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While I was waiting for my prescription at the Giant pharmacy, “A Time to Remember” by Billy Joel came on the store speakers. I love Billy Joel–An Innocent Man was the first record album I bought in 4th grade and and my first rock concert in 10th grade was the Storm Front tour–but I do not like that song. It’s schmaltzy and, in my opinion, below Billy Joel’s standards. It occurred to me that no one was curating the grocery store playlist for pandemic-appropriate music. I was acutely aware of the inaccuracy of “This is the time to remember/Cause it will not last forever/These are the days/To hold on to/Cause we won’t/Although we’ll want to.” I am pretty sure we will never forget this time, whether or not we want to. And I hope it doesn’t last forever but right now it sure feels like it will. I laughed into my mask when he got to: “Sometimes it’s so easy/To let a day/Slip on by/Without even seeing each other at all” since those are all the days now, unless you count seeing each other on a screen, which will never ever be the same.


I don’t fully remember why I didn’t write the last couple nights, although Wednesday night I know I was up until 2am folding approximately 4,000 loads of laundry while I watched 2 ½ episodes of AJ and the Queen on Netflix. AJ and the Queen stars RuPaul as Robert/Ruby Red, a drag queen who is scammed out of his life savings (which he planned to use to open up a drag club called Queens in Queens) by a con artist pretending to be his boyfriend. A kid in Robert’s apartment building asks him for money because he’s been abandoned by his mom, who is a prostitute and drug addict. Robert’s best friend is another drag queen who also happens to be blond, but hasn’t lost his ability to do excellent hair and makeup. I am intrigued by drag culture (I recently watched Dumplin‘, the film adaptation of Julie Murphy’s book by the same name, which also included some spectacular drag queens) and RuPaul is a good actor. This is exactly the kind of show you should be watching when you’re up at 2am.


Another night or two, Randy and I were taking turns getting Zeke back to bed because he was popping up every 20 to 30 minutes after we thought he was asleep. Apparently it is normal for kids to regress during a traumatic period. According to experts, what we need to do is give our kids more attention. How this is possible during a period that is also traumatic for parents and features increased demands from every direction, I do not know. I’ve asked Zeke to make lists of what he wants to do the past couple days. This was one of them.

Space Taxi is a book Zeke and I have been reading together

Today’s list was similar, although it included “ride bike” repeated several times. Unfortunately we weren’t able to fit the bike ride in until 7pm because I had to get Zeke a new helmet, as his previous helmet was too small. This morning we ordered one from Target to be picked up today. It was ready to retrieve around 4pm, but of course I had to buy 1,000 other items at Target, and then go to Giant to get prescriptions (see above) and by the time I got home and stripped off my contaminated clothes and mask and wolfed down some cream cheese wontons I bought from the frozen food aisle in Target on impulse, it was 7pm. We did make it out for a quick ride before dark, however, and I enjoyed the unexpected bonus of seeing a friend who was out walking her puppy near where Zeke was riding. We talked for a few minutes, from easily 12 feet away–we were super safe–although the puppy was not practicing social distancing so I got to sneak in a few puppy snuggles.

Happily, Zeke has now joined the ranks of bicyclists. He rode lap after lap around the track where we went to practice. He is still a little wobbly sometimes on starts and stops, but who isn’t sometimes? He announced today that he thinks we will be able to go on family bike rides after his birthday, which is just a few weeks away. I think by then Zoe will have fully healed from her bike injuries, and we’ll be good to go.

As you can see, some of the strawberries adorning the edge of the cake cascaded down to the bottom between when I decorated the cake and when we served it. The cake was strawberry with fresh strawberries mixed in and a layer of strawberry jam between the layers of cake. The cake plate originally belonged to my Nana.

I know she would never have chosen it herself, but I actually think Zoe’s 13th birthday while in quarantine was more eventful and filled with love from more people than it would’ve been under ordinary circumstances.

I had put a call out on Facebook for people to send video birthday greetings to Zoe, and my wishes were granted. Beginning this morning I air-played the videos for Zoe on our TV and enjoyed seeing her smile. Some of the videos were from friends, some from teachers, some from people she doesn’t even know but who know her through the magic of Facebook. Some of them were from dogs and cats and plastic birds. One video made me cry and another made me laugh so hard I peed.

