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Over the past four weeks I have:

  • Sent my kid to robotics camp after he had been home or with family for 465 days. He did not like the camp, which was not at all what was advertised, but basically a reprise of various Lego camps he outgrew in previous years. They gave him an orange shirt to wear every day. Later, after the shirt had been laundered and returned to his drawer, he said we should “take it out and burn it.” The camp was held entirely outside. The second day it was canceled due to rain. On the fourth day, Zeke came home with a stuffy nose. I took him to get a rapid COVID test at an establishment called Same Day Testing that specializes in rapid COVID tests. That may actually be the only thing they do. Same Day Testing is adjacent to a shopping mall and looks like a day spa. The nurse? technician? person with the swab? had a lovely conversation with Zeke about their shared affinity for sloths. Thankfully, his test was negative.
  • Sent my kid to fencing and archery camp, which he and I both fervently hoped would be more fun than the aforementioned robotics camp. He enjoyed the archery and learned about different kinds of materials used in construction of bows and arrows. He hit an occasional target. In the afternoon, they went inside for fencing, where they used sabers. Apparently they wore helmets and jackets, but nothing protected their legs so by the end of the week his legs were covered in saber bruises. Fencing was hard and tiring, he reported. The highlight of this camp seemed to be the instructor’s personal collection of medieval weapons, which he brought in for show and tell. One of them was a pole covered in spikes. Another one was a hammer that Zeke said was, “designed to crush someone’s skull.” It’s all fun and games until someone gets their skull crushed, right?
  • Sent my kid to Broadway Disney camp. To my surprise, he agreed to this camp when I proposed it several months ago. He likes musicals, he likes Disney, he likes singing, and he likes dancing. However, when I picked him up after camp today, he said they “forced” the kids to sing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” from Mary Poppins, which he refused to do. I said, “I thought you liked to sing. You sing all the time at home.” He said, “I only like to sing to annoy people.” And they “forced” the kids to learn a dance to a song from The Lion King, which he did not care for because it involved complicated footwork and squatting. He said he likes to tap dance, and sometimes other kinds of dance, but apparently not that dance. He acknowledged that he enjoyed the games they played, and making up a story with one instructor, and the time he was allowed to draw, during which he drew “an angry potato” and alligator Loki.
  • Gone shoe shopping with my kid, who chose slip-on Vans with elevated glittery rainbow soles that are really cool but apparently too heavy to run in. Fortunately we also bought rainbow tie-dye Skechers with a velcro strap because he says he won’t learn to tie his shoes until he’s 10 because he has other, more important things to do. The Skechers came from the “girls” section of the store, because obviously shoes must have genders. The tags I tore off when we got home said “Skechers Girl!” in swirly pastel letters. Because obviously only girls like rainbow colors. Boys can only wear shoes that are blue, green, red, or gray. Zeke said he cannot wear green shoes because, “green is my mortal enemy.” But I guess that does not apply to light green, because the Crocs he chose were light green and lavender. Also they were from the women’s section because the kids section did not have his size. Again, why can’t they just organize the shoe store in size order. Here are very small shoes, which you can see are appropriate for toddlers. Here are slightly larger shoes for young children. And so on, until you get to gigantic shoes for people with generously sized feet. Then people can come in and decide what color and style shoes they want that are in their size, without having to wade through gender and other labels. If Zeke is an 8-year-old boy (which he is) and the shoes that fit him are in the women’s section, the store is really missing out on selling more shoes to more people who don’t think to look across gender and age for the right size.

Heard my kid say numerous times that he doesn’t have any friends. Which is painful to hear, and also true. Not because he isn’t likable or great at making friends, but because I homeschooled him for over a year because of this damn pandemic. His best kid friend his is cousin, with whom he has a close but often fraught relationship. Apparently some of the kids at some of the camps have been nice, but he hasn’t yet met anyone with whom he really clicked. And of course it’s hard to do that in a week when you’re constantly in structured activities. I am sending all of my good intentions and positive energy into the universe that his third grade class will include at least a handful of awesome kids who Zeke will enjoy and who will appreciate him in all his cleverness and creativity and absurdity.

