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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.

I skipped writing yesterday. I am trying not to feel guilty about this on top of all the other things I’m inclined to feel guilty about because I don’t really believe in feeling guilty about things if they don’t involve harming others. Of course, there are things that I’m doing (or not doing) that others might feel harmed by. But I’m not responsible for other people’s feelings, right?

This week has been rough. I think it feels especially painful because it was supposed to be spring break. Technically it is spring break–there’s no expectation of online classes or distance learning or homeschooling–but otherwise our day-to-day existence is no different than it has been for the past several weeks since the quarantine began. I still have to work, and I’m not doing a great job of it because I can’t concentrate and it’s just awkward to have work meetings on my bed. I feel like I’ve been neglecting my kids, especially Zeke, but I can’t pull myself together enough to get all the things done and carve out the time I want to play with him. I have the sensation of sinking slowly into the abyss. Sometimes I am able to crawl out and take a shower.

Being trapped in the house during vacation is disappointing but also confusing and ominous. Nothing is normal or as it should be. I should have the week off. We should be having fun. I don’t want anyone else to tell me how we can have fun at home. I don’t want anymore input or ideas. I just want relief. If spring break is cancelled, what does that mean for summer? I feel like the unreality and unpredictability of this situation is wearing away at my soul.

Randy suggested getting takeout tonight in part because we are running low on food and in part because he wanted to get out of the house. Zeke was so excited to go with him. On the way to the restaurant they stopped at a friend’s house to pick up masks that her mother had made and she was sharing with us. These masks are the opposite of cold and clinical. They are adorable. And freaky. There is something unsettling about wearing something over your face that has been lovingly sewn with cute fabrics to prevent yourself from catching or transmitting a deadly virus. I kind of dread wearing one when I go out because I will be reminded every second of this frightening world we are living in right now.

Adding to my anxiety is that the climax of a monumental project I’ve been working on for the past 22 months is coming in the next 48 hours. I have spent thousands of hours and expended enormous emotional energy as a (volunteer) member of the ministerial search committee for UUCA–more time and effort than I ever could have imagined, despite the fact that the nominating committee warned us it was a “big commitment.” On Friday we will announce our candidate to the congregation. Then in a few weeks we will hold approximately a million virtual opportunities for people to “meet” the candidate and vote on whether to officially call the candidate as our next senior minister. I’m sure there are ways to make this situation more complicated but I don’t want to explore those right now.

One of the revelations of this quarantine business is demonstrating how people respond to other people’s thoughts, feelings, and problems. There are a lot of solvers out there. Sometimes you want someone to give you suggestions or solutions. But most of the time, I’ve learned through both personal and professional experience, people just want to be heard. Right now, especially, I think most people just want to be heard. When I post or text when things are hard, I usually just want to know that someone else gets it, that they’ve been there, that they feel the same way or understand what I’m saying. So thank you, empathizers and affirmers of the world. I appreciate you.

When you are stuck in the middle of chaos and confusion and you feel like it’s impossible to be your best self or do the right things, it’s easy to slide swiftly in the other direction–facing your worst self, feeling greasy and smelly and unable to get out of bed. I know it’s not completely bleak. There are moments of relief and glimpses of grace. Then they seem to disappear again and you’re awake at 2am wondering how to make the next day better.

This came out of an exercise from my UUCA covenant group. My co-facilitator D suggested, shortly after the election, that she felt motivated to affirm where she stood, in order to be better able to stand up in the face of the insanity we felt was crashing down all around us. At our December meeting we took the opportunity to write statements of belief. I found it surprisingly empowering to do this. 

road

I believe in always going the extra mile. I may get there late, but I’ll always stay until the end, after all the work is done.

I believe in asking good questions, because people are almost always grateful for the chance to tell their stories.

I believe in being generous because why not? Even if I don’t have much I will always share it with you, or with whoever needs it.

I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. Assume good intentions. Despite recent evidence, I have to believe that most people are doing the best they can with what they know and what they have.

I believe in saying yes. I’m going to learn from doing something new. I’m going to push myself. I’m going to make life a little easier for someone else.

I believe in community. I am a better person when I surround myself with good people and I give myself to the whole.

I believe in the necessity of loving yourself and taking care of yourself. You’re the only one who truly knows what you need.

I believe in asking for and accepting help. Everyone can do something and I definitely can’t do it alone.

I believe people know more than they think they do.

I believe in the power of music and words to inspire, to heal, and to make meaning in a chaotic world.

I believe that words always matter and I choose them with care and attention.

I believe that sometimes the wisest and kindest thing to say is nothing.

I believe that it’s never too late to try again and you’re never too old to learn.

I believe kindness is most important of all.

I am constantly worried that people are judging my children (and thereby judging me as a parent). If my baby is crying, I worry that they will judge him to be a bad baby or me to be a bad mother who is unable to soothe her fussy baby. When people ask, “is he a good baby?” I feel like they’re suggesting that if he’s not (what’s a good baby anyway?) that somehow he is defective or I am defective. In my mind there is a great deal of weight attached to well-meaning or innocuous comments or questions from strangers or friends. I’ve wondered for the past several weeks if Zoe’s teachers or other adults at school think she is neglected because her has rarely been brushed since her brother was born. Dad has been taking her to school each day so I can rest or nurse and hairbrushing is often one of the items that gets dropped from the morning to do list. Which is fine, in the scheme of things. She is dressed in clean clothes and she is fed and she usually brings her lunch. But still.

