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I’ve been taking for granted all the things I love to do that involve being surrounded by strangers. Hearing live music and singing along with people you’ve never met but who find meaning in the same songs that you do. Seeing a movie and laughing or crying along with everyone else who is laughing or crying. Eating delicious food at your favorite restaurant, noticing everyone else satisfying their craving for that same food. Exploring a museum, learning something new, being inspired, wondering how the exhibit is speaking to those around you. Going to the beach and watching people fly kites and build sandcastles and splash and swim and throw frisbees and soak up vitamin D. Being at church and listening to a sermon that might be preached just for you and also for hundreds of other souls searching for ways to make sense of the world, and lighting candles, and praying and meditating together, and holding hands and agreeing to help each other be a force for good in the world.

Even reading, which you might think of as a solitary activity, often involves strangers. I love going to the library–helping my kids pick out books and finding something for myself. And in Arlington I almost always run into someone I know at any library. Browsing in bookstores, which is as much a sensory experience as an intellectual one. I’m one of those people who likes to feel the covers of the books and inhale the scent of paper and ink. At my favorite bookstores there are post-it notes or little notecards taped to the shelves explaining which books are recommended by which of their booksellers and why. I love discovering wonderful things to read thanks to mysterious other readers who are humans rather than algorithms. This month I had planned to go with three good friends to hear Glennon Doyle read from and talk about her new book, Untamed. I would’ve been in the audience at the Lisner Auditorium with thousands of other fans, mostly middle-aged moms like me, feeling intense sisterly solidarity. I was also excited to go with one of my best friends to see one of my all-time favorite authors Ann Patchett speak at a local middle school. Being in a room with strangers and knowing they have all read the same books you’ve read and have been moved by them too is heady.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time over the past 13 years at playgrounds, which are usually lively and well-populated. Around here, if you spend more than 10 minutes at a playground, you’re likely to hear families speaking in at least a couple languages besides English. It’s always fun for me to guess what language they’re speaking and where they might be from. I haven’t heard any languages besides English (random French, Spanish, or German phrases thrown around by my family notwithstanding) in a couple weeks now. Even when we’ve been out on hiking trails in Northern Virginia, I feel like I hear mostly English. We see a lot of white guys in their teens and 20s, some of them talking on their bluetooth earpieces, looking like they’re training for something big.

Just before coronavirus exploded in the US (fortuitously), I had the opportunity to be part of literacy activities at both my kids’ schools. At Zoe’s middle school, I coordinated Booktopia, where invited all 1,100 students to come to the gym (not all at once) to pick out a book to keep. Any book they wanted (that we had)! This involved a lot of volunteers who helped me sort, organize, and restock the books, then sell the leftovers at the used book sale at the school a few days later. Booktopia involved conversations with students and teachers and touching a lot of books that a lot of people had touched. I didn’t think too much about that at the time. The book fair at Zeke’s school was held the same week. This year the book fair was presented by one of my new favorite Arlington organizations–READ (Read Early and Daily). READ’s mission is “ensuring babies and young children have new, quality, culturally relevant books of their own that are mirrors and windows into their everyday lives and communities.” One of the ways READ funds its book giveaways is by running school book fairs. One of the best things about this set-up is that our school book fair had the most spectacular selection of books with diverse characters by diverse authors that I have ever encountered. And since I had just spent several months ordering books for Booktopia that featured diverse (in every possible way) characters written by diverse authors, I was super impressed. The point here is that book fairs are another occasion where many kids and teachers and parents are swirling around. I love helping kids pick out books. I love reading with kids. Now when I think about that I just think about all the possibility for transmission of germs.

Then there’s substituting as a co-oper at Arlington Unitarian Cooperative Preschool, which I have enjoyed doing on occasion since my kids graduated from there. Turns out it’s much less stressful to co-op when A) you’re not required to do it but you’re getting paid for it and B) your own child is not demanding your attention when you’re supposed to be helping with the whole class. The bad news is that infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are pretty indiscriminate about who or what they touch and when and it doesn’t matter where their hands have been. The good news is that AUCP is really into good handwashing. Every kid and every adult washes their hands before snack and after snack and after the playground and before lunch and after lunch and of course after diaper changes and using the potty. One of the lines I always remember from the many parent orientation sessions we attended there was the preschool’s fabulous director Susan Parker saying, “I suggest you invest in a good hand cream because you will be washing your hands all day long.” All that hand washing practice has paid off! So many adults have had to come up with creative ways to remember how to wash their hands properly, but I guarantee you that the five and under set at AUCP have it down already.

