop at the precise moment we’re walking out the door. Now he can poop any time of the morning that he pleases, because who cares if you’re late to camp?

Speaking of pooping, we are done with diapers! This feels miraculous to me, a day I was never quite sure would arrive. I discovered with Zeke that having a kid potty train when he has a fully functioning bladder is not so bad. I have a greater appreciation for Zoe’s years of struggle with a recalcitrant bladder and immense gratitude that it went so smoothly for Zeke. Now all we have to do every morning is pick out which superhero underwear he wants to wear. Tonight we discussed whether Superman wears underwear with little pictures of Zeke on it. He said Superman’s underwear also has pictures of Zoe and me on it. I guess that makes sense, since some of Zeke’s underwear has Superman, Batman, the Flash, and Green Lantern. So when Amazon delivers underwear to Metropolis, perhaps it’s the Rosso Family variety pack.

After Zoe and I and a few hundred students and parents from her school watched all the teachers and staff do their song and dance numbers after dismissal, one of my favorite traditions at Zoe’s school, we went out to eat so I could have lunch and Zoe could have pie while we pored over the last day contents of her backpack, including several more items that her teacher gave away to the kids so she wouldn’t have to pack them up today because the school renovation starts Monday. Zoe already came home bearing a dictionary, an atlas, and several other books she was thrilled to have “won” in class. Her teacher is quite clever.

Then at Zoe’s suggestion we went to a paint-your-own-pottery studio and made mosaics, which we had never done there before. We had a lovely, meditative time together, which we always do when we make art. She also painted a bowl. They sent us home with grouting kits to use to finish the mosaics in 48 hours when the glue dries. I have never grouted before. Exciting!

Finally, I am thankful that the three of us enjoyed an unprecedentedly peaceful dinner tonight at Silver Diner, which I allowed Zoe to choose in celebration of the last day of school and her great report card. We went after her martial arts class, and after I let the kids run around the turf room at martial arts fighting with swords made of pool noodles, and after Zeke totally averted a tantrum on his own when Zoe handed him a plain noodle instead of one with Superman duct tape on it, and after we talked with Zoe’s instructor about what’s required of her to earn her red solid belt at the end of the summer, and after we got snow cones (blue raspberry, cherry, and grape for Zoe; pineapple and strawberry for Zeke and me to share) from the truck in the Evolve All parking lot because I had promised the kids last week we would get them tonight. So really you can see we went to dinner quite late and given all that I fully expected any or all of us to meltdown, but we didn’t! Everyone ate all of their food. Zoe discovered she liked asparagus after eating it accidentally thinking it was green beans. We even got milkshakes (yes, I was super indulgent today–whatever) and the waitress brought Zeke a sthamiltonbroadway10rawberry instead of a chocolate but he decided he liked it anyway–another chance for a tantrum that didn’t happen! We listened and sang along to Hamilton at top volume in the car on the way
home, showered, and no one argued about anything. Zeke asked me to sing “Aaron Burr, Sir” and “Helpless” in the shower but I couldn’t remember all the words, even though we’ve listened to it a gazillion times.

Seriously, this is all true. I know it sounds extraordinary. I didn’t yell at anyone all day. The kids didn’t fight. It was awesome. Of course now Zoe comes in and says she feels ill, which is probably because I let her have so many treats today. So, perhaps my fault. But otherwise it was such a lovely, peaceful day. You really need one of those every now and then.

 

 

louseWhile I hate to keep Zoe home from school when it’s only the second week, I also don’t think she’ll be in much shape to learn anything tomorrow morning at 8 when she went to sleep just before midnight. Why did she stay up until midnight on a Monday night, you ask? The answer is a repugnant four-letter word: LICE.

