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A couple years ago we received a secondhand copy of the board game Guess Who? It’s kind of like a visual version of 20 questions, where you try to be the first person to guess who your opponent’s person is by asking questions about facets of their appearance.

We’ve played it many times, although every time it comes out if the box I get irritated that so many of the characters are white men. Zeke agrees with me, and we’ve tossed around the idea of replacing the cartoon faces with images of people with a wider variety of characteristics. Tonight we finally did it.

We started yesterday by brainstorming a list of people to include. Zeke decided we should use famous people instead of people we know. That way it would be easy for us to find pictures of them online and other people besides us playing the game would know who the people are. Because of the current and crucial resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests, activism, and awareness, and because this is Pride month, we decided to focus on Black and queer people, but we wanted to include lots of others too. I also wanted to make sure Zeke knew who the people were. So anyone I suggested who he couldn’t immediately identify, I shared the back story or showed him videos. I was slightly surprised that one of his nominations was George Floyd. I asked him, just to make sure, if he knew who George Floyd was. He told me that George Floyd was a man who was killed because a police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes. He understood that this murder was one of the reasons we’ve been making Black Lives Matters signs and reading anti-racist books.

Here are the new faces in our Guess Who? Remix.

Bobby Berk (we love Queer Eye)

Beyoncé (Queen Bey)

Simone Biles (best gymnast on earth right now)

Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther)

John Boyega (Star Wars)

Karamo Brown (Queer Eye)

George Floyd

Tan France (Queer Eye)

Frida Kahlo (Zeke loves art and learning about artists and he recently studied Frida Kahlo and Yayoi Kusama)

Yayoi Kusama

Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton)

Barack Obama (our favorite president)

Michelle Obama (our favorite first lady and so much more)

Antoni Porowski (Queer Eye)

Megan Rapinoe (we love US women’s soccer, and Rapinoe is amazing personally and professionally)

Taylor Swift (Zeke is almost as much of a Swiftie as his sister is)

Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars)

Jonathan Van Ness (Queer Eye)

Emma Watson (Harry Potter plus activism)

Jacqueline Woodson (author we all love and recently saw on The Brown Bookshelf’s Kid Lit Rally 4 Black Lives)

Letitia Wright (Black Panther)

Gene Luen Yang (author we recently discovered while watching The Brown Bookshelf’s Kid Lit Rally 4 Black Lives and Zeke devoured the first volume of The Secret Coders and I’m reading American Born Chinese)

Malala Yousafzai (role model for all of us)

Zendaya (Spiderman and Greatest Showman and so much more)

Zeke and I split up the list and found photos online of each person and cropped them to focus on the face. Just so you know, he is equally capable of doing this as I am. He only occasionally asked for help spelling people’s names. Autocomplete is a gift for a seven-year-old on Google. Then I dropped all the photos in a template on PicMonkey and added each person’s name. I had to print the collage out a few times to find the right size to go onto the cards in the game. We used the laminator my mom recently gave us to laminate the photos. Then I cut out three sets of the photos. Zeke glued one of the sets onto the cards from the blue game board. I glued the photos on the red cards and the yellow cards from which you draw your card for each round. I trimmed all the photos and maneuvered the red and blue ones back into the little slots on the game boards.

And there you have it. I realized near the end that we are missing one yellow card. So unfortunately Bobby Berk is floating around in the box without a card attached. I am hopeful that someone who has an old unused Guess Who? game in their basement can hook me up.


After I put Zeke to bed tonight, Zoe wanted to play our Guess Who? Remix. The first round we played the traditional way, just asking questions about obvious physical characteristics. Then I suggested we make it more challenging, and ask questions whose answers were not apparent. Turns out, this is harder and much more interesting. Questions like, “Does your person get up in front of crowds?” Or “Has your person written a book?” Or “Was your person born in America?” Sometimes we still ended up asking “Is your person female?” Or “Is your person gay?” Or “Is your person Black?” but we tried hard to go deeper. And we had to look up some information online to make sure we were answering accurately. I imagine tomorrow when I play with Zeke he will have a few more gaps in his in-depth knowledge of all the people, but he is curious and I think we will learn together.

