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The second day was so much better. Thank God.

I would still give anything to have the kids back in regular in-person school right now, in a Covid-free world, but I no longer think the school year will be a complete disaster. (I may have been a little dramatic yesterday. It was a little rough.)

Today both kids were able to log into their classes with no problem, and I think only Zeke got kicked out a couple times but easily logged back in. They came downstairs on their lunch breaks and ate healthy food. Meanwhile, I was in a three-hour meeting, which luckily I didn’t have to leave to intervene. Also fortunately Randy was working from home again since he assembled his fancy new desk yesterday so he was on hand to clean up some spills.

Both kids were exhausted after their school days ended. We made a quick smoothie run as a reward. They had martial arts tonight for the first time after school instead of during the day when it was all summer. Zeke was acting so out of it that his instructor called me after class to see if he was ok. After a summer of relatively little exertion, he needs to figure out a new routine. Inertia is strong with that one. Zoe, as a black belt, remains motivated and really loves the community her class provides, even when it’s virtual. When this thing is finally over, I’m going to be so excited to go back to EvolveAll and to church.

So yesterday morning started off pretty rocky, but by the evening I was proud of us for surviving the day, and especially proud of myself for successfully advocating for Zoe. In addition to all the technical glitches, Zoe had been placed in an elective class she did not want. The teacher of one of the classes she did want said she was welcome to transfer into his class, but her counselor said that wasn’t allowed because of…reasons. But I persisted and the counselor said she asked the counseling gods to make an exception and they agreed! I am usually disinclined to make waves but I felt strongly that in the midst of all this chaos and uncertainty I wanted Zoe to have something to look forward to at school and not dread. Happily, she has reported that she really likes her other teachers and the classes seem promising, so I’m glad about all that.


My mood is lighter today than it has been in a while. There have been other days when I’ve felt like this, like when we went to the alpaca farm with friends. How can you feel sad around a bunch of adorable alpacas? But then something happens and it seems like one step forward two steps back, or 10 steps back. Because, you know, the world is still a freaking disaster right now. But I’ll take what I can get. And a good day is something to be thankful for.

There are no new outfits laid out for tomorrow. No backpacks filled with fresh school supplies, no lunches prepared in the fridge. We haven’t met any of Zoe’s teachers. We sort of met Zeke’s teacher online for a few minutes but she was preoccupied providing tech support to everyone. Usually the night before the first day of school is exciting, if also nerve-wracking. But this year—-the year of Covid—we are mostly filled with dread.

Ok maybe I’m just speaking for me. But I do know my kids are not looking forward to tomorrow. Based on the track record with school technology, we have extremely low expectations for how smoothly anything will go. And what are we supposed to say to motivate them? How can you make new friends in second grade when you can’t see any of your classmates or talk to them at lunch or play with them at recess? And friends are the only thing that makes middle school bearable but once again, how can you find them when the only activity you have in common is sitting in your room watching your teacher on a screen?

To be clear, I don’t blame teachers for this. I love teachers. I know teachers work their butts off and I know they hate this situation as much as we do. They didn’t sign up for this. And I assume that the principals and administrators are all doing the best they can. Certainly I wouldn’t want to be working for a school district and trying to figure this mess out. I guess I could blame Trump for his ineptitude at handling the country’s response to the virus. But that doesn’t really help us tonight.

I heard on NPR that a quarter of Americans report having symptoms of depression during the pandemic. And that probably doesn’t count kids, whose feelings often manifest in a million different ways that can be hard to identify. I’ve witnessed a wide variety of these behaviors this summer. And what’s going to change now? The kids will have something they have to do during the day, but will they be engaged in it? Will any of it be fun? Will they be able to develop any real relationships? Is there anything to look forward to? I’m generally an optimistic person, but sustaining a positive outlook these days is hard. I can only manage it for a few minutes at a time.

I have thought a lot about homeschooling Zeke but ultimately I don’t feel like I could devote the attention to teaching him that he deserves and also do my job. And I want him to have friends. More recently I thought about taking Zoe out of her middle school and enrolling her in a virtual homeschool program that is more established and seems more well run than her school which is currently making everything up as they go along. But she wanted to stick with what she knows, even if it’s not exactly what she’s used to. I thought about arguing about it more but I honestly don’t know what the right thing to do is.

I want my kids to be good people, and be kind and curious and creative. I want them to want to learn new things and meet new people. I want them to learn how to get along in the world while still being true to themselves. I want them to have fun. Can they do all that in virtual school? Is it up to us to teach them these things and not rely on school for anything? Is the time they’re going to spend staring at their iPads going to be worthwhile or a waste? I do not know.

In any case, I’m setting my alarm for earlier than usual, so I can make sure everyone is awake and dressed and fed before school starts. The school district tech support number is written on a post it note on my desk.

If your kid is starting school tomorrow, good luck. May the force be with you. Here goes…

Looking for a way
out
of the chaos

or a way
through the mess
but I can’t find either

My new progressive
lenses
won’t arrive
’til Tuesday

What I hoped
would be easy
turns out
impossible

What I needed
to be simple
ends up in
a tangle of thorns
mixed with the
sickening scent
of flowers on their journey
to decay

My patience
has shriveled to
a granular level
because I am trapped
inside
far from the coast
with no means
of replenishment

There is nowhere to go
to collect my
thoughts
or renew my
soul
because
everything
is
canceled
closed
cut off
thanks (no thanks)
to Covid

Don’t remind me
that my bad habits
have gotten worse
those seven
deadly sins
squared to 49
at least

How can I
solve your problems
when I can’t even
stay awake
long enough
to understand
my own

Even my
conversations
with myself
are getting
old

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.

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