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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.

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

Zeke blasting off from the high dive, which is actually a high platform.

We had the whole 660 acres of Camp Friendship almost to ourselves for three days. This would’ve been Zoe’s sixth summer at Camp Friendship, and it would’ve been our second summer of family camp there. Of course camp was canceled because of Covid-19, but we still had the opportunity to spend a few beautiful, sweaty, blissfully screen-free days in the hills of Central Virginia.

A family-owned summer staple since 1966, Camp Friendship counts on hundreds of campers each week of summer to stay in business. Without these campers, does camp even exist? Well, yes, if you bring your camping spirit. This summer Camp Friendship is renting out its cabins and inviting guests to enjoy the amenities of camp as long as they bring their own gear. The exceptions: you do not need to bring your own horse or kayak. Trail rides on some of the camp’s 68 gorgeous horses are available (for an additional fee), as are lessons from the camp’s resident tennis pro. The four of us went for a fun hour-long trail ride, led by Susanne (who runs the equestrian center there) and Caroline, who has worked with horses her entire life. Our patient horses were Frank (for Randy), Haley (for me), Secret (for Zoe), and Wilma (who was the perfect size for Zeke). Randy and Zeke took a tennis lesson (also an additional fee) with Alina, who runs the tennis program. I realized that the equestrian and tennis programs do provide an important stream of income for the camp year-round, as locals come to ride and play whether or not camp is in session.

My horse, Haley

Many of our hours at camp were spent in the lake, either swimming or kayaking. They open the lake for boating in the morning and swimming in the afternoon. You can also fish there as well. We actually borrowed fishing gear for the trip but the kids never got around to using it. I was reminded that I actually like kayaking, and that Zeke can actually do it on his own–although he did get kind of stuck in some bushes at the edge of the lake at one point, but Randy extracted him. Camp Director Ashleigh (originally from South Africa) and another camp staffer Amy (originally from England) were on lifeguard duty the whole time we were there, so we enjoyed chatting with them a lot. They (along with literally everyone at Camp Friendship) are super friendly and welcoming. Kayaks, canoes, paddles, life jackets, and inner tubes are all provided at the lake. They are sanitized between uses.

We brought a soccer ball and frisbee with us as well, but it was a wee bit hot and humid and we didn’t end up using them. (Note, the cabins are not air-conditioned. Bring fans. The showers, however, are glorious. I took several cold ones to refresh myself.) In between our activities we played a lot of cards (Speed is the official card game of Camp Friendship and Zoe loves to beat us at it) and board games (Randy and Zeke played infinite hands of Marvel Fluxx, and we all played Kings in the Corner and Apples to Apples), read our books, and napped. The only activity we hoped to do that we couldn’t was a hayride because it was thunder storming both evenings at sunset, when the hayrides are scheduled. We even bought a bag of apples and a bag of carrots to feed the horses who you encounter on the hayride, but we ended up leaving them at the equestrian center as a parting gift. After the rain cleared, we did get to make our s’mores over the fire pit outside our cabin. We were having some trouble getting the fire going, so we walked down to where the only other family in the village was staying (definitely socially distant, several hundred yards away) and asked for their advice, since we could see their roaring fire from our cabin. They clued us in to the technique of squirting hand sanitizer on paper towels and using that as accelerant. It worked! Yet another use of hand sanitizer!

Because of Covid, the camp is not providing food for cabin rentals, but they offered several suggestions of local restaurants and stores, some of which deliver to camp. As much as I didn’t want to go off camp property (it’s so liberating to walk around with no keys or wallet or phone!) I enjoyed exploring a little of the area around camp. In the town of Palmyra we picked up dinner from Wahoo BBQ, which was delicious. We also spotted a rainbow on our way and admired stunning groves of enormous trees along the road. In the other direction, in Troy, we got dinner from Crescent Inn, which served up fantastic fried flounder for me, with a side of sweet and crumbly cornbread. And in case you forget anything important, or need extra snacks (we brought MANY snacks), there is a grocery store and a CVS in Palmyra and a Walmart Super Center in Gordonsville, which is a mile or two up from Troy. So you have options. The camp store is also open a couple hours each day so you can stock up on ice for your cooler or buy some local products or pick up some Camp Friendship t-shirts as souvenirs. You can also bring your own food to cook over the fire, but that is an advanced level that I have not yet achieved. There are plenty of picnic tables around all the villages. Zoe wanted us to stay in junior girls (also known as Cedar Grove) because that’s where she has stayed as a camper for five years, and also because there is a covered pavilion, where we ate our meals and played games. Oh, there’s also a ping pong table there! And we played ping pong!