This shelf includes some books we already had that I pulled from other bookshelves in the house and some of the new books I bought on recommendations of friends and booksellers.

At bedtime these days I am reading a book with Zeke called The Last Kids on Earth. The one we’re reading is the first in a series of six (so far) which has also been made into a show on Netflix. Normally I don’t go in for books about hordes of disgusting zombies and gigantic, stinky, oozy monsters, but 1) the writing is quite good and pretty funny and 2) every single night when I read with him I think, “at least we don’t have zombies and monsters in real life (yet)!”

The Last Kids on Earth was recommended by several parents in my recent quest to find new chapter books for Zeke since the library has been closed for several months and he’s read most of the books we our house. I ended up buying a lot of books, which should surprise no one. My approach to solving all problems is by reading.

This explains why I have also been dividing my book buying among independent book stores where I already shop (One More Page, Politics and Prose, and Solid State Books) and two Black-owned bookstores (Mahogany Books and Loyalty Bookstores) and Thrift Books, a used book website. I have been trying to buy less of everything from Amazon because of Jeff Bezos’ terrible labor practices. I would like to stop supporting Amazon entirely, but I’m not there yet. It’s really convenient. But I’m trying.

More of Zeke’s books. Some of these he’s read already. I had to move the Mo Willems and Dr. Seuss books into the hallway to make room.

The books I’ve bought from all these stores (online of course) include chapter books for Zeke, YA books for Zoe (and me), and a small library of books (for all ages) by Black authors and activists including fiction, history, memoir, and guidance on how to be an anti-racist. And of course I bought t-shirts from all the bookstores too, to feed my t-shirt habit. Don’t judge.

Some of the books I bought were recommended by or written by some of our favorite authors–Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jason Reynolds–who spoke during an online Black Lives Matter rally last Thursday night sponsored by the Brown Bookshelf. I think at this point I have perused every recommended reading list circulating on the internet. Our family is nothing if not broadly read. We have always read books that provide both mirrors (characters like us) and windows (characters who are different than us) but now seems like a good time to open more windows.


I have been hesitant to write lately because I am struggling with the idea that my voice is not what needs to be heard right now. On the one hand, there are other voices that should be elevated. On social media, I am working to do just that. On the other hand, I don’t think am being asked to silence myself. Am I? I don’t claim to be an expert on racism or on Black people’s experiences. I can only speak from my own experience as a white person and an ally. And I think it can be useful for me to speak up as an ally. But how much is the right amount to speak? And where and when?

Throughout many recent conversations with friends–most of whom are moms–a recurring theme is what is the right thing to do? What do we ask of our kids this summer? What is safe? What is worth the risk? When do we protest? When do we hold space? What will we do in the fall? How do we balance the needs for learning, safety, community, and justice? None of us have figured out the answers yet.

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.

The mood swings are killing me. And not my 13-year-old’s mood swings, but mine.

The quasi-quarantine (I acknowledge, as a friend pointed out recently, that we are not actually in quarantine, which is more serious) feels a little to me like what I remember of being drunk. Admittedly it has been decades since I’ve experienced that. Now after having a bottle of hard cider with pizza for dinner I wake up in the middle of the night and have to eat crackers and take Tums. What I mean, though, is that every emotion seems to be magnified times a thousand. For a few days this week I felt like I was trying to swim through molasses. I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything. I was napping even more than usual. I wasn’t showering until 6pm. I was yelling at my kids. After reading news stories about the projected future of this virus and trying to wrap my head around the idea that our lives will never be the same, I was despondent.

Reading, which is usually my refuge, has been doing me a disservice. My default activity was scrolling through Facebook and clicking on articles about epidemiology, the current administration’s irresponsible and deadly response to the virus, the response of white vigilante terrorists to measures designed to save lives, the actions of white vigilante terrorists who killed a black man who was out for a jog, the number of people suffering because they have no jobs and therefore not much food, and the fact that my zip code has the highest concentration of COVID-19 cases in Arlington.

