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How could you be stressed in a place so beautiful?

If you’ve ever had a baby (or even if you haven’t), you might be familiar with the phenomenon of being so utterly exhausted you can barely function yet when you lie down to sleep, you just can’t. Or if you have migraines, or any kind of recurring pain, you might know the feeling of desperately needing to sleep to relieve your misery but hurting so much that you just can’t. Why are our bodies so contradictory and stubborn? What is that about? And why do doctors ask if you’ve been experiencing a lot of stress lately. When have I not been experiencing a lot of stress? Not that I am stressed 24/7, but it’s always there, lurking.

Today we went to a beautiful state park where I had never been. At the ranger station, I dropped my money into a fishnet that the ranger extended out the window. She returned the net to me with my receipt and a map.

The sun was shining and the temperature was about 70 degrees and it was a lovely day. A lot of other people thought so too and had also come to the park. I would estimate that about 80% of them were not wearing masks. In fact, we received some strange looks because of our masks. In Arlington, I feel like at least 90% of the people I see are wearing masks. I don’t know if that’s because Arlington is more densely populated or because the number of confirmed coronavirus cases here has passed 1,000, or because people in my community are getting their news from different sources. At one point on the trail in the park we passed a mom with two small kids. The mom said loudly, ostensibly to her daughter, “are you afraid of the masks?” And I took my mask off to smile at her. I said, “it’s ok, it’s just us,” as if we knew the girl or that made the slightest bit of sense. The mom said again, “she’s just really afraid of masks.” And hurried the kids along. The girl was not visibly upset. The mom seemed more upset, perhaps by the prospect of the girl getting upset? I don’t know what the girl’s (or the mom’s) history with masked people is, but I hoped for all of their sakes they would overcome the fear because masked people are not going away. And we were not wearing scary monster masks or those creepy giant face masks of Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan. We were all actually wearing cute, hand sewn masks in whimsical fabrics. Zeke was wearing a rainbow buff. But I still felt strange, as if we had done something inadvertently offensive.

So all the while as we were walking by the water and through the woods, my mind kept returning to the masks. Were we being over reactive? Were all these other people endangering their health and ours? Did any of us really know what was going on? What are the actual chances that anyone at the park was a carrier of the virus? I have no clue.

One thing I have learned (or relearned, really) during this pandemic is how people I know and love have significantly different styles of thinking about and reacting to unknowable questions and unsolvable problems. Some people like to speculate. What do you think is going to happen? Why do you think that? When do you think we will be able to go out normally again? I am sure that many people could come up with creative and perhaps profound answers to these questions. Maybe people who have this mindset are the ones that reimagine the future and make things better for humanity.

This is not me. I know that I cannot stand to speculate. I don’t know if this represents a failure of imagination or just an affinity for facts, but I truly do not want to discuss what may or may not happen two or four or six months from now until I have actual information in front of me with which to make decisions. And right now none of us (or at least none of the people with whom I talk to regularly) have any of this essential information. I’m not saying this information doesn’t exist, but I don’t know it and it doesn’t seem to be common knowledge.

For example, could you get coronavirus in a swimming pool? Would the chlorine kill it? Does it depend on who’s swimming in the pool? Is it possible to test all the kids arriving at summer camp? What about their families? If you test them when they arrive could they still be carrying the virus? How do you know if it’s safe to be in a house with people who you haven’t been quarantined with but who have also been quarantining for months? If you aren’t likely to get the virus from a surface, why is everything still closed? Could you get it in the ocean? Could you get it on the beach if you’re not close to anyone? What if you’re in a tent? I DON’T KNOW! Does anyone know? I don’t know if anyone knows. I don’t know when we will find these things out. So how can we make any decisions without knowing the answers?

Now I’m just getting riled up. I don’t know what exactly it says about me or my personality that I need information like this. Part of my feels like it’s paradoxical because a lot of my decision making is emotional, based largely on what my heart and gut tell me. I guess in these kinds of times, you can’t go with your heart and gut when people’s lives are on the line. I don’t usually make a lot of life or death decisions. Thank God.

These days are long and meandering. And even longer when you can’t sleep. Again tonight Randy and I had to tag team bedtime with Zeke several times because Zeke can’t sleep, and he is the most visibly upset about his insomnia of all of us. After Randy relieved me and I came back into our bedroom I ordered some melatonin for pickup tomorrow at the vitamin store. We used this a lot when Zeke was younger because he couldn’t sleep them either, but not because of pandemic stress. He just could never settle down. Then he outgrew that issue and we stopped the melatonin and all was well (at least on the sleep front) for a few years. I guess that returning to outgrown challenges requires revisiting old solutions. Better living through chemistry. In fact, over the 45 that I’ve been writing this, my migraine medicine finally, blissfully, kicked in. Maybe now I can get some sleep.

Today was the day we had birthday cake for lunch.

Somehow in the surprising amount of hubbub yesterday—with Zeke’s birthday and my work demands and church demands and who knows what else—we forgot to have Zeke’s birthday cake. We asked him a couple times if he was ready for cake but he never was, and then he went to sleep.

So today we had to cajole him into pausing the Xbox, drag Zoe out of her bedroom, and force everyone into a festive mood so we could sing happy birthday and watch Zeke blow out the seven candle. (Anyone want a slightly used #7 candle?)


After dinner tonight (tuna melts, not cake). I attempted to have a discussion with the kids about why and how to restart (again) some kind of schedule and shared household responsibilities. You can guess how well this went. I said tomorrow is a new month and we need to shake off some bad habits we’ve fallen into so we can take better care of ourselves and our house.

Have I mentioned how this is hard? I could spend the whole day teaching Zeke. Or I could spend the whole day cooking and cleaning and taking care of the house. Or I could spend the whole day writing and editing and doing the work I’m paid to do by my clients, which are doing amazing work to heal the world. Oh and I could spend the whole day tending to my volunteer work or helping my community. But I haven’t figured out yet how to split myself into multiple people. Any ideas?


Zeke had fun yesterday but also had a hard time. I’ve realized his particular regression is a return to the mighty struggle he had with transitions when he was three and four years old. Although he had decided earlier that he wanted to go on a birthday hike, it was torturous to extract him from the Xbox to get him out of the house. Of course as soon as he was on the trail and climbing over rocks across the stream, he was ecstatic. So that was a good thing. But he seems to have lost the ability to remember that another activity might be as much fun or more fun that the one he’s currently doing. I am trying to remember exactly what we did to address this years ago, and whether the techniques you use with a preschooler will still make sense with a seven year old.

Meanwhile, this insomnia thing is real and has infected all of us. Zeke is still awake now, at midnight. He’s been struggling for hours to get to sleep. We’ve got to hit the reset button but I haven’t seen it anywhere.

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!

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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