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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.

Poor Zeke could not get to sleep tonight. Tomorrow is his birthday, which under ordinary circumstances would be cause for anticipatory restlessness, but on day 43 of a quarantine after your sister and your mom have celebrated birthdays in the past month, the night before your birthday is just unbearable.

Randy put him to bed the first time. Meanwhile I was downstairs making the cake (strawberry, as is our custom). Then Zoe and I started working on a treasure hunt for Zeke to find his presents, coming up with totally brilliant and original rhymes. Eventually I crept upstairs to rescue Randy, who I suspected had fallen asleep putting Zeke to bed. Randy cake downstairs but then unexpectedly so did Zeke. Zoe and I tried to scramble to cover up the presents scattered across the dining room table waiting to be wrapped. I ushered Zeke back upstairs so Randy could have something to eat and take a turn helping Zoe come up with clues in couplet form.

I tried to get Zeke settled and he seemed to fall asleep a couple times, but if I shifted slightly he would sit up and ask what time it was. After a couple iterations he started quietly crying, worried that he would never get to sleep and would end up sleeping through his birthday as a result. I felt so bad for him.

I played a sleep story using my Calm app and it seemed to do the trick. Then I sat up and Zeke’s eyes flashed open. At that point I summoned Randy for a second handoff so I could finish the cake. I eased the first layer out of the pan and slathered strawberry jam on top, followed by the second layer. Then I covered the whole thing with cream cheese icing and turned it over to Zoe to decorate.

I reminded Zoe when I said good night to her to be absolutely silent going into her and Zeke’s room. I am reluctant to go upstairs for fear that the creaky floors will disturb any children who may have finally fallen asleep.

Our whole family’s sleep schedule has been a mess since quarantine started, and Zeke often sleeps in now until 9 or later. Tomorrow, however, is the first virtual morning meeting of his first grade class. I don’t really understand why it’s taken his teacher so long to organize this, but we’re not going to miss it. Stay tuned for another blog post coming soon about education policy and my growing dissatisfaction with our whole system after talking with mom friends whose kids are in a variety of school districts.

Anyway, I am confident that Zeke’s birthday energy will propel him out of bed in the morning and adrenaline and presents will keep him going. Apparently one of his chosen activities is making me play Goat Simulator with him on the Xbox. Wish me luck!

I am existentially tired. Also my body is tired. And my brain hurts.

There is SO MUCH INPUT.

I read an article today about why online meetings are so exhausting. One reason is that you are distracted by looking at yourself. I had not thought much about this before, but it’s true. Yes, superficially I’m looking to see if my hair is weirder than usual or wondering if my neck always looks like that, but I’m also trying to make sure my facial expressions are appropriate, check whether or not my microphone is muted, and notice if either of my children has stealthily appeared behind me. In an ordinary meeting, none of these things are concerns. Randy told me that in Zoom you can hide your own picture on the screen, which I tried tonight during my book club zoom, but then I reinserted myself because what if I was making a strange face and didn’t realize it?

I love my book club. I think we have given up discussing books for the moment because we are in survival mode, but we thankfully we realize that survival includes each other. We did share with each other what we’re doing to feed our souls, which I guess means we’re elevated slightly above survival mode. We offered up the tv shows and music and books and podcasts and quirky Twitter feeds that are providing distraction and amusement and solace. We talked about the hard things and happy things that are happening in our lives, unrelated to the pandemic but made more meaningful or menacing because of it.

So many and so few other things happened today that are already fading away. What brought me joy was unpacking groceries with Zoe while we chatted in atrocious Scottish (or Irish? or maybe British? or Indian?) accents and laughed until we doubled over. And Zeke gave me so many hugs. He wore the Yoda pajamas he slept in last night for the entire day, and wore them again to bed tonight. I’m not sure if he brushed his teeth. But he gave me so many hugs. Thank God for the laughter and the hugs.

On Saturdays we become feral. While our pre-pandemic weekends were packed with activities and outings, Saturdays especially are now anarchy. When each of us is sleeping or eating or dressed is anyone’s guess. By Saturday I have no energy left to organize anyone or anything.

Yesterday evening, Zoe and I went for a masked walk around the neighborhood. we walked almost the same exact route we had walked 24 hours earlier, but somehow noticed new houses and different flowers along the way. We saw fewer people out, perhaps because it had been drizzling. Walking is nice and it’s a relief to be out of the house, but wearing a mask and detouring to avoid other people, few of whom make eye contact or say hello, remains uncomfortable and disorienting.