Most nights after she showers, Zoe asks me to comb her hair, and tonight when I was combing I observed some small, unwelcome creatures crawling on her scalp. After Randy had taken Zeke upstairs to bed, I told Zoe that I thought she had lice, and she started weeping. I called my mom for advice. I tried to calm Zoe down but I also felt like the need to expunge the bugs was rather urgent. I combed and she cried. I texted friends whose children I knew had dealt with lice. After Randy came downstairs I dispatched him to the drugstore to buy some lice-repellent product. Zoe asked if I was going to be combing her hair for the rest of her life, and I said, yes, I would be combing her hair when she breaks her board this Saturday at the martial arts growth ceremony, and when she goes to the prom, and as she’s walking down the aisle during her wedding. She added that I would be combing her hair while she was giving birth to her first child, and then while she was combing her own child’s hair. By then she was laughing instead of crying.

I did the treatment. Randy stripped the bed and sprayed it with some magic lice-be-gone spray. I did the second treatment and combed again and made the bed. I put most of the stuffed animals in the wash and some pillows in a trash bag where they’re supposed to live until the lice suffocate and die. I inspected Eve, Zoe’s doll who cannot go into the wash, and she looked clean. I didn’t feel like giving her the treatment. Also she doesn’t have hair.

It’s Randy’s birthday too. Fortunately we celebrated yesterday, as tonight was not especially festive. Exciting, sure. Festive, maybe not. Although yesterday was also exciting when the cake we made for Randy caught fire in the oven (marshmallows on top) and Randy blew it out and made a really big wish. That was festive AND exciting.

Before the discovery of the bugs tonight, Zeke had mysteriously melted down at dinner. He burst into tears because Randy cut up his broccoli too small, so he could eat it. He wanted big broccoli. This might not sound crazy, but Zeke doesn’t usually get upset about such things. He usually spends dinner either eating his food, spilling it on himself, or trying to make us laugh. I guess he had a long day. We went to the meet and greet at his preschool today so he could check out his classroom and spend a few minutes of quality time with his teacher. On the way into the school he was so excited that he started sprinting across the parking lot and fell down and scraped up his knees. They were still hurting him at bedtime. We tried to assuage him with Muppet band-aids. So Zeke was feeling a little fragile all day, although when I strapped him into his carseat as we were leaving preschool he had tears welling up in his eyes and I asked him what was wrong and he said, “Nothing. Happy.” Perhaps even he didn’t know what was wrong. But he seems to love his teacher, who was once Zoe’s teacher and as a result greeted Zeke by name last year when she saw him in passing. I didn’t know he even noticed or remembered her, but when I introduced her to him as his new teacher he leaped into her arms and gave her a hug like they were long-lost buddies. It is possible he doesn’t understand why he keeps going to school for brief periods of time only to have to leave again just when he’s getting going. Thursday is his first real day. Hopefully it will be satisfying for all of us.

The report on third grade: so far so good. Zoe says her teacher is awesome. She is thrilled to have a locker, for which she shopped for decorations this past weekend. I still haven’t gotten a lot of concrete details about anything she’s learning, but she’s seemed happy every day when I’ve picked her up, so I’ll take that. Except today when I picked her up, I asked how her day went, and she said she spent most of it worrying. This afternoon she had her green solid belt test at Evolve All, where she had to demonstrate the exercises, techniques, and understanding that green solid belt martial artists are supposed to master. She was nervous. She said Master Emerson reminded her last week that it’s good to be nervous because it means it matters. During the test I kept Zeke entertained with puzzles and snacks and a blue car we rolled to each other, while I watched Zoe out of one eye. She did awesome. I can see how much confidence and poise she’s gained over the past year, even though she still gets nervous. She passed. She wasn’t as pleased with herself as I expected, but she stood on her head in the turf room for a bit afterwards, which always seems to make her happy. Now onto the board break on Saturday. I will remind her again then as I did today, what Rev. Aaron said in his sermon on Sunday, “We got this.”

So watch out, lice. Move on out. We have our combs and our creams. We can run our washer and dryer all night if we have to. We got this.

