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This shelf includes some books we already had that I pulled from other bookshelves in the house and some of the new books I bought on recommendations of friends and booksellers.

At bedtime these days I am reading a book with Zeke called The Last Kids on Earth. The one we’re reading is the first in a series of six (so far) which has also been made into a show on Netflix. Normally I don’t go in for books about hordes of disgusting zombies and gigantic, stinky, oozy monsters, but 1) the writing is quite good and pretty funny and 2) every single night when I read with him I think, “at least we don’t have zombies and monsters in real life (yet)!”

The Last Kids on Earth was recommended by several parents in my recent quest to find new chapter books for Zeke since the library has been closed for several months and he’s read most of the books we our house. I ended up buying a lot of books, which should surprise no one. My approach to solving all problems is by reading.

This explains why I have also been dividing my book buying among independent book stores where I already shop (One More Page, Politics and Prose, and Solid State Books) and two Black-owned bookstores (Mahogany Books and Loyalty Bookstores) and Thrift Books, a used book website. I have been trying to buy less of everything from Amazon because of Jeff Bezos’ terrible labor practices. I would like to stop supporting Amazon entirely, but I’m not there yet. It’s really convenient. But I’m trying.

More of Zeke’s books. Some of these he’s read already. I had to move the Mo Willems and Dr. Seuss books into the hallway to make room.

The books I’ve bought from all these stores (online of course) include chapter books for Zeke, YA books for Zoe (and me), and a small library of books (for all ages) by Black authors and activists including fiction, history, memoir, and guidance on how to be an anti-racist. And of course I bought t-shirts from all the bookstores too, to feed my t-shirt habit. Don’t judge.

Some of the books I bought were recommended by or written by some of our favorite authors–Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jason Reynolds–who spoke during an online Black Lives Matter rally last Thursday night sponsored by the Brown Bookshelf. I think at this point I have perused every recommended reading list circulating on the internet. Our family is nothing if not broadly read. We have always read books that provide both mirrors (characters like us) and windows (characters who are different than us) but now seems like a good time to open more windows.


I have been hesitant to write lately because I am struggling with the idea that my voice is not what needs to be heard right now. On the one hand, there are other voices that should be elevated. On social media, I am working to do just that. On the other hand, I don’t think am being asked to silence myself. Am I? I don’t claim to be an expert on racism or on Black people’s experiences. I can only speak from my own experience as a white person and an ally. And I think it can be useful for me to speak up as an ally. But how much is the right amount to speak? And where and when?

Throughout many recent conversations with friends–most of whom are moms–a recurring theme is what is the right thing to do? What do we ask of our kids this summer? What is safe? What is worth the risk? When do we protest? When do we hold space? What will we do in the fall? How do we balance the needs for learning, safety, community, and justice? None of us have figured out the answers yet.

Here are things I need to be reminded of:

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

Why is this so hard to remember?

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


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


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

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

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

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

This will be short because I have a migraine, but it’s day 50 (other people’s day 50s have come and gone but I’ve never been good with numbers) and we got some tough news today so I feel compelled to write. Actually I’m a writer so I always feel compelled to write, but I have less stamina tonight.

We learned that Camp Friendship, the phenomenal sleepaway camp where Zoe has gone the past five summers, decided to cancel its summer season. Randy and Zoe were not surprised. I, as usual, was holding out hope for a miracle. It turns out I’m much more disappointed in camp being canceled than school.

Even though it’s not the same, Zoe can learn more or less all the important academic stuff from home. But we can’t give her the freedom she gets at camp—choosing all her own activities, interacting with kids and adults from all over the world, roaming around outside all day every day, swimming every day in the lake and doing archery and singing around a campfire and all the things. We can not recreate that experience. And especially when she’s in the house with us all day every day, she needs that outlet. I get why the camp made the decision and it’s probably the safest thing for everyone, but I am sad. Camp means so much to Zoe and to so many other kids and grownups. This is a big loss.

I am existentially tired. Also my body is tired. And my brain hurts.

There is SO MUCH INPUT.

I read an article today about why online meetings are so exhausting. One reason is that you are distracted by looking at yourself. I had not thought much about this before, but it’s true. Yes, superficially I’m looking to see if my hair is weirder than usual or wondering if my neck always looks like that, but I’m also trying to make sure my facial expressions are appropriate, check whether or not my microphone is muted, and notice if either of my children has stealthily appeared behind me. In an ordinary meeting, none of these things are concerns. Randy told me that in Zoom you can hide your own picture on the screen, which I tried tonight during my book club zoom, but then I reinserted myself because what if I was making a strange face and didn’t realize it?