Last night we made a Kahoot–an online quiz using an app that Zoe has used in school for years–about Zoe. Today we invited family and a few groups of friends to play during Zoom birthday calls. Our first call was with the McCrays, who all sported birthday hats and had put up a happy birthday banner and balloons for Zoe. Later, the Cass family brought their adorable new puppy, Bentley, to visit us. They stayed six feet away while Bentley nibbled bits of turkey out of our hands. Then my parents drove up with some birthday gifts for Zoe, which they handed through the car window. I had just made pasta salad for lunch and I hurried to package some up for them (along with the baby carrots and tortilla chips we always serve with the pasta salad) and passed their bag of lunch back through the car window before they drove off.

Zoe and I played speed, her favorite card game, at which I am usually terrible, and I beat her. I told her now that she was a woman I wasn’t holding back anymore. Which is nonsense, because I never held back before I just wasn’t good at the game and it was lucky that I won today. Then the four of us played Not Parent Approved and ate pasta salad.

Next we had our family celebration, during which Aunt Susannah aced the Zoe quiz, and our littlest family member Sam did a little birthday dance for Zoe. Susannah and Aaron and Charlie and Sam made the best birthday video ever–their rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Me,” which featured Susannah in a bridesmaid dress and Charlie popping out of unexpected places including the fridge. Also Sam doing baby pushups.

Eager to get back on her bike, Zoe asked me to take her back to the field where she and Zeke rode Friday and Saturday. The field just so happens to be located near her best friend’s house. After riding a few laps around the track, Zoe was suddenly serenaded (from a safe distance) by a vaguely familiar group including a unicorn, Wolverine, a poop emoji, a hot dog, a windsock guy, and a Slytherin. Strangers stopped to take photos and videos.

Back home Zoe got back on Zoom with her squad from school, a happy reunion that lasted more than two hours, until our delivery arrived from Bangkok54. While we ate we watched the Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana, which Zoe had already watched five times, but it was my first. The movie was excellent and gave me a newfound respect for Taylor.

Of course Zoe received some presents, and some will be arriving in the mail pending coronavirus delays. But the best thing about this birthday was her just hearing from people in Arlington and all over the country that they are thinking of her and wishing good things for her and sending her love. And now that she’s 13 I think she understands how much that matters.

Today was the final Sunday of our November theme of abundance at UUCA. I led worship, along with my friends Bob and Kendra. You can watch a video of the service here: http://www.uucava.org/livestream/.

You can read my meditation and prayer here:

I encourage you to put your feet on the floor. Feel your seat beneath you and observe the presence beside you of caring people, whether they are friends or family or strangers. Notice your breath. Breathe in peace. Breathe out love. Breathe in comfort. Breathe out compassion. Breathe in strength. Breathe out generosity. Whatever you need right now, feel it filling your body every time you inhale. Whatever you wish to share with the world, feel it gliding into the atmosphere on your breath.

Spirit of life, we come together here today after having been scattered near and far during the past week. Some of us are refreshed and rejuvenated by time off from work and reunions with beloved family and friends. Some of us are weary from tense and difficult moments and feelings of obligation rather than joy. Some of us labored, some of us were served. Some of us were surrounded by love, some of us were lonely.

Whoever we are, may we find refuge here.

Spirit of life, as we begin again today, we ask for another chance. An opportunity to be kind to ourselves. To truly love ourselves so we can better love others. We seek relief and ease because some of us are Just. So. Tired. We seek clarity when facing an uncertain diagnosis, or no diagnosis at all, in the midst of debilitating symptoms. We seek reassurance as we endeavor to do right by our children when parenting can be so stressful. When we are young and when we are old, we seek acknowledgment. We want to know that we matter. At every age, we wish to be heard and understood. We seek grace along the path that is littered with our mistakes. We seek courage to be bold and step onto a new, unfamiliar path. We wish for the strength to unclench our fists and let the anxieties, the fears, the old hurts be carried away on the winds, leaving our hands and our hearts free. We long for the freedom to laugh and to cry with abandon. We seek release.