The louder the rain hits the window, the closer I hold you

As much for my comfort as yours,

feeling vulnerable as if the window and wall that separate us from the water

might dissolve at any moment and we would drown

Your sleep is punctuated by coughs and

I would think you had a fever

if I weren’t intimately familiar with your solid little furnace of a body

from so many minutes and hours and nights of rocking with you and

sleeping with you in the office bed or in our bed,

sometimes peacefully but mostly not,

as you are drawn to climb on top of me and wrap your limbs securely around me

like you’ve summited a mountain and must embrace the ground in gratitude.

When your shoulder leans into my windpipe

I try to rescue myself

without waking you up

Zeke art

Zeke’s original art, made for me in Panda class

In real life not every special day turns out perfectly, and not every moment is worthy of photographing. But my Mother’s Day weekend did include plenty of mothering, which is something to be thankful for.

Zeke has had a fever since Friday afternoon, which translates into a lot of intense snuggling. Not that you ever want your child to be sick, but the snuggling is not so bad. Even when he wakes up from an intense nap, during which he has burrowed so intensely into me that we are covered in sweat and possibly his pee, I don’t even realize what’s happened or particularly mind. I’ve had plenty worse bodily fluids showered upon me by my children. Sometimes, even years after the spit-up phase has ended, I have to change my shirt two or three times in a day when a special mixture of tears, snot, and drool saturates it.

Zeke card

Zeke’s card, made for me in Panda class. His teacher’s translation: “I love you!”

Or sometimes I have to change my shirt because I sweat through Zoe’s activities, like her soccer game yesterday afternoon, which ended up being a massive defeat, so much so that her team was invited to bring an extra player on the field at some point. It was a hot day and her team was missing a few subs and we were in full sun, but I stayed on the sidelines (along with my dad, another loyal fan) to high five Zoe every time she came off the field and hand her a water bottle. I often sweat through her martial arts classes, even though they’re indoors and not because I’m doing martial arts, but because the studio can get stuffy with all those kids kicking and punching and running and I am sprinting around after Zeke for 45 to 90 minutes, depending on how many classes Zoe has that day. Zeke’s usual state is in motion, which is why it’s all the more surprising when he’s sick and wants to be still.

So this morning I couldn’t go to church because I couldn’t bring Zeke to the nursery with a fever and Randy had to take Zoe to a learn to ride a bike class we’d signed up for months ago. There was no breakfast in bed because Zoe was rushing around to get ready to go this morning. Fortunately our church streams services live online, so I was able to watch at home. At first Zeke was watching with me, and even said “church” a few times, which was a new word for him. (He also learned the word “boob” this weekend because he kept poking mine and giggling when I said “hey! don’t touch my boob!”) He pointed at the people on the screen and I explained who they were a few dozen times. Then he snuggled up to sleep while I watched the rest of the service and wept. I cried during the song that the director of religious education sang about mothering people whose own mothers just weren’t good enough, and during the rendition of “For Good” from Wicked. And when Rev. Aaron talked about the cards that he and an artist in the congregation developed for members in the congregation hand out to people to show that we recognize the divine in each other. And when he talked about his Tibetan friend who was identified as a rinpoche–a reincarnated spirit–at age three and who went to live in the Buddhist monastery and whose family had no idea they would never see him again. And I wept some more at the end of the service when he invited some children up to make the Tibetan singing bowls sing.

A little while after the service ended and my tears subsided, Zeke woke up and I decided to give him a bath. He requested bubbles and we had fun throwing animals into the air, listening to them plop into the water and disappear under the bubbles. After a while Zeke had the idea to put some bubbles on me, and he gently scooped up bubbles and arrayed them on my arms. Then he decided I needed to get clean too. He took the extra washcloth that I had gotten out in case he wanted to wash himself, and he squirted soap on it, and dipped it in the water to get it wet, and washed one of my arms, and then the other. It was kind of like Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, but the two-year-old and his mom version. With bubbles.