I love my book club. I think we have given up discussing books for the moment because we are in survival mode, but we thankfully we realize that survival includes each other. We did share with each other what we’re doing to feed our souls, which I guess means we’re elevated slightly above survival mode. We offered up the tv shows and music and books and podcasts and quirky Twitter feeds that are providing distraction and amusement and solace. We talked about the hard things and happy things that are happening in our lives, unrelated to the pandemic but made more meaningful or menacing because of it.

So many and so few other things happened today that are already fading away. What brought me joy was unpacking groceries with Zoe while we chatted in atrocious Scottish (or Irish? or maybe British? or Indian?) accents and laughed until we doubled over. And Zeke gave me so many hugs. He wore the Yoda pajamas he slept in last night for the entire day, and wore them again to bed tonight. I’m not sure if he brushed his teeth. But he gave me so many hugs. Thank God for the laughter and the hugs.

On Saturdays we become feral. While our pre-pandemic weekends were packed with activities and outings, Saturdays especially are now anarchy. When each of us is sleeping or eating or dressed is anyone’s guess. By Saturday I have no energy left to organize anyone or anything.

Yesterday evening, Zoe and I went for a masked walk around the neighborhood. we walked almost the same exact route we had walked 24 hours earlier, but somehow noticed new houses and different flowers along the way. We saw fewer people out, perhaps because it had been drizzling. Walking is nice and it’s a relief to be out of the house, but wearing a mask and detouring to avoid other people, few of whom make eye contact or say hello, remains uncomfortable and disorienting.

Meanwhile, Randy and Zeke had not left the house all day. The effect of this on Randy was an attack of lethargy at 8pm and Zeke was running laps around the first floor of our house. I suggested they do a workout, and soon they were both on our puzzle piece mats in front of the tv doing squats and burpees and planks in 30-second intervals.

At this point everyone had gotten their second wind. I had been trying for several days to figure out how to play games using the Houseparty app or Jackbox games. Neither of these things are all that complicated, but my brain power has been compromised by the new normal.

So the kids and I played a few rounds of a drawing game with Zoe’s ukulele teacher, and after Randy dragged Zeke to bed, the three of us played some trivia games and something called chips and guac which is basically like Apples to Apples. I was reminded that I am old because the games included slang I’d never heard of, but there are also words Zoe doesn’t know so I guess we’re even.

I don’t even remember what time I attempted to go to sleep, only that by 3am I had not achieved success, so I got out of bed and wrote the first draft of the call to worship for next Sunday’s church service. I have always loved helping lead worship, but I haven’t done it in a while because of my ministerial search committee duties. Next Sunday, however, is (hopefully) the culmination of our search odyssey, as our candidate gives her second candidating sermon and the congregation votes on whether to call her as our next senior minister. So I was asked to serve as worship associate for the service. I feel a wee bit of pressure to perform, but it’s all self-imposed. I am excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Rev. Amanda and see what happens.

Sundays are less lethargic days, at least for me, because I make myself get out of bed to watch church. Also today I had many zoom meetings to host—both related to church and for family and friends. While there is something to be said for the convenience of video calls, they are just never going to beat being in the same room with people. I miss people! And hugs! Have I mentioned how I miss hugging people?

Monday and its accompanying structure—however erratic—is coming soon enough.

I’ve been pretty grumpy the past couple days. Migraines, the sorry state of our government, and the needless suffering of so many humans, especially those who have already been systematically oppressed for centuries.

An occupational hazard of working with organizations that are trying to heal the world is that I spend a lot of time reading and writing about all the brokenness. I’ve been editing a lot of documents lately about the lasting effects of institutional racism, such as dramatic health and educational disparities. I learn over and over again about systems and policies based in selfishness, greed, and so many people’s inability to walk in someone else’s shoes, or even believe that someone else wears a different kind of shoes. Why are we so arrogant?

Surprisingly, what got me out of my funk tonight was a ministerial search committee meeting via zoom. Our committee is in the home stretch of our epic two-year mission, and we are all stressed. But we received some wise guidance from our wonderful interim minister and shared some funny stories with each other and I felt a sense of relief being together. Meanwhile, Randy and Zoe made a delicious dinner of maple glazed salmon and maple glazed baby carrots and pearled couscous and spinach salad with strawberries. Zoe brought a plate up to the office for me to eat during my meeting and it was so tasty.

I am thankful for my search committee team members for so many things, but especially because they push me and inspire me to be my best self—to evolve and grow and look at the world in different ways—and to always think about what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

I miss eating at an Indian or Thai restaurant and ordering something that’s just a little spicier than I expected and having my water glass endlessly refilled by the server.