Read and listened to a lot of Norse mythology with Zeke. It turns out we both really like Norse mythology. We highly recommend listening to Neil Gaiman read his own book, aptly titled, Norse Mythology. And last night we finished the first installment of the ridiculously prolific Rick Riordon’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard trilogy. Zeke has also sprinkled some Greek mythology into his reading, including Percy Jackson of course, but his heart is in the nine worlds.


Reading a lot of books and a wide variety of genres and authors was probably the best thing Zeke did during his homeschool tenure. Mostly, he would still rather play video games than read, but he did read and he still likes to read and we enjoy reading together. So that’s something. In addition to the basic requirements, we also focused a lot on animals, art and art history, and the kind of social studies most kids don’t get in school–heavy on the civil rights, Black Lives Matter, women’s history, LGBTQIA+ history, Howard Zinn, etc. Our biggest struggle was writing, but somehow Zeke managed to craft a story that ended up on the Story Pirates podcast, which was exciting for both of us. Homeschooling wasn’t always easy, but I am proud of what we did together, and I’m pretty sure Zeke learned some things.

There are three more weeks of camp after this one. Perhaps it is too much to ask for me to pick him up at the end of the day and hear him say, “that was amazing! I can’t wait to go back tomorrow,” and “I made a friend today!” But I’m still hoping. If nothing else, camp is forcing us both to slowly get back into the habit of a regular bedtime and packing lunch and getting dressed before noon. We will need those skills come fall.

  1. Does teenage angst have an evolutionary purpose?
  2. Why don’t people understand that it’s rude to have a protracted cell phone conversation in a confined public space?
  3. Why is it so hard for siblings to be kind to each other?
  4. Why aren’t all restaurants required to publish allergen information for their menu items on their websites?
  5. Why do so many products have soy in them?
  6. How do you find the right balance between teaching your kids to be independent and showing them what’s right?
  7. Why are there so many choices for anything you would possibly want to buy, at least in this country?
  8. How did someone invent the practice of applying hot wax to skin and ripping off the wax to remove hair?
  9. Why do dust and lint collect in little clumps? What makes them adhere?
  10. Why are certain words considered curse words while their synonyms are not? What makes something a bad word?
  11. What is the appeal of watching violence on tv or in movies?
  12. If it’s possible to have systems of law enforcement and criminal justice that are not needlessly violent, brutal, or corrupt, where did our country go wrong? Or were our systems doomed to fail because of the inherently racist founding of our nation?
  13. Why do some people feel threatened by LGBTQIA+ individuals?
  14. How are there people who have no books in their homes (but who could afford books)?
  15. Why are some birds extraordinarily colorful while others are just brown?
  16. Does anyone ever feel like they’ve figured it all out?

Do you have any answers?

I had another night of so many dreams it felt like I had never slept. And in one of the dreams even, I had been wandering around my church, although it looked utterly unfamiliar and was as large and labyrinthine as an IKEA. I couldn’t find any friends. I was looking for a chair to sleep in and suddenly it was 9am and people came along to tell me it was time to go on the work trip we were there for. A long line of little girls with freshly washed hair, all wearing soccer uniforms, was in the hall beside me and I wondered what work trip they were going on. Or if I was supposed to be participating in a soccer game instead.

This dream was yet another in a series of church dreams in which things are not right. Most of them in recent months have featured our former minister having reinserted himself into the congregation and operating a shadow ministry–oblivious to or unmoved by the fact that we have a new minister now. In every dream I am furious that he is there but powerless to do anything about it, as he doesn’t seem to recognize me or acknowledge my existence. It’s like I’m a ghost. There’s no worse feeling for me.