Whatever we seek, may we glimpse it today in this place, and claim it for our own.

 

And here’s my reflection:

FINDING YOUR ABUNDANCE

I have a contentious relationship with time. I am always running late, always composing an apology in my head. I promise it’s not because I don’t respect you or value our relationship. It’s because I am overly optimistic. I always think I have time to do one more thing before I go. Write one more sentence, put away one more load of laundry, cross one more thing off my to-do list. I am wildly unrealistic about how much time something is going to take. You would think that by this point in my life I would’ve figured this out, but no.

My family is so often late that we’ve invented a game called the good excuse bad excuse game. Note that we do not play this in the exact moment when we’re tumbling out of the house and into the minivan, because I would be way too flustered. But in a moment of calm, we can play. Here’s how it works. One person says, “sorry I was late, I decided I didn’t feel like getting out of bed, but eventually I did.” Everyone responds, BAD EXCUSE! Another person says, “Sorry I was late, I was rescuing 100 puppies from a burning building.” GOOD EXCUSE! And we continue to come up with the most pathetic or most heroic excuses we can think of.

As silly as this might seem, the good excuse bad excuse game points to an unspoken truth. The most valuable use of your time is often when you are helping someone else, when you are sharing your abundance, just like in the story Kendra read earlier. But what are the abundances we have to share? How can we find them when we so often focus on what’s scarce in our lives?

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you may have sorted yourself into one of the Hogwarts houses. Is your abundance bravery, loyalty, intelligence, or ambition? Do you possess an abundance of patience in a world that prioritizes speed and multitasking? Are you able to bring presence into a culture of preoccupation? I know that I am awed by people who are able to be fully present with me, to make me feel like I am the only person in the world who matters at that moment. Yet this quality is not one of my abundances. For better or for worse, my mind is always tuned in to several channels at once. I can’t NOT hear a conversation happening across the room, or the oven timer going off, or notice that someone in the vicinity needs something. One of my abundances is an astute power of observation, but not focused presence.

Maybe your abundance is more practical, like agility with numbers and the ability to manage or make money. I interview a lot of people on behalf of one of my clients who say they became budget counselors because they always loved numbers. I have always felt like I am allergic to numbers. At the annual meeting at church, my eyes glaze over when they talk about the budget. I am terrible with money. I sometimes wish our currency were only in words instead of numbers. Then I could understand. This trouble with numbers often comes into conflict with another of my abundances, which is generosity. Are you raising money for Multiple Sclerosis research, or orphans in Haiti, or school supplies for girls in Nigeria? I am guaranteed to donate, whether or not I can afford it.

In fact, one of my favorite holiday traditions, for the past 10 or 15 years, has been giving alternative gifts to nonprofits that I hand pick—and now my husband and children help choose—for all of our family members. We do this at an alternative gift fair, like those sponsored by Alternative Gifts of Greater Washington, or in Arlington, Gifts that Give Hope—which is hosting this year’s event on December 9 at Discovery Elementary. Or online through the Catalogue for Philanthropy. What these organizations do is bring together wonderful charitable groups and tell you what exactly your $10 or $20 or $50 donation would do for their beneficiaries. For example, a $5 donation to your local animal shelter would buy chew toys for a dog waiting to be adopted. A $25 donation to a nonprofit that serves single moms who are survivors of domestic violence would buy a week’s worth of diapers. A $50 donation would buy a bike for a young person in an African village to have the transportation needed to start a business. We take time to think about what kind of donations would be meaningful to each family member. Like the dog toys for Uncle Larry and Aunt Susan who have loved dozens of dogs and cats over the years. Cooking classes in honor of my aunt who taught me to make delicious food from scratch. You get the idea. On Christmas morning, we open these gifts along with all the others and read out loud where the charitable gift will be going. My family’s goal on Christmas morning is to make people laugh or cry, and often these gifts elicit tears. And they don’t take up room on anyone’s shelf, and they’re making the world a better place. These gifts also remind us of just how much abundance we have in our family and our community.

Going for the laugh is also fun, like when I got my mom an autographed 8×10 photo of Adam Levine because she’s a huge fan of the Voice. You have to balance things out.