So during the 4am-6am period that I was awake last night, I deleted Facebook from my phone. This is a step I’ve taken many times before, and I always re-install it after a few days. But today was so much better.

Zeke and I made wonderful French toast with the delicious challah bread I picked up yesterday from Great Harvest Bread Company. I had more energy than I’ve had in several days–the molasses was gone–and I coerced my family into helping clean the house. We threw away so much stuff, and organized, and dusted. We have now–over the span of the quasi-quarantine–accumulated four large boxes of things to give away or sell. I am still not sure when I will be able to give these things away or sell them, but at least now they’re in boxes instead of scattered all over the house. We played Jackbox games over Zoom with friends who we used to have dinner with often and friends who live far away who we haven’t seen in a while and we all laughed and laughed and all our kids played too and it was pure joy.

Saying that taking the Facebook app off my phone immediately led to a state of bliss would be an oversimplification. But it helped for sure.


I have a stack of notes I need to write. These blank cards, addressed and stamped but not yet written, had been piling up on my desk since December. Since Randy is now using my desk to work, the notes are now cascading in piles of my stuff on the edge of the dining room table (where Randy’s papers used to live). If you are a member of my extended family and you have not received a Christmas card, Valentine, thank you note, or other expected correspondence from me over the past six months, I apologize. And I promise I will write the cards. But when I think about what I would say, I start to have that molasses feeling again. Looking back on what our lives were like back in December, and January, and even February, my heart hurts. I feel naive. I feel nostalgic. I feel overwhelmed, like I need to sit down because I’m going to faint. Despite the abundance of news and information, there is a distinct lack of clarity and certainty. I still can’t wrap my head around our existence right now. My Dad asked for Washington Nationals face masks and a donation to a food bank for his birthday. My sister and I debated at length how to make it as safe as possible to spend time with our Mom on Mother’s Day. Almost every ordinary activity takes on extraordinary meaning when you have to decide how much danger is inherent in each decision.

I used to be a person who possessed a lot of energy. While I am not quite a sack of potatoes yet, my motor operates at a much slower speed than before. I know this happens to people in their 40s, but I don’t like it. The precipitous decline for me came after Zeke was born. No matter what anyone tells you, having two kids is way harder than having just one. And Zeke’s sleeplessness for the first two years of his life is probably what led to my sleep disorder. Not that I blame him. He’s worth it. 🙂 But this quasi-quarantine is squeezing what energy I have left. Of course there are moments–even hours!–of fun and diversion and creativity and relaxation. But they seem to be bracketed by confusion, doubt, and exhaustion. There’s a heaviness that lingers, a longing for freedom.


Since tomorrow is Mother’s Day, my family decided it would be just like my birthday in that I could make the plan for the day. My aspiration for tomorrow morning is to get myself out of bed and do yoga. I have many yoga teacher friends and so many sources for online classes, but I have not done a single one of them since we’ve been staying home. Partly because there always seems to be something more urgent demanding my attention, and partly because my house bears no resemblance to the clean, peaceful emptiness of a yoga studio. I have never once regretted going to a yoga class, but I have also never succeeded in sticking to a practice at home. I struggle to stick to much of anything sometimes. I know, however, that if I’m going to survive this thing, I need to take better care of myself. Making myself a priority has always been anathema to me. It seems selfish, and to me selfishness is a serious character flaw. Of course I’ve been told by friends, therapists, and many people who love me that I need to put on my own oxygen mask first. I know this is true. It’s just so much easier to do when everyone else is out of the house. I can take fabulous care of myself when I have plenty of time and resources. Learning so many new ways to be is a lot of work. No wonder I’m so moody.

Even in quarantine, Friday nights are a relief. Even if we don’t have lots of fun stuff planned for the weekend, we have very little un-fun stuff we have to do. I can dramatically reduce the amount of nagging and arguing I do with my children. We can sleep in without guilt.