Meanwhile, Randy and Zeke had not left the house all day. The effect of this on Randy was an attack of lethargy at 8pm and Zeke was running laps around the first floor of our house. I suggested they do a workout, and soon they were both on our puzzle piece mats in front of the tv doing squats and burpees and planks in 30-second intervals.

At this point everyone had gotten their second wind. I had been trying for several days to figure out how to play games using the Houseparty app or Jackbox games. Neither of these things are all that complicated, but my brain power has been compromised by the new normal.

So the kids and I played a few rounds of a drawing game with Zoe’s ukulele teacher, and after Randy dragged Zeke to bed, the three of us played some trivia games and something called chips and guac which is basically like Apples to Apples. I was reminded that I am old because the games included slang I’d never heard of, but there are also words Zoe doesn’t know so I guess we’re even.

I don’t even remember what time I attempted to go to sleep, only that by 3am I had not achieved success, so I got out of bed and wrote the first draft of the call to worship for next Sunday’s church service. I have always loved helping lead worship, but I haven’t done it in a while because of my ministerial search committee duties. Next Sunday, however, is (hopefully) the culmination of our search odyssey, as our candidate gives her second candidating sermon and the congregation votes on whether to call her as our next senior minister. So I was asked to serve as worship associate for the service. I feel a wee bit of pressure to perform, but it’s all self-imposed. I am excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Rev. Amanda and see what happens.

Sundays are less lethargic days, at least for me, because I make myself get out of bed to watch church. Also today I had many zoom meetings to host—both related to church and for family and friends. While there is something to be said for the convenience of video calls, they are just never going to beat being in the same room with people. I miss people! And hugs! Have I mentioned how I miss hugging people?

Monday and its accompanying structure—however erratic—is coming soon enough.

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.

After Zeke zipped around the track several times on his bike, riding at least a mile or two, I suggested for a new challenge that he could ride around the elementary school. There’s a brick walkway down the side of the school, which becomes a paved path that goes through the woods to a residential street, and there’s a paved area near the playground where kids ordinarily play basketball and run around and hang out.

I forgot that, because this was not Zeke’s elementary school, he was not as familiar with the path and the basketball court area as I was. This was his sister’s school. Also I forgot that he goes fast now, and if I don’t run behind him I am not going to be able to see him. Also I forgot that when you’re wearing a facemask it’s harder to make your shouting heard.

Fortunately on the first foray, he zoomed up the asphalt path, through the trees, and stopped just short of the sidewalk leading to the street. When I caught up to him he said, “I didn’t know where this went and I couldn’t stop!” Well, I guess he could stop, just not as soon as he would’ve liked.

So we turned around and headed back to the playground. I attempted to shout after him that he should turn right at the end of the path and loop around the paved area to go back to the brick walkway. Due to the aforementioned voice muffling effect of the face mask, he didn’t hear me. I watched him careen around the pavement and head straight toward the school. I broke into a run even before I heard the screaming.

I guess he had slowed himself down at least a little before he hit the brick wall. Apparently he thought there was another path on that side of the school, but there isn’t. Luckily he wasn’t hurt nearly as badly as Zoe was a couple weeks ago. He scraped his hand and leg and bruised his leg and tush, I think. But he screamed a lot, so I wasn’t quite sure at first what was hurt. I couldn’t carry him and his bike back to the car, but I offered to give him a piggyback ride. He declined. So I held his (unscraped) hand and walked his bike back to the front of the school. By then he had stopped crying so I left him on the curb with the bike and ran to drive the car around to pick them up.

When we got home I brought him into my bedroom for first aid. When Zoe got hurt I bought a bunch of new first aid supplies, including some different kinds of antiseptic sprays, in the hopes that they might be less offensive than our standby hydrogen peroxide. Also the store was out of peroxide. When I tried to get the cap off one of the sprays, it popped off and hit Zeke in the eye. A few more tears were shed. After I had atoned for that and successfully sprayed the scrape, I put a nonstick pad on top of the wound, because it was in one of those awkward places where no bandaid will stay. Then I tried to wrap Zeke’s hand with the kind of bandage that sticks to itself, and somehow when I tried to gently put the bandage on top of the nonstick pad, the nonstick pad flew off his hand and under the bed. Eventually we got it wrapped.

Three hours later, it is now unwrapped, but Zeke seems fine. We had a little talk about brakes, and how he needs to learn to use them. One thing at a time.

Tonight I spent a couple hours driving around Northern Virginia—probably more time in the car than the past five weeks combined—because my daughter is incredibly thoughtful.

A few weeks ago Zoe decided to make coronavirus care packages for a few friends. She gathered some little surprises and we bought candy. She made each friend a necklace and I picked up a few treasures on my Target runs. Today she might chocolate chip cookies and we were ready to deliver.

