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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.

Some of the subtle and unsettling changes in daily life that you notice 65 days into quasi-quarantine:

Instead of searching through the piles of clean laundry on the couch looking for some underwear or the pants that still fit, you’re mostly looking for a clean mask that fits.

You don’t realize until nighttime when you’re on a zoom call with friends that you haven’t looked in a mirror all day and had no idea that your hair looked like that.

Instead of showering at your convenience, you have to negotiate shower privileges with your spouse because both of you roll out of bed and start the day without bothering to shower until a) your first zoom call of the day or b) you need to leave the house to go to the grocery store or pickup takeout food.

Even though you can’t see it behind the mask, you still put on lipstick before leaving the house. Some habits stick around.

Instead of attempting to clean the house, you engage in micro cleaning. If one kitchen counter is wiped down, or one table cleared, or one shelf tidied, you count it as a victory. It is impossible to clean the whole house when everyone is in it all the time.

You realize that Target brand toilet paper is actually fine. Even though you’ve always been a toilet paper snob, both a Charmin loyalist and disdainful of Scott, when you found shelves filled with Target brand you snapped it up and have been pleasantly surprised.

You are grateful to three different friends who generously gave you gifts of dish soap. When you ran out, before your friends came to the rescue, you ordered dish soap online. Then it arrived and now you are blessed with dish soap to last for a while, which is good because your family continues to eat and drink with gusto.

You cannot concentrate on anything for mire than 30 seconds except when you are alone, which typically happens only after midnight or before 9am if you are able to wake up at 8. You seldom use these hours wisely, but that’s nothing new. Occasionally you meditate or write, and that has to be good enough.

So I went a little berserk this week signing my kids up for classes on Outschool and evangelizing for Outschool and checking our Outschool account every five minutes. I worked hard to convince the parents of my kids’ friends to enroll their kids in Outschool classes with my kids.

I’m not sure why I became so obsessed with this platform all of a sudden, except that perhaps it seemed like salvation. We haven’t had real school in our house in a while now and word on the street is kids won’t be going back to school in pre-pandemic fashion anytime soon. It’s likely that all of the day camps I carefully researched and scheduled and paid for for Zeke will be canceled. Zoe now has no summer plans at all. Especially with everything else in the universe feeling so tenuous and uncertain, this company that offers short, interactive bursts of creative and intellectual stimulation and challenge was irresistible.

Part of me just enjoys scrolling through the course offerings. I get that same rush that I experience when I walk into an art supply store or even a hardware store–even though I’m not handy and I don’t build things–that there is unlimited possibility all around me. I could (or someone could) create anything. Browsing the Outschool classes I feel the same way, even though I personally cannot enroll in any of the classes. But theoretically there is so much out there to learn! Mandarin! Astronomy! Ventriloquism! Animation! Hip-hop dance! Criminal law! Knitting! Medieval castles! Raising chickens! Don’t you feel like if you just learned about all of those things, everything in life would just be better? Or maybe that’s just me.

Zeke’s second class–on how to design a superhero costume–is tomorrow afternoon. He is super excited about this because his career ambition is costume designer for Marvel. There is a vast amount of space between spending one hour chatting online with a costume designer and making a sketch to working for Marvel, but perhaps it’s a start. Or even if it isn’t, if Zeke does something fun and creative for an hour, that’s good enough for me.

Tomorrow morning Zeke is taking a class about lemurs and I am super excited about it. Seriously. My friend Dana said her kids were going to try out classes on Outschool and demystified it for me. I’ve seen ads for Outschool on Facebook for months and months–way before pandemic time-but never needed to add another thing to my kids’ schedule. And also they were in school! And learning new things there! But now, as learning has slowed to a crawl and “school” will end in a month and it’s possible that all the camps will be canceled, I’ve gotta do something. Dana explained to me that some of the Outschool classes include several sessions over the course of a week or several weeks, and some are just 45 minutes long! And they cost $10 (the short ones).

One of the reasons I have been lamenting the prospect of no camp (other than the obvious one of my kids being out of the house for several hours a day interacting with people outside their family) is that camp is where they try new things. Camp is where they learn and practice things that we don’t know how to teach them. Camp is where they explore subjects and activities that that interest them and not necessarily their parents. Turns out that Outschool does this! Of course Outschool also includes classes in reading and writing and math, but for my purposes my kids can take digital SLR photography and consumer finance and superhero costume design and, starting tomorrow, Lemurs, Monkeys & Apes! I have no idea what the classes will be like, but I am optimistic. Did you pick that up?