I didn’t want to leave Zeke to go to the planned Mother’s Day celebration at my parents’ house, and I didn’t want to share his germs with his cousin, but Randy insisted that Zeke would be fine with him and that Zoe and I should go. We arrived late, and on my parents’ back porch, Zoe shared with everyone the Mother’s Day gifts that she and Zeke and Randy had given me. My favorite was the letter she had written to me in school. The past few weeks have been more exasperating and exhausting than usual, as we’ve faced epic tantrums from Zeke and have been helping Zoe address some physical challenges. All of us have been a little crankier and more fragile than usual. Randy has been by my side every night, united on the parenting front. He has typically been the only one who has been able to finally subdue Zeke into sleep at the end of the long night. But there has also been the blowing of bubbles, and the drawing of chalk pictures on the patio, and the doing of many puzzles.

So there’s been a lot of mothering. And moments when I had to go outside and sit on the front step in my pajamas late at night before I completely lost my mind. But then there’s this. Deep, slobbery snuggles, and “always remember that you are my star.”

Zoe letter page 1 Zoe letter

mousetrapLast night while Zoe was having a sleepover with her grandparents, I was hoping Randy and I could do some grown-up thing like watch an R-rated movie or play Bananagrams. Or if Randy had to do work, I would, say, read a book. Instead I had to guiltily dispose of one dead and two distressed mice.

After my last post about the mouse I saw in the bathroom in the middle of the night, several friends offered to loan me humane mousetraps. Those people perhaps are better people than I am. In fact after reading this you may think less of me, but I am what I am at this point. I’m not going to change. Anyway, I had already called Phil, our exterminator, with whom we have an annual contract because we have had many unwelcome small creatures in our house over the past decade. He comes whenever we call because I don’t like the thought of tiny things attacking us or our children as we sleep, or infiltrating our food, or pooping on our stuff. So Phil had come earlier this week and discovered a mouse hole behind my desk and set several traps around the house. He said he thought there was only one mouse, and he didn’t see any signs of the mouse in the kitchen, although in past months and years the mice have definitely been in the kitchen. We thought maybe they wanted to check out the upstairs just for fun.

Then last night while Zeke and I were hanging out making block towers and kind of watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, while Randy went to pick up Vietnamese food from Four Sisters Grill for our dinner, I heard a squeak. You know when you read a book about a mouse or sing “Old MacDonald” and you say “squeak! squeak!” but that’s actually what I heard. It’s much more literal than when you say, “oink” for what a pig says, because if you listen to pigs they don’t really say, “oink.”

Anyway, I sneaked away and checked one of the traps and saw a very dead mouse. It was not squeaking. I did not want to attract Zeke’s attention to the dead mouse, so I moved an easel in front of it. But I still heard squeaking. Clearly it was not coming from the dead mouse. I couldn’t see any other traps. I texted Phil to ask where the other traps were, but he did not answer.

I resumed building and knocking down towers with Zeke. Actually he was doing the knocking down, but we were both building, and I was really impressed by his fine motor skills when he would carefully add blocks to the top of my already tall tower.

Eventually Randy got home and we ate dinner and he put Zeke to bed. While they were upstairs, I gingerly picked up the trap with the dead mouse and put it inside a large plastic cup from a restaurant, and put the cup inside a gift bag decorated with poinsettias left over from last Christmas which was inexplicably in the kitchen in that little space between a cabinet and a kitchen cart where we keep grocery bags. I threw it in the trash and tied up the trash bag and took it outside even though we’re not supposed to put trash outside until the morning when the garbagemen come, because I didn’t want the dead mouse in my house anymore.

I continued to hear intermittent squeaks, which seemed to be coming from the stove. I armed myself with a large metal steamer pot and a plastic plate in case the mice came darting out from under the stove and I was quick enough to catch them. I pulled out the drawer underneath the stove, where we keep pyrex dishes, and saw several glue traps that Phil had left, which are usually for ants or roaches. But stuck in one of the glue traps were not one but two mice, squeaking and immobilized. Great. They’re not dead, but they’re stuck.

I used a paper towel to pick up the trap and put it in the steamer pot and covered it with the plate, just in case they could escape. I went outside and crossed the street and tried to shake the mice out of the trap into the snowy grass by the sidewalk. They would not come out. I did not want to touch the mice. Then I did something I now regret, but I honestly didn’t know what else to do. I just threw the whole thing down in the grass and hoped that the mice would either miraculously escape or mercifully die quickly. I just didn’t know what else to do.