When I am driving and I do something I know is wrong, or slightly illegal, I often compose excuses or justifications in my head as part of imaginary conversations with police officers who might pull me over. I am sincerely repentant and simultaneously indignant about being theoretically called on minor offenses. I don’t think other people have these conversations in their heads. Do they?

I don’t know how long I have felt this shadow of judgment looming over me, but it’s been a long time.

One time at lunch a friend of mine–whose frankness and fierceness I admire and also am a little scared of–said she doesn’t really care what anyone thinks of her. She wondered, but seemingly without too much concern, if that was a bad thing. Instinctively, I think it is. But I am on the other end of the spectrum and that is a bad thing too. I think caring what other people think of you helps you be more compassionate and sympathetic, maybe more reliable. Who knows? But obsessing about what other people think and whether they are evaluating your every move is not helpful.

I’m reading the new book by Glennon Melton, the mom and blogger behind Momastery. Glennon’s whole thing is about how we, as moms, or really as humans, need to love more and judge less. She has plenty of personal history that would be easy to judge, and she freely admits where her faults and imperfections still lie. And she is so reassuring. Clearly this is why thousands of people read her blog and comment on her Facebook posts and show up at her readings. If she is such a mess and still such a wonderful person who is clearly trying to do the right thing, and often succeeding, and bringing so much love into the lives of people around her and the total strangers for whom she organizes “love flash mobs” to help in times of crisis, we must be all right too. Right?

When Zoe was born I struggled with feeling isolated as a new mom. Even though I had friends with babies, they all seemed to be far away. We don’t live in a neighborhood filled with kids. Everyone seemed to work. I went to Moms Club events but didn’t seem to connect with anyone or have the opportunity to have a conversation longer than a few minutes because of all the crying babies. I didn’t take a childbirth class or prenatal yoga class where I bonded with all the other moms. It wasn’t until Zoe started preschool at one-and-a-half that I felt like I started to make some local mom friends. Thankfully I am still friends with some of those moms.

But with one exception, none of them have newborns. And though I swore I’d do it differently this time, when you have a kindergartener already, it’s difficult to do everything you want to do. So I find myself again feeling kind of lonely at home, trying to balance relaxing and nursing and trying to be zen with going out and interacting with people to feel sane. Today at Trader Joe’s I wore Zeke in a baby carrier while I shopped. It took him a while to settle down so I was kind of jiggling and rocking as I pushed the cart along, and frequently slid my hands inside the carrier to adjust him to try to make him more comfortable. The whole time I was wondering if people were looking at me, if they thought I was doing it right or wrong. A few people smiled. There were a couple other moms wearing babies and one of them complimented Zeke’s hair. In the parking lot afterward there was a woman getting out of her car, right next to mine, who was carefully inserting her baby into a carrier on her chest, and then extracting her toddler from the car. I asked the mom about her carrier and we chatted briefly. She was friendly but clearly on her way to shop. Some part of me felt like saying, “hey we’re both wearing our babies and have two kids! Can we be friends?” But I didn’t. A few weeks ago outside the Giant in my neighborhood I was having a snack while Zeke slept in the stroller, and another mom on the next bench over was doing the same, with a baby who turned out to be just a week younger than Zeke. Before we walked away, I was tempted to ask for her email address so we could meet up at the park. But I didn’t.

In her blog post today, Glennon talked about going to the makeup counter at a department store and striking up a conversation with the makeup lady who ended up having an intense personal story to tell, which Glennon generously listened to and witnessed. I admire her ability to reach out to people–strangers–and make those connections. Sometimes I want to talk with someone so much but I can’t bring myself to do it. Or ask for a little–very little–help from a stranger. Today I took Zeke and myself out to lunch and while I ate my cheeseburger with one hand, I was cradling and nursing him in the other. I finished my drink and wanted a refill. There was a table of 8 women right next to me and I was tempted to ask one if she would mind getting me some more soda, but I couldn’t do it. She probably wouldn’t have minded. I would be delighted to do something like that if I were asked. But people don’t usually ask. Part of me was worried, I think, that people in the restaurant would be judging me, wondering why I was bringing my newborn to a restaurant, or why I was drinking soda while breastfeeding, or why I couldn’t take care of things myself. They probably weren’t. But still.

I’m trying to figure out how I can make myself reach out more. And wondering what to tell myself when I worry that people will judge me for reaching out. Who cares what they think? Clearly, I do. But why?

After many months, perhaps even years, of wanting to hire someone to clean our house (because, despite good intentions, we are either too busy, too lazy, or too sensitive to dust to be very effective at it ourselves) we hired Amelia (and her husband, it would appear) to help us out. She and her husband came for the first time yesterday and our house has never, in the five years we’ve lived here, been so clean. They worked extremely hard and with excellent results.

Are people who clean houses constantly judging their customers, wondering why they aren’t better at cleaning up after themselves? Do they resent what they’re doing, or are they glad for the opportunity to earn money, or just indifferent to the societal ramifications and just doing their job?

Do they inspect all your belongings and learn things about you that you wouldn’t want them to know? Do they see things you didn’t realize you left out that are inappropriately personal? Do they make inferences about your personality, your morality, your family life based on your stuff?

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