I miss taking my kids to the library. Does anyone else feel increasingly awkward about having all these books checked out way past their due date? I miss reading about a new book or discovering a new author or series with Zeke and going immediately to the library app to put something on hold.

I miss variety.

I miss hugging my parents and my sister and brother-in-law and nephews. I especially miss all the baby snuggles I am missing out on.

I miss planning fun excursions for my family and actually going on them.

I miss being able to think a complete thought in solitude.

I miss sitting across the table from friends and having breakfast or lunch or dinner and a conversation no one else is listening to. Or if other people are listening, they’re strangers so it doesn’t matter.

I miss the assurance that if something breaks or someone gets hurt I can get it fixed or get them checked out without endangering anyone.

I miss browsing.

I miss Zeke and his cousin playing together in person, even though it isn’t always peaceful. Zeke texted Susannah recently that Charlie is his best friend.

I miss managing Zoe’s complicated social life.

I miss being able to run to the store for a couple items and not have my family tell me to stay safe, like I need to be vigilant and ob the lookout for a dangerous virus that might jump out from behind a tower of cereal and attack me.

I miss privacy.

Tonight I spent a couple hours driving around Northern Virginia—probably more time in the car than the past five weeks combined—because my daughter is incredibly thoughtful.

A few weeks ago Zoe decided to make coronavirus care packages for a few friends. She gathered some little surprises and we bought candy. She made each friend a necklace and I picked up a few treasures on my Target runs. Today she might chocolate chip cookies and we were ready to deliver.

Her friends were so surprised and delighted. At our last stop, the whole family came out to say hello and thank you. For a few minutes, Zoe and her friend and her friend’s brother were running around the yard laughing, so excited to see each other. Their parents invited us to come back on the weekend and sit in the driveway.

I know it was hard for Zoe not to hug her friends when she delivered their packages. It feels so weird to see someone you love and stop short.

Earlier in our outing we stopped by the home of another thoughtful person who I know from high school who is sewing dozens (hundreds?) of masks for whoever needs them. In return she is accepting donations of food or funds for the food pantry at her church where she volunteers. I dropped off a bag of beans and pasta and reusable tote bags at her house and she handed over several beautiful masks. We delivered some to my sister, gave one to a friend, and will bring some to my parents this week. This mask maker is still working her full-time government job (from home) and sewing at night and on the weekends.

I am super proud of Zoe for spending so much time and energy thinking about exactly what would bring joy to her friends. I know my Nana would be proud and my parents will be proud too. We have learned from our parents to always be generous and share and do what you can to spread joy. I know my kids have learned this too. This is what I love about my family.

Yesterday it was my birthday
I hung one more year on the line
I should be depressed
My life’s a mess
But I’m having a good time

Paul Simon

This year I received birthday greetings from my neurologist, my dentist, my kids’ dentist, the Red Cross, William and Mary, Michaels, Starbucks, DSW, and District Taco. Oh, and a lot of people who I actually know and who love me!

I would not have guessed that a having a birthday while in quarantine could be so lovely, but it was. My people made me feel special.

A popular thing to do on Facebook is throw a fundraiser for a nonprofit you like. In the midst of a global public health crisis, it’s hard to pick one. The day before my birthday I invited people to do something to help their local food bank, or any organization that is helping people through the pandemic. Scrolling through all the people who listed the organizations where they had volunteered, donated food, or contributed money made me so ecstatic. A few people said they were turning over their stimulus checks to community food pantries, and they would think of me when they made the donation.

I had a Zoom birthday party, which was just as weird and silly as I expected. A Zoom party enables you to introduce people you love to each other, which is one of my favorite things in the world. Everyone said how they knew me, and it was cool to see so many people who were in our wedding on the screen together for the first time since our wedding video. For the party, I made a quiz about myself on Kahoot! which apparently was much more challenging than I thought. My sister won, which was not surprising. I think she won Zoe’s quiz too. She’s a clever one.

Then my parents and clever sister surprised me by appearing for a six-feet-apart sidewalk and parking lot party! My sister, wearing a mask, brought me a Wonder Woman balloon and a bouquet of flowers. My parents brought presents and my dad read a poem by Billy Collins, my favorite poet.

My husband brought home lunch from Pupatella, our favorite pizza place in Arlington. My family made me a delicious and messy cake. Our sweet next door neighbor wrote me a lovely card and gave me a journal covered with almond blossoms, which she stealthily left on our doorstep.

After I took a little nap while my family played Goat Simulator on the Xbox, we went for a hike at Scott’s Run, one of the parks we discovered since quarantine started. Like most of these hikes, it runs along the Potomac, and unlike most of the hikes, features a lovely waterfall. We were all wearing masks, but we didn’t see too many people, and those we passed on the trail stayed respectfully several feet away.