Her friends were so surprised and delighted. At our last stop, the whole family came out to say hello and thank you. For a few minutes, Zoe and her friend and her friend’s brother were running around the yard laughing, so excited to see each other. Their parents invited us to come back on the weekend and sit in the driveway.

I know it was hard for Zoe not to hug her friends when she delivered their packages. It feels so weird to see someone you love and stop short.

Earlier in our outing we stopped by the home of another thoughtful person who I know from high school who is sewing dozens (hundreds?) of masks for whoever needs them. In return she is accepting donations of food or funds for the food pantry at her church where she volunteers. I dropped off a bag of beans and pasta and reusable tote bags at her house and she handed over several beautiful masks. We delivered some to my sister, gave one to a friend, and will bring some to my parents this week. This mask maker is still working her full-time government job (from home) and sewing at night and on the weekends.

I am super proud of Zoe for spending so much time and energy thinking about exactly what would bring joy to her friends. I know my Nana would be proud and my parents will be proud too. We have learned from our parents to always be generous and share and do what you can to spread joy. I know my kids have learned this too. This is what I love about my family.

While I was waiting for my prescription at the Giant pharmacy, “A Time to Remember” by Billy Joel came on the store speakers. I love Billy Joel–An Innocent Man was the first record album I bought in 4th grade and and my first rock concert in 10th grade was the Storm Front tour–but I do not like that song. It’s schmaltzy and, in my opinion, below Billy Joel’s standards. It occurred to me that no one was curating the grocery store playlist for pandemic-appropriate music. I was acutely aware of the inaccuracy of “This is the time to remember/Cause it will not last forever/These are the days/To hold on to/Cause we won’t/Although we’ll want to.” I am pretty sure we will never forget this time, whether or not we want to. And I hope it doesn’t last forever but right now it sure feels like it will. I laughed into my mask when he got to: “Sometimes it’s so easy/To let a day/Slip on by/Without even seeing each other at all” since those are all the days now, unless you count seeing each other on a screen, which will never ever be the same.


I don’t fully remember why I didn’t write the last couple nights, although Wednesday night I know I was up until 2am folding approximately 4,000 loads of laundry while I watched 2 ½ episodes of AJ and the Queen on Netflix. AJ and the Queen stars RuPaul as Robert/Ruby Red, a drag queen who is scammed out of his life savings (which he planned to use to open up a drag club called Queens in Queens) by a con artist pretending to be his boyfriend. A kid in Robert’s apartment building asks him for money because he’s been abandoned by his mom, who is a prostitute and drug addict. Robert’s best friend is another drag queen who also happens to be blond, but hasn’t lost his ability to do excellent hair and makeup. I am intrigued by drag culture (I recently watched Dumplin‘, the film adaptation of Julie Murphy’s book by the same name, which also included some spectacular drag queens) and RuPaul is a good actor. This is exactly the kind of show you should be watching when you’re up at 2am.


Another night or two, Randy and I were taking turns getting Zeke back to bed because he was popping up every 20 to 30 minutes after we thought he was asleep. Apparently it is normal for kids to regress during a traumatic period. According to experts, what we need to do is give our kids more attention. How this is possible during a period that is also traumatic for parents and features increased demands from every direction, I do not know. I’ve asked Zeke to make lists of what he wants to do the past couple days. This was one of them.

Space Taxi is a book Zeke and I have been reading together

Today’s list was similar, although it included “ride bike” repeated several times. Unfortunately we weren’t able to fit the bike ride in until 7pm because I had to get Zeke a new helmet, as his previous helmet was too small. This morning we ordered one from Target to be picked up today. It was ready to retrieve around 4pm, but of course I had to buy 1,000 other items at Target, and then go to Giant to get prescriptions (see above) and by the time I got home and stripped off my contaminated clothes and mask and wolfed down some cream cheese wontons I bought from the frozen food aisle in Target on impulse, it was 7pm. We did make it out for a quick ride before dark, however, and I enjoyed the unexpected bonus of seeing a friend who was out walking her puppy near where Zeke was riding. We talked for a few minutes, from easily 12 feet away–we were super safe–although the puppy was not practicing social distancing so I got to sneak in a few puppy snuggles.

Happily, Zeke has now joined the ranks of bicyclists. He rode lap after lap around the track where we went to practice. He is still a little wobbly sometimes on starts and stops, but who isn’t sometimes? He announced today that he thinks we will be able to go on family bike rides after his birthday, which is just a few weeks away. I think by then Zoe will have fully healed from her bike injuries, and we’ll be good to go.

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.

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