Today included a variety of small, happy moments. Zoe and I unexpectedly found toilet paper at Target. Randy made a delicious dinner of sausage, peppers, and polenta. We used to eat polenta all the time but then we stopped. It was so lovely to see polenta on my plate again. Zeke did the whole lesson plan I created for him today with no actual complaining.

His video was a collection of images by Yayoi Kusama, who he learned about when we were looking through the Outschool course offerings (we signed him up for this class which I am definitely going to be taking with him but silently off camera. He made it completely on his own by googling Kusama and taking screen shots of photographs of her and her work. At the end, he showed it to me and I asked him if he could add the artist’s name to the first screen. He couldn’t remember how to do this so he looked up instructions in iMovie help and on YouTube and he made the edit, 100% on his own. I was super impressed.

While he was playing with the Sculpey, Zoe joined in and made this adorable little pig.

front view of pig
rear view of pig
top view of pig

AND in an special post-Mother’s Day treat, both my children played (or perhaps hung out?) outside in our micro-back yard for a while this afternoon. I don’t know what they were doing except that involved the hammock and funny accents. But they were laughing and they were together and they were outside and that filled me with joy and delight.

(Another post-Mother’s Day treat was my husband using the plumbing snake kit I ordered online to snake all of our sinks, none of which back up anymore! It’s a Mother’s Day miracle!)


Our family decided today to cancel our beach vacation scheduled for July. We’ve gone to the beach together–in various combinations of extended family at various beaches up and down the East Coast–since I was a baby. These are not glamorous excursions to fancy resorts. But they are familiar and fun and something we always look forward to. It’s hard to imagine not going, but I understand that it’s too risky for my parents. At least we have tomorrow’s lemurs.

I am sitting in my car, which is parked in front of our house, hiding from my kids.

I just spent a long time talking to a friend commiserating about mom stuff. Even though I know it intellectually it is always reassuring to hear how other people’s kids aren’t perfect and are, in fact, making their mothers crazy the same way yours are.

Of course you know I love my kids with all of my being, but this 24/7 togetherness is wearing on me. I’m sure it’s wearing on them too. And they have even less opportunity to escape since they can’t drive. I guess theoretically they could go hide in the car too. But they haven’t tried. Yet.

It is not my nature to find people to blame my troubles on. Nor do I usually fault myself for everything that goes wrong. But under sustained stress I begin casting about for the culprit. This afternoon while Zeke was finishing his lunch I started clearing the space in the family room where he does his online martial arts class. I sent him to put his uniform on. When he tried to open the door to his and his sister’s room, she quickly shut it because she was about to change. Zeke came back downstairs, still in his pajamas. So I ran upstairs and yelled at Zoe that Zeke’s class started in five minutes and he needed his uniform. She yelled that she didn’t know that and stormed out of the room to change in the bathroom. I brought the uniform downstairs and turned off the video on the Zoom call so Zeke could change. I tried to tie his belt, because Zoe usually does it but she was in the bathroom, and I did it wrong because I always do. Zeke’s supposed to know how to do it himself, and he learned it, but then forgot, because the instructors or Zoe always do it for him. Meanwhile, his instructor on the Zoom call is doing a belt tying lesson at that exact moment, and Zeke is playing with Legos. I tell him to look at the screen and follow along. He says he can’t see the screen (perhaps because he’s not looking). I attempt to drag him away from the Legos to in front of the tv so he can follow the demonstration. Apparently the dragging hurts him and he crumpled and starts to cry. So I feel terrible that I hurt him and furious that he wouldn’t listen and irritated that he can’t remember how to tie the freaking belt. I am mad at myself, at him, and at Zoe. Then I shift that anger to the coronavirus. And then to Trump. And white supremacists and our white supremacist culture. Maybe I’m also a little pissed off at whoever it was in Wuhan, China who ate a bat or a pangolin or whatever animal it was that transmitted the virus to humans, thereby launching a global pandemic. And what is a wet market anyway? It sounds messy and gross.

So I’m in my car. Not meditating. Not doing yoga. I didn’t do the yoga yesterday that I promised myself. Just stewing while looking through the windshield at the hot pink roses and watching the blue sky through the window.


Zeke has figured out how to get a laugh. He just shouts or says or sings outrageous words or phrases, sometimes using funny voices. When he was learning to ride his bike he kept yelling, “Peruvian chicken!” as if it were a battle cry. Another day he circled the family room saying, “Romania! Where are you? Romania!” At dinner he’s come out with so many weird remarks that Zoe started keeping a list. Then last night I was carrying him up the stairs to bed because he insisted he was too tired to move and because I’m a sucker. He looked over my shoulder at Randy, who was at the bottom of the stairs, and said, in a pretty good approximation of an old lady voice, “Matthew! Get some water for Granny!” And I started to laugh so hard that I had to put him down because my stomach hurt.