Of course there are moments–and sometimes even days–of lightness and joy. But more often than not when I wake up in the morning I am reminded of everything we are not allowed to do anymore, or whatever it is I want to do that my children will refuse to do, or the things I know I should do but don’t have the energy to attempt. I am often crushed by the avalanche of things I do not know and cannot figure out.

Zeke is deep into Minecraft and building worlds teeming with ordinary and fantastical creatures. He’s creating universes where he can do whatever he wants, and exert control. Worlds where he doesn’t have to fight with me about doing his writing assignments. So far he’s winning. I downloaded a new curriculum yesterday which I will employ on Monday to try to turn things around.

Zoe’s imaginary worlds are slightly more realistic, but filled with exchanges with friends and strangers and altered by filters. She lives in the universes of TikTok and Snapchat and Instagram. Both of my kids have gained access to places where they are in charge, where they are creative, where they construct their own identities. Places where I could kind of follow, but I would get lost pretty quickly.

So I play Words with Friends and do New York Times crosswords on my phone. I can finish most of the puzzles on my own. I have the feeling that I hear some people feel about math, that it’s satisfying because there’s one right answer and if you follow the steps, you will find it. Of course for me that only happens with words. With Words with Friends, there are a million possible answers, but it’s pretty easy to find a decent one. Since the pandemic started I have lost many more games than I have won. I don’t care. I don’t spend ages trying to find the words with the highest point value. Maybe a few minutes at most. The action of playing is enough for me right now–the discovery of a word. Long ago I realized that my scores in Words with Friends are closely correlated with my mental health and mood. I know a lot of people only play to win–not just in silly apps, but in life. I don’t believe in that.

And I read. And read. And read. Last night I read a middle grade book–Roll with It–by Jamie Sumner. When I finished the book I thought it was thoughtful and charming and an interesting perspective on what it’s like to use a wheelchair and have cerebral palsy when you move to a small Oklahoma town. I opened the Goodreads app on my phone to mark that I’d read it and give it some stars, when I noticed some one-star reviews. I don’t usually read other people’s reviews, but I was surprised by the critique that popped up and I read many of them. Apparently a lot of readers who are people with disabilities found Roll with It ableist and deeply problematic, citing numerous examples of how the author depicted both people with CP and in wheelchairs, and people on the autism spectrum (represented by another character) using inappropriate language and stereotypes. While I was reading the book I kept thinking that the voice of the narrator was honest and realistic, but clearly I don’t know. The author of the book is the parent of a child with cerebral palsy, and presumably based some of the story on those experiences. One of the criticisms of the book was how often the narrator noticed her mom’s tired eyes, which centers the mom’s experience more than the child’s. While I was reading the book, I appreciated those observations because I, too, am a tired mom. But I get it now that the story of the girl shouldn’t have to dwell on the effects of her disability on her mom. That is not her fault. So after reading the reviews I felt like a jerk for blithely enjoying the book and not thinking too hard about how it might seem to a person with a disability. I realized I was demonstrating able-bodied privilege all over the place. I understand that it’s not fair of me to escape into someone else’s trauma. I am holding my breath while I walk the line between wanting to learn about and from other people’s experiences and wallowing in my privilege. Even the forgiving net beneath me is a product of my privilege.

There is so much to learn. So much.

The truth is, I don’t want to have Thanksgiving without FG.

It’s not as if we would have physically been together this year, especially with COVID rampaging across the country, but we would have talked and texted and I would’ve sent her pictures of the food I made after consulting her about the right proportions of ingredients. Some of our family recipes are vague. For the stuffing, if it’s too dry you add more broth. If it’s too wet you add more dry ingredients. Every batch of stuffing is unique and special. I don’t usually make deviled eggs, but she made them perfectly. I was thinking about making some for tomorrow but I can’t call her for a reminder about whether or not she adds a little mustard in with the mayonnaise.

Today we had a wonderful surprise visit from two alpacas and a baby goat for my brother-in-law’s birthday. I would have loved to FaceTime FG during this encounter to see her reaction, which I know would have been expressive. I would print extra copies of the photos to send her at Christmas.