Next Monday would’ve been the first game of the soccer season with my amazing women’s team Ice & Ibuprofen. We have cool new jerseys for the season, with a new logo. I don’t know when we’ll have a chance to wear them. Soccer involves a lot of contact with other people. You could kick a ball back and forth while standing six feet apart, but you couldn’t play a game. I know a lot of my teammates know each other because they live in the same neighborhood and their kids go to school together, but I only see them on the field. We had tickets for our family to see the Washington Spirit play their season opener at Audi Field for my birthday. Randy has season tickets to DC United. There are few things as thrilling as cheering on your favorite players and teams in a stadium filled with tens of thousands of other fans. No matter how big your TV is, it’s not the same watching from your couch.

Even though we’re going a little stir-crazy, my family is fine. We have more than enough stimulating and fun activities to do in the house. And we’ve been hiking. We’ve been FaceTiming and Zooming with friends and family. All that is absolutely saving our sanity and keeping our brains engaged. But there’s something about being out in the world, surrounded by strangers, doing something you love and they love too, that I am missing deeply.

I was just too tired to chronicle day 9. I’ll wrap it into day 10.

Amazon recently delivered to our house a five-pound box of plaster-impregnated gauze. In another time, I may not have granted Zeke’s wish for this stuff, which he used several weeks ago in his afterschool art studio to make donut sculptures. But now, hey, we have plenty of time on our hands so why not figure out what to make with five pounds of plaster-impregnated gauze.

Tonight I ordered him a dozen chisel-tip black Sharpies and a package of colored chisel-tip Sharpies. Apparently all the black Sharpies in the house have now been used up because Zeke has done a LOT of drawing over the past week. He has been watching Mo Willems’ daily drawing tutorials since school closed last Monday, and recently we added Grace Lin‘s and Jarrett J Krosockza‘s to the mix. He also watches instructional videos on a couple other YouTube channels. He told me that all the professional artists and illustrators use the thick black Sharpies (which we discovered are called chisel tip) so we figured he should have some.

At bedtime I asked Zeke what he would miss and not miss about school, since we learned this afternoon that Virginia schools will be closed for the rest of the school year. He said his afterschool art studio, his art class, his first-grade teacher, and seeing his beloved kindergarten teacher in the halls. Truthfully, it’s been kind of a rough year for him. All his best buddies from kindergarten either moved away, were rezoned to other schools, or ended up in other classes. He made a couple friends in his first-grade class, but none were as special as those from last year. More significantly, however, he’s struggled to deal with the disruptive behavior of a few kids in his class. There’s enough there to write another whole post about, but what matters is that Zeke has felt a lot of stress at school, and I think he’s a little relieved he doesn’t have to go back. He asked me right before he fell asleep if after the homeschooling is over he’ll be a second grader. I said I imagined so. Hopefully his second grade class will be more peaceful.

As a soon-to-be teenager, however, Zoe will suffer more from having to stay home, I believe. Friends are often your salvation when you’re 13, and Zoe has tight ones. I had already scheduled a Zoom call for her to check in with her squad from school this afternoon. But when we heard the news from Gov. Northam, she asked if she could start the call earlier, then commandeered my computer for the next three hours so she could commiserate and laugh with her friends. She came down to the kitchen twice during the call to get snacks. In terms of schoolwork, Zoe already has years of experience using the school-issued iPads and nearly two years of receiving and completing assignments online. She has been conscientious about her schoolwork so far, although it’s only been a week. I have no idea what the long-term plan will be or how she will respond.

The same can be said of everyone else right now, I suppose. I am feeling surprisingly sanguine at this moment. Today I’ve been angry, frustrated, disappointed, impatient, indignant, exasperated, and just really sad.