So I’ll probably go back in the house now, because my kids are usually funny and nice. And I’m hungry.

Commonly asked questions in our house during the past two months of quasi-quarantine.

What is that smell?

What is there to eat?

Where are the clean masks?

Is that smell coming from me?

Can I have some screen time?

Is it Saturday?

Can we go outside?

Can we stay inside?

Can I have a snack?

Have you eaten any food today?

How are you eating all that food?

Are you done working?

Why do I have to do schoolwork?

Why do I need to go to bed?

Does this count as schoolwork?

Can I FaceTime someone?

Can I set up a zoom call?

Do I have to do the zoom call?

Do I have to turn my camera on?

Why is everyone texting me?

Why isn’t anyone texting me?

Why do I need to shower?

Is that safe?

Are you sure?

Why do I need to get dressed?

Are we ever going to be able to _______ again?

It turns out I only know the answers to a few of these questions. Still don’t know what that smell is.

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.

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.

I keep hearing fragments of news items like social distancing will continue for two more years and we’re heading into another Great Depression and we won’t be allowed to shake hands or hug people in the future. As the saying goes, I can’t even.

I actively avoid watching or listening to the President speak because most of what he says is false, damaging, and hateful. But I hear plenty of commentary on social media and it all makes me sick. I can’t even count the number of times during this administration that I thought, “this behavior is disgusting/appalling/illegal/shocking/impeachable/fill in word or expression of your choice here. Surely our country will not let this stand.” And then nothing happens. I remember when Trump was authorizing the government to steal immigrant children from their parents and put these children in cages and mistreat them and I thought, “how can this get any worse? This is the lowest of the low.” Clearly a failure of my imagination to make the leap to pandemic in which hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake because Trump doesn’t want to look bad and doesn’t want the economy he benefits from to suffer.

Please don’t tell me to limit my media consumption, because right now it’s already at a minimum, but it’s essential to me to stay connected to people I care about and to see cute videos of babies hugging and everyone’s new puppy. I can’t bear to isolate myself any more than I already am.

The return to homeschool today went ok. Midmorning I texted Zeke’s kindergarten teacher (even though he’s in first grade now) to ask her to 1) give Zeke a pep talk and 2) help me with strategies to get him past his refusal to write. She was, as always, extremely kind and enthusiastic and helpful. We’ll see whether Zeke decides to cooperate tomorrow. I offered the incentive of an extra 30 minutes of screen time if he does his writing work with a good attitude. I also realized that he’s really good at finding effective ways to communicate and record things without writing. He’s making a Kahoot for his birthday, which we did for Zoe as well. A Kahoot is an online quiz you can create about anything, and then invite people to take it. He asked for help coming up with some of the questions, but instead of trying to write them out, he used the dictation feature to speak the questions aloud, then went back to edit them by hand if there were any mistakes. He did this with near 100% accuracy (not including punctuation or capitalization, which are not super important in an online quiz). Also he added images to the quiz from both my photo gallery and the Getty images gallery included in Kahoot, which I didn’t even know existed. He basically did the whole thing himself, with minimal assistance. He and Zoe both use voice recognition or Siri to find things online that they want to watch, or look up information. And it doesn’t always work–which is usually funny–but often it does and they never had to write anything at all. Maybe I’m worrying too much about this. It’s not that Zeke needs to be writing pages filled with beautiful prose. I just don’t want him to freak out when asked to write a word or a sentence. Teachers have a lot more patience than I do, as well as that whole degree in education thing. I’m looking forward to second grade.

When my kids were in preschool at AUCP one of the concepts that the teachers and staff there reminded us parents all the time was the importance of teaching and allowing our kids to do things on their own even when it would be much faster for us to do it ourselves. If you are a parent or grandparent or older sibling or if you’ve ever cared for or taught a child, you know that it often takes little kids forever to do anything, especially if you are in a hurry.

Of course this is good advice because kids will never learn to be independent if you do everything for them. But also, life. Sometimes it’s really tedious to teach a kid to do something that you could do in five minutes, knowing you’ll have to cajole them to do it and then it will take them half an hour.

Yet there comes a time–perhaps when you are in quarantine–when you are making three meals a day for your family members, that you must teach your first-grader to make a sandwich. For whatever reason, Zeke has never liked peanut butter and jelly. Recently he has changed his mind. He seems to change his mind about a lot of things lately. So I taught him to make a sandwich. He was proud of himself. He added pretzels to the plate. I cut up the apple. I’m wondering when I can give him the sharp knife…

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