The paradox about my contentious relationship with time is that time is what people want most from me. Time is what my kids want, time is what my parents want. My husband, my dog, my friends, my clients, the church. Even though it doesn’t feel like I have a lot of it, time is my most valuable abundance to give.

My parents have everything they could possibly want, and more. But my mom is thrilled if I give her a Christmas gift of a day where I help her clean out her closet and go to lunch. We take each other to concerts and plays and readings, where we share the gift of time spent together, sharing an experience. Seeing and hearing live music is one of the great joys that my husband and I share. When we devote so many hours to working and managing the house and taking care of our children and our dog, the simple act of making the time to be together and do something we both love can seem monumental, but it’s so important.

What Facebook has abundance of is memes, and many of them are silly, and some are annoying, and some are offensive. But some are really good reminders of what matters. One I remember said something like, “if you have a stack of dishes in your sink, it means you have enough food to eat. If you have a pile of laundry to fold, it means you have enough clothes to wear.” It’s easy in Arlington, or in Northern Virginia, or Greater Washington, to feel like we don’t have enough. We have plenty of first world problems. But we also have plenty of abundance. Abundant opportunities, abundant amusements, abundant things to see and people to meet. Abundant chances to serve. Abundant ways to receive.

As we close out our month of abundance, and our weekend of abundant food and company, and we look ahead to a month that may be filled with hope or anxiety, love or loneliness, generosity or uncertainty, or maybe all of these. Remember to take with you this month your inner abundance. Is it compassion? Vision? Wit? Steadiness? Creativity? Maybe you can’t name your inner abundance right now. If that’s the case, give yourself time to find it. And when you find it, give it away.

May it be so, may it be so, may it be so.

IMG_2373I never expected to love my quiet moments of solitude at the dog park quite so much.

I never knew that dogs are kind of particular about which other dogs they befriend and run with or wrestle. Sure they’ll sniff any dog’s rear ends, shamelessly, but they tend to wait until a dog who’s at least a little bit special comes along until they put their whole hearts into the chasing or the grappling or whatever interaction they deem appropriate.

I never understood how the varieties of dogs are endless, like humans, and how dogs come in so many shapes and sizes and colors. At least at our dog park, perhaps because it’s in South Arlington, the dogs are quite diverse.

I never realized how many tiny feathers were inside a pillow that a dog could chew to shreds. (I will be finding little feathers in my office for years to come.)

I never anticipated how much like a sibling a dog could be to my children, and exactly how they would each respond to her.

I never knew how pleased I would be when my dog pooped or peed. I had no idea how similar the urine-soaked laundry would be between potty-training children and a house-breaking dog.

I never thought about how much pet ownership is like parenthood in terms of admission to this completely new world where you look around and everyone else seems to know what they’re doing and you’re just making it up as you go along. It’s a club I never especially cared that I didn’t belong to, but now I do. It’s like stepping into the wardrobe and through to Narnia–it’s been here all along but I didn’t quite see it.

I never imagined we would find a dog as sweet and gentle and affectionate as Daisy, who is so perfect for our family. She doesn’t jump on us, but she always wants to be pet or to snuggle. She sometimes thinks she’s a cat. She’s a little anxious, but then so are we. She’s a lot of work (but so are we sometimes) and definitely worth it.

 

IMG_2241Perhaps naively, I did not anticipate how much like having a new baby adopting a dog would be. Having had two babies myself, I can say with assurance that there are many differences between new humans and new animals entering one’s life, but a surprising number of common themes.

  1. Your standards (or at least my standards) for cleanliness, hygiene, and what I’m willing to look like in public may shift. Or plunge into embarrassing depths. I remember when Zoe was born she would spit up a lot and at some point I would say to myself, “well, there’s not a LOT of spit-up on my shirt…I can go out like this.” Eventually you have the presence of mind to clean yourself up a little more, but some permanent damage is done in terms of what you will tolerate.

    Suddenly I have become a person with dog hair on her clothing. I imagine people might look at me and think, “Did you not realize you have dog hair all over your shirt?” The answer would be yes, but I had several more pressing things to do than locate the lint roller and remove it. And if you see someone out walking in the early morning who looks like a thinner Michael Moore, that would be me, with a baseball cap and a hoodie, and possibly pajama pants, taking Daisy out for a constitutional.