Every year I would choose one of my favorite novels that I’d read that year and I’d send her a copy for Christmas. Every February I would send her a valentine.

There is a picture of my parents and my kids and me with FG the last time we all visited, in early summer. It’s on my bulletin board above my desk and I look at it every day. It’s not the best photo of FG. Near the end of her life she had lost weight and her face changed shape. She seemed to be caving in on herself. I don’t think she was putting her teeth in most of the time. In the last few months she seemed to have aged 10 years. But I look at this picture anyway and look in everyone’s eyes and imagine what they were thinking and feeling at that moment.

I think FG was in some amount of pain then, even though she wouldn’t have said so to all of us. But she’s smiling as if she was happy we were there. That day when the photo was taken, she said something to me about when she would be able to come up to Virginia to visit again. I don’t know if she really thought that would happen or she was just talking. I would give anything to pick her up at the train station one more time.

I am thankful for so many people and so many things, but I am also broken-hearted this Thanksgiving. Not only because I miss FG, and I know other people I love are also desperately wishing she were here. But also for the family and friends of the nearly one and a half million people who have died from COVID. It’s hard to even comprehend. And I am heartbroken for the people I know who have lost a parent this year—whether from the coronavirus or another cause. Bethany, Bean, Melissa, Lee, Mark, Paige, Dave and Jim. And for the children and parents taken away from each other by our government at the US-Mexico border. And for the friends and family of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and all the innocent people who were killed by police this year and over the centuries.

There are many more disasters and tragedies I could name, but I won’t. And of course there are just as many blessings and opportunities and fragments of goodness we’ve managed to cling to during these crushing circumstances. I will list some of those another time. For now I will just be thankful that I had FG in my life for 46 years. I hope she will be whispering in my ear when I make the stuffing to let me know when it looks just right.

At one point today I was lying in Zeke’s bottom bunk, still in my pajamas, reading sections of his graphic novel about plagues so I could help him sketch out the script for the video I asked him to make to demonstrate what he’d learned. When this book was written in 2017 the author and publisher probably had no idea we would actually be LIVING THROUGH A PLAGUE just a few years in the future.

I realized at the time that lying in bed was probably not the best place to be to teach, but I couldn’t seem to get myself together to get up. It was also pouring down rain and seemed to be just another day living in COVID world and waiting to find out if the current president would be staging a coup to stay in power or would admit that he’d lost the election.

So I was in a pretty bad mood for most of the day.

Then I stormed out of the house.

To go to T-Mobile.

It wasn’t particularly exciting or dramatic but I needed to get some paperwork sorted out and it was an excuse to leave the house.

Even though it’s been an oddly 75-degree November so far, I keep thinking about what we’re going to do over the winter when the weather is terrible and we are cooped up in the house and we can’t go to any indoor play spaces or movies or, um, ANYWHERE INSIDE THAT’S FUN AND DIVERTING AND WHERE KIDS CAN BLOW OFF STEAM.

But we’re not there yet, and perhaps thanks to climate change it will be 75 degrees all winter long!


Things got better this evening. I signed up for Home Chef–a new meal kit delivery service and the first box arrived today. Tonight I made Teriyaki Chicken Thigh Tacos and they were delicious and both of my children ate two tacos! It is so hard to find meals that I can cook and everyone can eat and that my kids actually like. So far two thumbs up for Home Chef.

After dinner Zoe asked to go on a walk with me. The rain had more or less stopped and we walked two and a half miles and had a good conversation. Teenagers aren’t always forthcoming with their time or talk.

I felt so energized by our walk and so frustrated by the lethargy and anxiety that have characterized the past nine months that I decided to start Noom, a wellness app that uses behavioral therapy to help you eat healthier and take better care of your body. I subscribed to EvolveAll.tv so I’ll have some workouts to do at home. Man, I really miss playing soccer. But that’s not an option right now.