Cabin 12, our home away from home

Camp staff told us they will be continuing to do cabin rentals through December this year, and that they still have plenty of room! While we were there, only two or three other groups overlapped with us, and we had plenty of room to spread out.

I am not a camping sort of person, although I kind of wish I were and I have a lot of friends who are, but I do like being outside and away from regularly scheduled life (and the internet*). I love this option of being able to get away without having to set up and stay in a tent. The cabins are simple but comfortable. Camp Friendship is just a couple hours from DC, and about 30 minutes from Charlottesville so you can stop and pick up some bagels from Bodo’s on your way there or home.

So if you’re looking to get out of the house where you’ve spent more time in the past six months than is ideal, I recommend a few days at Camp Friendship. They will be delighted to see you.

*Note that there is wifi in a couple locations at Camp Friendship, if you really need it. I did stop outside the hotspots a couple times to get directions to the restaurants where we got takeout.

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!

You know how much I love to shower. My showers are quick and I prefer them cool–especially in the summer, I shower early and often. Growing up, I usually showered every day, but when I moved into my un-air conditioned dorm my freshman year in steamy August Williamsburg, I made multiple showers a day my way of life.

Twenty-seven summers later, even when I had to walk across a woodsy clearing, wearing my Adidas slides to protect my feet from sticks and rocks, and carry my soap and shampoo and towel and clothes with me, each of my three showers a day at family camp was bliss.

Of course, family camp was much more than a chance to bathe with bugs, but when it was 97 degrees every day and we were kayaking, climbing, dancing by the lake and simply walking across camp from one activity to another, I earned those showers. Not to mention that sometimes I was carrying my 50-pound child on my back when he alleged that he was too tired to move.

(For those of you who know me and have made fun of my affinity for showers for years, please note that I did not shower first thing in the morning any of the days we were at family camp. I brushed my teeth and put my clothes on and went to breakfast without showering, like a good camper. I only showered after I did something that got me really sweaty. Which, of course, is almost anything.)

Driving home yesterday some of those muscles I didn’t know I had were sore, but in the best possible way. Most of our stinky clothes are now clean again and most of our gear is unpacked, and we are already talking about what we will do next year when we go back.

This summer was Zoe’s fifth at Camp Friendship, but our first at Camp Friendship’s family camp, held for a week at the end of the summer when regular camp sessions are over. Family camp includes a lot of the same activities that the kids do during the summer, but with fewer counselors and rules and more flexibility.

Zoe loves Camp Friendship fiercely. She counts down the days until she can go each summer and it takes a while when she comes home for her to come out of her post-camp funk. She has made deep connections each year with campers and counselors and she has challenged herself to try new things every year and push herself . This summer during her second week at camp, she was named Camper of the Week in the Junior Girls Village, voted unanimously by the Junior Girls supervisor and all the counselors because of her enthusiasm and willingness to help out and because she was a friend to everyone. Zoe was modest about it when she told us, but when I talked with Kerry, the Junior Girls supervisor, she said Camper of the Week is a big deal. I was very proud.

My only sleepaway camp experience growing up was two weeks at the Young Writers’ Workshop held at the University of Virginia. While this was a phenomenal and formative experience for me, I stayed in a dorm and took writing classes, so I never experienced the typical sleepaway camp activities. For the past five years I’ve been both impressed and daunted by Zoe’s descriptions of her summer adventures at Camp Friendship.

This year I decided Zeke was old enough that we could go to family camp without him needing to stick by my side all the time, so we signed up for a half-week of camp. After watching the videos that Zoe showed us multiple times, Randy observed that family camp seemed like “an introvert’s nightmare” and opted to stay home. Now that we’ve been, I feel confident that he would enjoy most of the activities and he could easily sneak off for some quiet time when we’re singing cheesy songs or having a dance party. Anyway it was just the kids and me this time around.