I hadn’t realized how much it had rained since the last time we were there, about a month ago. But clearly, it had, since the fallen trees Zeke climbed on were now separated from the shore by rushing water.

We opted not to swim out to recreate the picture. But we did put in 3.2 miles and, according to my Apple Health app, climbed 22 floors, also known as hills.

At home I took my second shower of the day, because you know I love to be clean, and I enjoyed a SamGram–a little FaceTime with my nine-month-old nephew, watching him grab toys and make noise and roll around and wiggle his little legs. The next best thing to snuggling.

Meanwhile Randy and Zoe made me non-dairy fettuccine alfredo at my request. If it were just me, I’d have the regular kind with cream, but since Randy is allergic to dairy and I think Zoe may be lactose intolerant, I wanted a treat everyone could enjoy. This involved them soaking cashews in water and blending them with some other ingredients. The alfredo sauce was not, perhaps, quite as creamy as what I’ve had before, but it was tasty and the whole thing was delicious because they made it for me.

I would give almost anything for this quarantine to be over–for enough tests to test everyone and a vaccine and leaders who are willing and able to take care of their people. But I wouldn’t have had my birthday any other way. Thanks, guys!

Every time I read another article (this is a good one) about it, or have another conversation with a friend, I wonder what would happen if we (meaning my family, as I am not in the habit of telling other people how to raise their kids) simply abandoned this whole distance learning online school business.

As it stands, Zeke has indicated–more through actions than words–that he is done with first grade. This does not mean he is done with learning. He loves to learn. And I haven’t even been trying to give him the “schoolwork” that his school posted online. But he does not want to sit and have lessons. The more I push, the more he resists, unless screen time is offered as a reward for completing a task. I simply do not have the time or energy to sit with him all day and teach him things. And I have no desire to fight with him about doing things he doesn’t want to do.

I feel so conflicted about this. We are overachievers living in a community where overachievement is highly valued. Honor roll is the goal, even if it isn’t stated. We are swimming in high expectations. Our children should excel. At the same time, there is a growing awareness of the costs to kids and families of this pressure to not only succeed, but be the best. Teen rates of anxiety and depression have skyrocketed, as has teen suicide. It might seem like a leap to go from a first grader who doesn’t want to do a worksheet to a suicidal college student, but maybe not.

I’ve heard about parents in local online groups who are complaining that the work produced by teachers for distance learning is insufficient, too easy, uninspired. These parents wonder what their children’s teachers are even doing, and worry that their children will fall behind. I feel confident that the children of these particular parents are the least likely to “fall behind,” whatever that means since every single kid is not in school right now. No other kids are leaping ahead in knowledge and skills when they’re at home. Of if they are, they’re probably the kind of self-motivated kids who would be learning stuff on their own anyway. When (please God, let it be when and not if) school starts again in the fall, every kid will have missed many months of school, and the teachers and administrators will figure out how to deal with it. I count many teachers as friends and I am sure none of them are sitting around treating this like an unexpected vacation. They are all trying to figure out what they can and should and are supposed to do to support the kids they were assigned to teach in September. They miss their kids. They miss being in the classroom, because they’re teachers and that’s what they signed up to do. Despite the good intentions of various school systems around here, my impression is that a lot of teachers are just winging it. No superintendent or principal was prepared for this and my sense is that they’re just telling their teachers, “do something! go forth and offer education as best you can!”

Zoe’s math teacher, thank heavens, has significantly reduced the pre-algebra workload. I am proud of Zoe for continuing to do her math, even if it’s not at as fast a pace as her teacher would have it. Zoe reports that most of her teachers are just posting simple assignments and doing a lot of virtual checking in with students. We get very sweet messages from her TA (like homeroom) teacher almost every day offering encouragement and help if we need it.

I would not suggest to anyone that they should stop making their kids do school if they don’t think that makes sense–if they feel like their kids need that daily structure, or if they were already behind and are using this time to catch up, or for any other reason that holds up in their family. But when I keep hearing from friends how stressful it is to get their kids to do their work, or how they have to take time off from their own already overwhelming jobs to help their kids with their homework, I wonder if it’s worth it. What would happen if we took it easy on ourselves and our kids?

I don’t know the answer. I do know that it requires a surprising amount of courage for me to consider finding out. I feel a strong urge to channel my inner Elsa–both the “Let It Go” Elsa from the original Frozen and the older, wiser Elsa venturing “Into the Unknown” in Frozen II. It’s a scary place to go, as you can see from Elsa’s facial expression. But she ends up where she needs to be.

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