It’s been a particularly intense and exhausting week, but I am feeling surprisingly good. Some highlights:

  • I finished two excellent books. Zoe and I read Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Leviathan and had a book club about it. She read her paper copy and I read it on my phone through the Libby app that enables you to check out ebooks and audiobooks through the library system. I don’t usually like reading books on my phone, but doing so gives me the opportunity to read in the dark when other people are trying to sleep. I am a big John Green fan so I was not surprised that I loved this book so much but it was still a pleasure to read. I also finished listening to Writers & Lovers by Lily King. I was enthralled by King’s book Euphoria and loved this one just as much, especially because it was vastly different in subject matter from Euphoria, but with equally compelling characters. And the narrator, Stacey Glemboski, did a beautiful job reading. Both Will Grayson Will Grayson and Writers & Lovers left me feeling like I wanted to know some of those characters for a long time, which is my favorite after effect of a book.
  • In today’s mail I received a t-shirt I had ordered after seeing it advertised on Facebook and after three of my friends also sent me copies of the ad and pointed out how perfect the shirt was for me. (In case you can’t read the shirt in my awkwardly posed selfie, it says YOU AXOLOTL QUESTIONS and features an adorable axolotl, an amphibian also known as the Mexican walking fish.

I played some games online with fun people. As part of candidating week at UUCA, I was in charge of game night with our candidate, so I had to figure out how that might work. Our family has played Jackbox Games at home on the Xbox and the computer but I had never played over a zoom call. Turns out it’s pretty easy to do, even if I was a little clumsy in the execution. So if you want to arrange a virtual game night with us, let me know. Randy and Zoe also played (from separate rooms) and were awesome. Randy dominated with cleverness in our first game and changed his username in the second game to avoid drawing attention from the games paparazzi.

The sun came out today and so I sprayed down the table on our patio, which gets super gross from pollen and pollution, and wiped down a chair so I could sit outside and enjoy my hastily assembled dinner of celery with peanut butter, pretzels and hummus, leftover cold mac and cheese with peas, and a chocolate yogurt, accompanied by a cranberry lime seltzer. This is the kind of dinner you have when you clean out the fridge right before sitting down to two and a half straight hours of zoom calls.

One last bright spot–this morning I spent a while sitting with Zeke at the dining room table working our way through a puzzle book. Zeke received a subscription to Puzzlemania for his birthday (thanks Grandma Cyndy!) and the first issue arrived yesterday. This magazine, from Highlights, is the next step up from the Puzzle Buzz magazine he has enjoyed for years (also thanks to Grandma Cyndy!). Puzzlemania is perfect for him now. He unscrambled words (with a few clues from me) and we did a logic puzzle (I love logic puzzles!) and some other word puzzles. I was so happy because we were doing a learning thing without Zeke getting annoyed about having to do a learning thing, and I didn’t have to come up with the activities, and we both had fun doing them!

Many of the things are still hard and sad and complicated, but I am choosing not to think about them right now. Instead I’m going to have a snack with my family before bedtime and be grateful that tomorrow is another day.

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.

When a tickle in your throat strikes terror in your heart, it’s hard to act like everything is normal. When you wonder every single time you wash your hands, which seems to be in the high dozens every day, if there was any virus on your hands and if you washed it off enough or if you left some on the faucet handle, it’s hard to return to what you were doing with your full attention. When you already personally know two people who have lost loved ones to this virus but you know there will be many more, it’s hard to concentrate on anything.

You can distract yourself for a little while at a time. I finished a great YA novel last night and started another one today. I cleaned the kitchen and planned meals for the week. Zeke and I played Uno. I started studying A Little Bit of Tarot along with the cards in the deck my friend Tracey gave me before she moved away. Our family watched a sweet and funny movie–The Unicorn Store, starring Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson like you’ve never seen him before. Tomorrow we’re going to watch online church and take the kids and their bikes to an empty parking lot to practice riding.

Of course you have to live your life, because that’s how it works. And when you have kids, you have to keep things moving so they don’t absorb all your anxiety, because they will if you aren’t careful. And right now I have a lot of anxiety, and I am notoriously bad at hiding my feelings.