  2. Your eyes are opened to the extraordinarily enormous and somewhat unnecessary variety of products you can buy. A few days after we brought Zoe home from the hospital, Randy and I went to Babies ‘R’ Us to pick up a few supplies we realized we needed. When we walked in I’m sure our bloodshot and sleepless eyes widened in shock at the absurd number of choices of every baby product you could ever need, and many that you really don’t need at all but you might just buy anyway in a moment of confusion.

    I found PetSmart to be the same experience. There are so many brands of food and within each brand so many flavors and then different kinds for different ages of dogs, and different breeds of dogs, and dogs with different kinds of medical conditions. There are dry foods and wet foods and organic foods, and single serve pouches in case you’re packing a lunch or snack for your dog when she goes off to school. There are so many treats and snacks and chew toys. Some of the chew toys say “for light to moderate chewing” or “for heaving chewing.” How do you anticipate precisely how much your dog will want to chew on a given toy? A main difference between baby products and pet products is that many of the products designed for dogs seem to be bacon flavored. I’ve rarely seen a bacon-flavored pacifier.

  3. You have entirely different feelings about your dog than about anyone else’s dog, no matter how much you like another dog. Your baby and your dog are instantly special and important in a way you never understood before they were part of your family. I am not saying I am at the point now that I love Daisy like I love my children, but a strong connection forms quickly. One moment this dog is one of dozens of dogs in a sea of rescue animals, and a week later you’re looking soulfully into the dog’s eyes trying to understand what she’s thinking.
  4. You’re somewhat confused at first. Just like a baby’s behavior changes from day to day and week to week, so does that of a rescue dog, we have learned. According to the vet and our trainer, Daisy may not reveal her true personality for a few weeks or longer. She hasn’t barked once. Will she ever bark or remain the strong, silent type? Who knows? At both my kids’ early pediatrician visits and Daisy’s first visit to the vet, I arrived with a notebook in which I had written a long list of questions about Daisy and what to expect and how to best take care of her. It’s good that our pediatrician and our vet are patient people.

    For the first five or six days Daisy was here, she didn’t really touch anything that didn’t belong to her, except for unexpectedly eating the head off a sunflower (I was in the midst of texting my cousin about Daisy and thankfully she assured me with a quick ASPCA web search that sunflowers are not toxic to dogs. Then one night she quickly and enthusiastically tackled the chew toy she had previously ignored, completely shredding the tennis balls that were threaded onto the braided rope. She started gnawing on the rope too. And then she looked around and realized she was surrounded by a wonderland of chewable things. We had to move fast. This morning when we were trying to get out the door to go to church we could only locate one of Zeke’s sneakers. It turned out that Daisy had the other one and had been nibbling on it. Zeke was exonerated and we realized we would have to have a new plan for shoe containment.

    So far she hasn’t jumped on anyone at all. The first couple nights she was here she tried to jump up onto the table during dinner to see what she could eat, but we dissuaded her and she hasn’t done it since. She still certainly lurks around the table and pokes her head into our laps, but no jumping.

    Until tonight, when she was lying on the couch and she noticed that Zeke had left his seat, leaving his plate of chicken pot pie unguarded. Swiftly and boldly, she leaped over the back of the couch. Luckily Randy’s lightning quick reflexes kept Daisy from completing her mission and Zeke’s plate remained safe. But we were surprised to see just what Daisy was willing and able to do.

  5. You experience these small moments of bliss. Any parent or pet owner would be lying if she said all of this wasn’t a whole lot of work. And expensive. And messy. But every once in a while you have a moment. With your baby it’s that feeling of contentment after they finish nursing and fall asleep on your breast, or when they’re nestled under your chin, or when they smile or laugh for the first time and then you can’t get enough of that joy.

    With your dog it’s on a walk in the woods, watching your dog just stand absolutely still, listening to the bluejays and sniffing the air, thoughtfully observing her new world. Or when she snuggles up to you on the couch, resting her head and one paw on your thigh, laying claim. Or when you see that elusive tail wag that says she’s having her own little rush of happiness that hopefully means she’s starting to feel at home.

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