Here’s what I LOVED about family camp:

  1. Being away from my phone and computer and all other screens for three days. Devices aren’t prohibited at camp but I decided our family did not need to use any. I used my phone only for the alarm clock so we wouldn’t miss breakfast, and to take occasional photos, but I had it on airplane mode (plus I don’t have any service in Palmyra, Virginia) the whole time and it was absolutely wonderful. I didn’t have to check anything for myself or my children or respond to anyone’s requests or even feel the constant buzzing in my pocket. I loved that we could just make a plan and write something down on paper and I didn’t have to text anyone to see where they were or tell them where I was or ANYTHING ELSE. And I didn’t have to bug Zoe to get off her phone. No one was asking for screen time. It was lovely.
  2. Not having to drive anywhere or even carry my keys. The only time we were in a motorized vehicle was when one of the staff members drove a van full of us back to camp after we enjoyed tubing a couple miles down the Rivanna River. We walked everywhere. As I mentioned earlier, there was a heat wave and we were hot and sweaty, but it was such a relief not to have to drive and great exercise. And I wasn’t even counting steps.
  3. We were archers! Zeke and I used a bow and arrow for the first time (Zoe has done archery every year for five years) and I discovered that it’s really fun and not as hard as I expected. I managed to hit the target most of the time. I don’t think Zeke did, but he made a valiant effort. I am eager to find someplace close to home where we can practice.
  4. We kayaked! Randy is a big kayaker and Zoe has kayaked a lot at camp, but I had only been in a kayak once or twice and was intimidated by it. Zeke had never done it at all. We started out in a kayak together but I quickly remembered that two people in a kayak is way harder than one, so I kicked Zeke out and made him get his own kayak. And he did it! And I did it! We paddled around the lake, forward and backward, under a little bridge, through a fountain, and we didn’t fall out!
  5. These are not in order of importance, because one of my absolute favorite things about family camp was that my kids could go wherever they wanted without me and I did not have to worry about them at all. Of course I knew Zoe would be fine on her own since she knows the camp much better than I do, but I wasn’t sure how it would go with Zeke. But he figured things out quickly and easily and I was delighted and relieved. He walked the 100 feet to the bathrooms by himself, even in the dark. He got food and drink for himself in the dining hall. He floated along in his tube down the river. On the night when everyone gathered at the beach by the lake, he explored on his own and built sand castles with some other kids and a counselor while Zoe and I were playing cards and dancing. When we were at friendship bracelet making, Zeke got frustrated and decided to go down to the pottery class instead, where he made a penguin and a Camp Friendship sign. One morning Zeke did kids camp–going on a scavenger hunt across the entire camp, culminating in a swim at the pool–while Zoe and I did other activities. On the night when we were at the lawn party, we played cornhole and volleyball and lawn bowling, and then he decided he wanted to play night tennis. He has been wanting to learn tennis lately, so he told me he was going to the tennis courts, and he left. He met up with us later for ice cream. He also had a lesson with a tennis pro another day we were there. It was wonderful to be in a place where I knew the kids would be safe, there were a million friendly counselors and staff people around in case they needed anything, and whatever they were doing would be something good.
  6. I did not have to cook or buy or order any food for myself or my children or anyone else. They served us three delicious hot meals a day, with plenty of healthy options. They had an ice machine where I filled up my water bottle a million times a day. They had endless lemonade. And they had 24-hour bagels, bread, cereal, and fruit available in case you needed a midnight snack. We only availed ourselves of this the last night we were there, after the dance party. We discovered some teenagers in the dining hall playing Cards Against Humanity and a cluster of kitchen staff watching Netflix on someone’s laptop. For many people, especially parents, or maybe just me but I think it’s many people, figuring out what to feed yourself and your family is a lot of work. It was such a relief to not have to worry about this at all for nine entire mealtimes.
  7. I met counselors and staff from England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, and South Africa. There were also American staff, but because many colleges in the US start in mid- to late-August, a lot of the American counselors have to leave before family camp. The international staff often have more flexibility. Everyone who works at the camp was incredibly friendly and kind. Almost every single person knew and loved Zoe. She was like a celebrity there and I was part of her entourage. By the time we left, a lot of them knew Zeke too. This job is an intense one, where you’re on duty nearly 24/7, so it requires a certain kind of commitment that’s different from scooping ice cream or mowing lawns. I talked with several staff members who work there year round, never having expected to make a career out of camp. Some of the counselors are in college or taking a gap year or just graduated, and some of them work in other fields, and some are trying to figure out what to do next, but in the meantime they are having a fabulous time at camp and those kids adore them.
  8. Zeke went fishing. I did not have to participate. Zoe played cards with Kerry while Zeke fished. Zeke did not catch anything but he had fun. And I didn’t have to participate. Did I mention that?
  9. I kinda learned how to make friendship bracelets. This is an extremely popular pastime at Camp Friendship. Every camper and counselor wears several on each wrist. I’ve seen Zoe doing it for years and it always seemed very mysterious. I have yet to complete a perfect bracelet, but I’ve made a couple for Zeke, who is quite forgiving, and I’ve started a couple more. This may not be a skill I will put on my resume, but it’s kind of cool and can be meditative to sit and play with string.
  10. My kids and I had fun together at camp. We were outside most of the time doing all kinds of cool activities. I didn’t have to pitch a tent or cook over a fire (although we did make s’mores, the supplies were provided for us–we just had to find sticks). We made tie-dyed shirts. Zoe and I tried to climb an insanely difficult high ropes obstacle. Zoe and Zeke zip lined across the woods. I didn’t have to worry about anything. It was hot and sweaty and exhausting. We had a great time. And I took plenty of cold showers.