I went back inside feeling terrible about the mice, but also relieved that they were out of my house and at least three fewer mice would be threatening my family with their toxic poop.

Then, since I had found two mice in the kitchen where we didn’t think there were any, I did some investigating. I pulled out the kitchen cart and discovered a great deal of the aforementioned toxic poop. I started to cry, but I stopped because the vent in the kitchen is connected directly to the vent in the kids’ room and the last thing I needed was to wake Zeke up.

So Randy and I spent a good deal of the rest of the evening cleaning up toxic mouse poop and sanitizing the surfaces of the kitchen.

Then today I was moving things around in our minivan so I could give one of Zoe’s friends a ride home from Brownies. I had to clean out all the junk in the back to put up the third row of seats. In so doing, I found a bag containing two gourds leftover from Halloween which I had intended to bring to my sister’s house to compost. Then I found a third gourd decomposing underneath Zoe’s seat. It may or may not have eaten a hole in the rug. I was able to remove much, but not all, of the gourd. I’m not even sure what tool I need to remove the rest. And I had to go in to the Brownie meeting, where we made art, so that was lovely and it took my mind off the rotting vegetation in my car. I don’t know how it didn’t smell, but it didn’t. Maybe because it’s been so cold.

One highlight of the past week has been that we were lucky enough to win tickets to the White House Easter Egg Roll for the first time. I am excited and I know the kids will have a great time even though they don’t really know what it is. Zeke doesn’t even know what Easter is. But Zeke has consistently said Daddy in reference to Randy, and he can breathe like Darth Vader (on purpose) and he said POP when we were making popcorn. And he said “I love you” to my mom.

But I could do without the rodent defecation or vegetation decomposition. And also it would be nice if Zeke would go to sleep. It’s 11:19 and he’s still awake. We saw comedian Maz Jobrani perform on Friday night and he described the tribulations of getting his daughter to bed. he said by the end of it he would be saying, “‘Lord Jesus please make her go to sleep!’ And I’m not even Christian! Moses! Mohammed! Buddha! Bahai! The first God who gets her to go to sleep, I’ll convert!” It’s a good thing we’re already Unitarians.

Unfortunately this is NOT the mouse I saw in my bathroom at 3am.

Unfortunately this is NOT the mouse I saw in my bathroom at 3am.

The worst part of last night, at least for me, was not Zeke’s persistent crying and refusal to sleep horizontally (although that was quite unpleasant) but rather the fact that after I plopped a weepy Zeke on our bed with his dogs Kirby and Uh Oh Dog and woke up Randy to keep an eye on him while I used the bathroom, when I turned on the bathroom light I saw a mouse dash out of the bathroom, across the hall, and into my office (also our guest room), which caused me to pee in my pants. I am not typically one of those people who is terrified of mice (although I don’t love them cohabiting with my family) but seeing a mouse vacate the bathroom in our bedroom and relocate to another bedroom, all on the upper floor of our house, where we sleep, does not sit well with me. Suddenly my mind switched from exasperation over Zeke’s restlessness to fear that the mouse (and perhaps his whole family) would be crawling over our faces if we ever did get back to sleep. tiny slug

A few weeks ago when our family was suffering from round after round of stomach viruses, twice during wakeful, messy nights, I spotted a tiny slug in the corner of the kitchen. The slug’s presence was disconcerting, but not alarming. First of all, it was tiny. Second, it was as slugs are wont to do, moving quite slowly, so I didn’t feel like I had to attend to it immediately. Slugs are notoriously easy to apprehend and Randy removed both slugs to the backyard without incident. This happened in the kitchen and I never once worried that slugs would crawl over our faces as we slept, leaving poisonous trails of slime. But a mouse. Those things are dangerous. Our exterminator told us to use gloves and masks when he reminded us many times to remove the mouse poop from the utility shed behind our house. You’re not going to want to come over for dinner now, are you?