I’ve been through difficult situations before when people told me I had to keep it together for the kids, and not cry in front of them. I understand the need to be strong and reassuring for your kids, but I also believe kids learn from their parents that it’s ok to have feelings, and it’s ok to have negative feelings, and that they’re part of life and you have to figure out how to handle them. Life isn’t always pretty or easy, and if you don’t have a model for how to face the hard times, sometimes you refuse to face them, or you fall apart. I know there are lots of ways to be a parent, and this isn’t a subject covered in the instruction manual. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here. Parenting is already fraught with uncertainty, and living through a pandemic unsettles everything that much more.

By the time this is over, my hair is going to look like Kramer from Seinfeld and my eyebrows will be full-on caterpillars. At least I can clip my own nails so I won’t develop talons. I think sometimes about my absurdly first-world problems—I can’t get my monthly massages or manicures and pedicures. I think about the women who provide these services who likely have zero income right now. I wonder how they’re surviving. I wonder what they are thinking about what they’ll do when all this is over. Will they be able to go back to the jobs they had before? Will those jobs exist in the same way? Will these women have to start over. My massage therapist is also in nursing school. I wonder if she was asked to skip ahead to hands-on training. I wonder if she still wants to be a nurse.

I am reading more accounts from doctors and nurses on the front lines. These stories are horrifying. Yet I sense that a lot of people are not reading or hearing these stories based on their behavior in public and their public policy decisions. Every day I receive and read emails from the New York Times and National Public Radio providing a rundown of key national and international news items as well as links to in-depth reporting. I’ve gotten these emails for months or maybe years but usually skimmed them. Now I read every word. I acknowledge that these are only two of many reputable news sources available to Americans. But I get the feeling that a lot of people get their news from disreputable sources and that somehow these people are confident that the natural laws of science and math don’t apply to them.

I hope that a real outcome of the pandemic is a genuine discussion of how and why we learn and whether schools are emphasizing the right things. Zoe has been overloaded with online assignments from her teachers. The emails I’ve received from her principal and the school district superintendent indicate that none of this will be graded. Essentially, because she was in good academic standing when the third quarter ended, a week after schools closed, she will be promoted to eighth grade. Of course, you just don’t do your work for the grade, you do it to learn. Or at least you’re supposed to. But it’s ridiculously unrealistic to expect every kid to be able to do the same quality and quantity of work at home, surrounded by their entire families, in the midst of an unprecedented global health crisis, that they do at school. It’s not clear to me why teachers are assigning deadlines and telling students the work will be graded if that’s not the case. (I emailed Zoe’s principal tonight to ask for clarification).

It would be nice if we could focus more on what kids want and need to learn. With Zeke it’s a lot easier to take this approach right now because he has the basic skills required to enter second grade. I can teach him what I think is useful and interesting and let him play with legos for hours at a time. Next week we’ll work on actually telling time. And hopefully how to ride a bike. I realize I have enough knowledge about the public school system and my kids’ abilities to make these decisions, but many families in our community and our country don’t. And I suspect they’re receiving thousands of different messages from thousands of different teachers, principals, and superintendents. This has got to lead to some kind of reckoning in our educational system, right?

Oddly, one of the highlights of my day was a crying baby. I had a call with my point of contact for my new client. He alerted me as soon as the call started that his 16-month-old son had not gone down for his scheduled nap and was rather cranky as a result and that our call might be cut short. He had his son strapped on his chest in a carrier and was trying to give him a bottle and do the familiar parental sway and bounce dance to assuage him. He apologized a couple times and I repeatedly told him not to worry about it, that I have two kids who were once babies and I am intimately acquainted with that exact challenge. He briefed me on a few points and said he would email me details later today or tomorrow and we would talk Monday.

While I empathized for this dad and his baby, I also felt relieved. First that he was a man in this situation, which gave me hope for the state of gender equity in parenting in our culture. And second because starting out a professional relationship with this kind of vulnerability and realness can only be a good thing. Anytime we see each other’s struggles and can put compassion and kindness ahead of deadlines and deliverables is a good thing.

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.

For the past several years, each day of November I have posted on Facebook about what I am thankful for. Or, I have posted every few days a few things I am thankful for. I find it challenging to stick to doing any given task every single day beyond the basics required for hygiene and decent parenting, even if it is a task I want to do and set out for myself.