Yesterday we enjoyed a nice outing to Shenandoah. We did, in fact, stop at the Apple House and pick up lunch and apple cider donuts. Then we sat in the back of our van, which I had cleaned out and laid blankets down on, to have a little picnic in the parking lot. Then we walked through the woods. After a while we realized we might be on the wrong trail, but by the time we got back to the parking lot to scope out the right trail, we were tired and decided to go home instead. On the way home we listened to Dvorak‘s New World Symphony, which was Randy’s request and seemed fitting as we drove down the mountain. On the way to the park, we listened to a family playlist that we created that morning. I don’t know why I’d never thought of this before because we always have arguments about music in the car, even though we have a tried and true system of taking turns. I guess everyone’s coronavirus creativity is on fire, so I suggested we all add songs to the playlist and put it on shuffle. And it worked! No arguing. And some really funny juxtapositions of songs.

Today Arlington County announced that all parks, dog parks, playgrounds, fields, and basketball and tennis courts are closed. Trails and community gardens are “closed to groups.” The announcement said “exercise or garden alone.” In the past week we’ve seen tons of clumps of teenagers hanging out and playing basketball when we’ve been hiking or walking. We’ve seen little kids on playgrounds. Clearly none of these people were social distancing. I’m going to exercise my judgment that our family group of four can go on a trail together because A) we have been quarantining together and B) our children cannot “exercise alone” on a trail. I know we can work out in our living room, if we move the furniture, but we’ve got to get out of the house sometimes. And I am not a rule breaker by nature.


I am not a superstitious person either. But I keep thinking about how a few months ago I was thinking about what the advantages of homeschooling might be. I started contemplating it after talking with three different women in one week, coincidentally, who were homeschooling their kids. Unlike the stereotypical idea of homeschoolers, none of these families are super religious or conservative or anti-public school as a concept. All of them just realized that their kids’ needs were not being met by their schools, so they decided to do something different. And given the challenges Zeke has experienced in his classroom this year, I started thinking about how it would be nice if I could give him a less stressful environment to learn in. But at the same time, there’s a lot he learns at school that I cannot teach him, and there are things he enjoys, and there are kids there and, oh, professional educators. But now I’ll get my chance!

I’m better now.

I slept a lot today, then showered and fed my family, then Randy and Zeke and I went for a hike at Difficult Run near Great Falls. Zoe refused to go. But while we were gone she did dishes and laundry and homework, so ok.

We so needed to get outside. I have gone on more hikes in the past week than I usually do in a given season, but they are critical to our emotional and physical survival. Tomorrow we’re headed to Shenandoah. Our house is 1,584 square feet. I can only imagine how much more challenging it is for people who live in tiny apartments, or shelters, or other less than luxurious accommodations.

After my middle-of-the-night post last night I received some commiseration from other souls who share my highly sensitive status, which was reassuring. I’ve also seen quite a few Facebook posts from friends who are in the throes of struggle. It is a good reminder that we are here to talk each other down, listen well, and just affirm to each other, “yes, this is freaking hard.”

Tonight we did our first-ever Zoom call with my parents, which was unsurprisingly comical. Once we ironed out the technical difficulties, we chatted about our days and played with the settings on Zoom. Although I’ve used Zoom for a few months, I never realized you could change the background–at least for your own image–to one of their preset backgrounds or any photo you choose. During our call I was accompanied by pandas, lions, younger versions of my kids, and various landscapes. Randy was upstairs in the office maintaining the illusion that he was either levitating above or being sucked underneath a river. Zoe shared her screen so she could show everyone photos of Taylor Swift. And we did a mad lib together, engineered by my dad.

Randy started a 2000-piece puzzle of seashells that I gave him last year. Zoe beat me soundly at Kings in the Corner. I started drafting a schedule for Monday, mostly of things I need to take care of myself. On Monday I need to change things up in terms of our homeschool situation, although I’m not sure how yet. I have to motivate myself to get my tasks done, as well as motivating the kids. I keep hearing that 1) it’s important to maintain a routine and stick to a schedule and 2) I should not worry about all this so much, and feel less pressure to make sure the kids are on task. This reminds me of so many times in my life where the guidance I was being given seemed totally contradictory.

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to the apple cider donuts tomorrow that we will hygienically pick up curbside from the Apple House on our way to Shenandoah. Maybe the answers will all become clear when we’re out on the trail.

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