Not that we can have anyone over for dinner these days anyway, because we are always sick or trapped inside by snow and ice. Not really trapped, Boston-style, but stuck inside because where are we going to go when it’s snowy and icy anyway? Our weeks of isolation began on January 29 when Zeke was first struck with norovirus, which he generously shared with all of us in turn. We were supposed to have friends over for dinner a few days later but had to cancel. And every weekend since then, someone has been puking or feverish or something yucky. School has been closed or delayed. I have postponed and rescheduled work meetings and personal appointments and social events over and over again.

When my mind is forced to spend those days (and nights) home with sick kids, or sick husband, or sick me, it tends to wander off toward dark and dismal destinations. I was fairly convinced throughout February that I was a terrible parent, incapable of compassion or patience, and also to blame for everyone’s illnesses. I was sure I didn’t have any real friends and somehow my children and I were being excluded from all fun things that were happening everywhere. I spend a lot of time worrying about all the things anyone could possibly worry about, and then I create some new things to worry about. I embrace my tendency toward worst-case-scenario thinking. Meaning, I am always on some level planning what to do if I need to take someone to the ER or what if someone never comes back from that errand or that trip, or what if we lose power and so many other what ifs that actual reality has no room to exist in my brain. I’ve struggled to figure out how to extract myself from this hole. Everyone I know seems to have crap they’re dealing with, much of it significantly more challenging than mine. Or everyone is just sick. During one of my doctor visits in February, my doctor said there were three groups of people in this area: people who’ve recently been sick, people who are sick now, and people who are going to get sick soon. He said the virus season this winter is the worst he’s seen in a decade. Still, knowing other people are sick does not at all make me feel any better, or even absolve me of responsibility for our germs. We wash our hands all the freaking time. While toddlers are not known for their hygeine habits, even Zeke loves to wash his hands, wipe up spills, and bring out the dustbuster when there’s a spill. We bleach, we wipe down, we spray. And yet the germs circulate and attack us again and again and my mental and emotional state deteriorates. So it’s been hard for me to reach out. I don’t like to complain (maybe you can’t tell that from this post) and I don’t like negativity. I am an optimist. I don’t like whiners. But the past five weeks, which feel more like five months, my sense of hope and positive attitude have diminished. My creativity and confidence have crumbled. I’ve felt increasingly lonely and isolated. I am an extrovert (or to be more accurate, according to my reading of Susan Cain’s work, I’m an ambivert, but still I need some outside stimulation). It’s not been good.

One bright spot during this time has been the sermons by Rev. Aaron McEmrys at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington. I’ve been a member of All Souls Unitarian for nearly a decade, but for a variety of reasons it’s become untenable to attend services there. Recently a friend invited Zoe to participate in the sex ed (appropriate for second-graders) segment of the Sunday morning religious education class, so I figured I would go to services while Zoe was in class. I’d been to UUCA a couple times before in years past and found it pleasant but not powerful. This time, though, I was surprised and moved by Rev. Aaron’s preaching. I find his sermons to be thoughtful, challenging, exquisitely written, and passionately delivered. And this week he challenged the congregation to do something fun or frivolous or whatever it was they needed to do to be more resilient–to live more and work less. By example he told physicians in the room to work five fewer hours this week and do something entertaining or fulfilling instead. But he said he didn’t know what we all needed–we did. And what I needed to do was write this. It is embarrassing to say you’ve felt lonely and sad. I was raised not to feel sorry for myself. But sometimes you just need to say how you feel. I also, as a writer, constantly struggle with reluctance to put words out into the world unless they are fully formed and somehow worthy. Unfortunately, I just don’t always feel worthy. But I still need to put words out there before they burn a hole inside me, as they sometimes threaten to do.

So I am praying for spring. For health. For sleep. For the mouse that is upstairs in our house to move out. For a new show to materialize that makes me laugh as much as Parks and Recreation did. For more books like Wonder, which I read in a day sometime in February and would recommend to everyone. And for you, if you are in a hole, to find your way out as well.

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