In recent weeks (maybe months?) I have found myself more anxious and stressed than usual (which is saying a lot). I have struggled to focus my attention on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. I am getting plenty of sleep. I am walking a lot. But my brain is just on overdrive all the time. It feels chaotic in my head.

I am contemplating the causes of this (not that hard to figure out, really) and working on solutions (harder). One thing I know I need to do is express gratitude. I am absolving myself from any requirements of eloquence or grace or even complete sentences. I just want to put some things out into the universe.

I am thankful that

  1. Zeke has finally made two friends in his first grade class and I’ve finally managed to contact one of the moms and have actually arranged a playdate for next weekend. I am both relieved and excited.
  2. My sister has been coaching me in how to say no. You might think this would be simple for me, but you would be wrong. I am rehearsing these lines in my head and planning to use them soon. In fact, earlier today I offered to do something for a group I am in and then I thought about my lines and I rescinded my offer! It felt good.
  3. Several people I care about are dealing with life-threatening illnesses or taking care of loved ones with life-threatening illnesses right now. This is not what I am thankful for. What I am thankful for is that these people all have access to excellent medical care, and more importantly that they are surrounded by family and friends who are providing unwavering love and support. AND that some of these people are willing and able to share what they’re going through online so that the wider community of people who care about them can know what’s going on and offer continuous love and comfort and encouragement. It’s so unnecessary to suffer alone.
  4. Tonight I watched Zoe help Zeke with some martial arts techniques with confidence and patience I have never before witnessed in that situation. It would seem that becoming a black belt and taking a recently added leadership class at EvolveAll have really made a positive difference. She was kind and enthusiastic in instructing him and he was receptive to her teaching and demonstrated immediate improvement. I was proud of both of them.

    (I was going to try to write 30 thankful things here because there are 30 days in November but as the words seem to be just spilling out of me I’ll go for 10 tonight and do the other 20 later).
  5. I have a new client that I am so thrilled to be working for and whose work is making an enormous impact on our country with the potential to seriously change things for the better in the next year. This client completely fell into my lap unexpectedly and I am thankful for the referral from someone I worked with years ago and for the new relationship.
  6. My husband is keeping up with the impeachment hearings so he can explain everything to me. He is more attuned and seemingly better able to understand political news and analysis than I am and he loves to discuss it and doesn’t mind answering my questions. And I am thankful that (hopefully) some people are finally going to be called to account for their unethical behavior. There’s so much more they should be called to account for, but I guess we have to start somewhere.
  7. There are so many extraordinary books in the world and I get to read some of them. I have read (or listened to) some absolutely stunning books in recent months, including The Dutch House; Olive, Again; The Miseducation of Cameron Post; Normal People; Every Note Played; The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl; Children of Blood and Bone; Unsheltered; Sing, Unburied, Sing; Evvie Drake Starts Over; Starworld; Little Fires Everywhere; How Not to Die Alone; City of Girls; and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. This is not an exhaustive list. But a good one.
  8. We have a washing machine and dryer and a dishwasher in our house. These are the kind of conveniences we often take for granted, but they are actually huge. We do so much laundry in our house. I am so grateful that I don’t have to take it all to a laundromat. We have nice clothes. We have warm clothes. We have plenty of choices of what to wear every day. We can be as clean and as cute as we want to be.
  9. I have choices. I am so fortunate to have plenty of options in my life. At times it may seem like too many, but what a luxury to have too many choices. What to eat, where to go, what kind of work to do, who to spend time with, how to raise our kids, what kind of vacation to take, what camp to send our kids to, how to entertain ourselves. We have immense amounts of freedom and privilege in how we conduct our lives.
  10. I play soccer with a phenomenal group of women. I love my team and I love playing with them on Monday nights and I am pretty happy with the fact that I have become a better player over the past eight seasons. And we have new jerseys for the spring season! Stay tuned for pictures come April.

    It’s time to put Zeke to bed. I am thankful that he still loves to read and snuggle with me.

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