imagesAs we prepared to bury three goldfish in the backyard this afternoon, I thought about William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, which I read in 11th grade and remember only bits and pieces of, but enough to picture a homemade coffin and grotesque family dynamics related to the family matriarch. By contrast, I dug a shallow grave in the mulch and dirt under the pathetic frozen hydrangea bush. I laid to rest Dumbledore (the fish, not the wizard), who had been stored in a small cardboard box within a ziplock bag since his untimely death on January 4, just 11 days after he and his fish friends Mad-Eye Moody and Tonks were given to Zoe for Christmas by Aunt Susannah and Uncle Aaron. The fish and their home were her favorite Christmas present. She had asked for fish for Christmas but revealed to me after the fact that she did not actually expect to receive any.

We thought Dumbledore died from too much poop in the fish tank, so we thoroughly cleaned the tank after he died. We journeyed to PetSmart to find a successor but instead bought new rocks and plastic plants for the tank. The fish woman at the pet store said goldfish are not really meant to be pets. They’re meant to feed larger fish or swim in ponds, she suggested. Perhaps that’s why they cost 15 cents each, or something like that. We learned that all the other fish available at PetSmart are not compatible with goldfish because goldfish can live in cold water, and the other fish need heat. So Zoe and I decided that we would continue to care for Tonks and Mad-Eye until they outgrew their tank or died.

We did not expect that death would come so soon, just two weeks later. Because of what happened to Dumbledore we were proactive in cleaning the tank on Monday night, before it was noticeably poop-ridden. Speaking of poop, Zoe had observed that each fish in turn was constipated. I had not known this was a problem that beset goldfish but it is. Zoe brought home a book from the school library about goldfish care that instructed us to feed the fish tiny bits of lettuce or oats if they were constipated. Randy and I each chopped up some lettuce and Zoe conscientiously fed it to the fish as needed until their GI tracts were clear.

So when we cleaned the tank, we did all the same stuff as before, except for whatever we did differently, because in the morning Tonks and Mad-Eye were floating awkwardly instead of swimming jauntily as they had been for the past two weeks.

Zoe was distraught. The night Dumbledore died she sat in my lap and cried for a while (probably also because she and Randy had just returned from an exciting adventure in Florida with her paternal grandparents and she was coming down from that). She apologized the next morning for crying and I told her she was entitled to cry and there was no reason to apologize.

So this morning she was even more distraught, and cried in my arms again for a while. I called school and told them she would be late. All she was missing was PE. I emailed her teacher to alert her to Zoe’s disposition. After school today, in the bitter wind and 25 degree temperatures, we held the fish funeral. I said thank you to the fish for being Zoe’s first pets, and for contributing to the soil so flowers could grow, and said that I hoped they were swimming happily in fish heaven. I held Zoe’s hand. She cried. She said goodbye. Later, inside, she told me there was more she wanted to say but she couldn’t because she was crying, so she said it in her head. I told her she could still say it, to me, or she could write it down, or she could just keep it in her heart.

Now the tank is empty. The light is off. The filter is quiet. It’s too cold to buy new fish right now and we’re expecting a massive snowstorm this weekend. I told Zoe this would be a good opportunity to research some heartier aquarium fish and–more importantly–how to take care of them. The fish were possibly a starter pet as we considered small mammals for the future–perhaps a pair of guinea pigs? But we’ve got to improve our fish skills before bringing anyone furry into the house.

When I was a kid I had a series of goldfish. I don’t even remember how many. One of them–who I know was named Patrick–jumped out of the bowl and I found him lying on the carpet of my bedroom when I got home from school. I couldn’t understand what had prompted him to try to escape. I buried them all in matchboxes in the backyard. I don’t remember my parents helping, but maybe they did. I don’t remember crying, but probably I did.

Today I could tell that Zoe’s heart was breaking, even though they were only fish, and even though she had known them for less than a month. They were her first pets. They were wholly hers. And she loved them.

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