I will be the first to admit that I am not always good with follow through. But I am hopeful that Noom will stick and some people will do the EvolveAll workouts in solidarity with me and maybe I won’t fall into the abyss this winter. None of this will make teaching homeschool while working any easier. But maybe I’ll have something to hold onto so I’m less tempted to stay in bed while I ride out the plague.

I just had an epiphany, realizing it’s actually ok for me to spend a lot of time playing word games on my phone because I desperately need a distraction from real life, however fleeting. And yes, I’m reading books and meditating and taking walks and working and homeschooling and volunteering. But I also spent yesterday compulsively reading and rereading New York Times and Washington Post and NPR articles about Trump and coronavirus. So I decided that when I pick up my phone maybe it’s healthier to play Words With Friends or do a cross world than to constantly immerse myself in terrifying news.

Last night I dreamed that I missed a democracy-saving event (not sure what exactly that means) because I was helping my mom with a garage sale and I tried to walk away. A friend who had attended the democracy-saving event—and likely saved our democracy—followed me down the street in her car and kept asking if I was ok and then wondered if I was having “boy trouble.” Then in the dream I was at a hospital trying to give blood but it was totally chaotic and people were not wearing masks. They finally took me back to donate but wouldn’t let me bring my book to read. Instead they gave me a crossword puzzle sheet but said I couldn’t have a writing utensil and would just have to do it in my mind. It was the kind of dream where it took me several minutes after waking up to get my heart rate back to normal.

Yesterday I spent a marvelous hour snd a half outside on a friend’s deck, sipping tea (and then immediately putting my mask back on). She gave me several plants to take home. I am surrounding my new downstairs office space with green things and infusions of oxygen. This was my tonic after another unsuccessful attempt to give blood—this time not because of me but caused by logistical challenges at the donor center. It was lovely.

Then in the afternoon I participated in a text banking training for the Biden Harris campaign, and it turns out I loved it and sent messages to 1500 people and had fruitful conversations with almost 10% of them. So I did at least a little something to save democracy.

So it’s really ok for me to play word games on my phone. They keep the scary world at bay, however briefly.

Last night after eating too many churros, we decided to withdraw Zeke from second grade at our local public elementary school and homeschool him for the rest of the school year. Maybe it was the cinnamon talking, but it feels like the right thing to do.

I have entertained this idea since March, when it was clear that the distance learning provided by the school system on short notice was not enough to hold Zeke’s (or my) attention or provide any intellectual stimulation or challenge. So I made up school, confident that although I am not a licensed teacher and I don’t have the patience to stand in front of a classroom of 25 kids, I knew enough stuff to finish out first grade. Some days it worked, some days it didn’t. But I didn’t worry (too much) about it because I knew everyone in our community was in the same nebulous boat. Zeke read a lot of books and did a lot of math and that was good enough for me.

I do, however, have my own business and actual work to do, which I had decided would make it impossible for me to actually homeschool Zeke for a whole school year. I figured the school system had all summer to figure out how to make virtual learning work and that we would trust them to provide Zeke a good second-grade education. I even talked with the principal a couple times over the summer, who assured me Zeke would be in good hands even though there was so much up in the air.

So we picked up Zeke’s iPad and we participated in the virtual open house and we struggled to log in on the first day with everyone else in Arlington, and it got better on the second day. And every day after that it was slightly easier technologically, but every day Zeke asked why he had to go to school and said he would rather do homeschooling and had to be cajoled into getting dressed and logging on. Every day Zeke would come downstairs during sanctioned breaks and tell me his teacher told the class to tell their parents to remind them to go back at a certain time. He didn’t always remember exactly what time that was. And he’s still learning to actually tell time on a regular clock. Yesterday his teacher emailed me while I was in the middle of a meeting to tell me Zeke was not in class, and that he had been leaving class daily. I texted Randy to talk with Zeke about this. Zeke swore up and down that he was not leaving intentionally but was being kicked off by the app. Either or both of those things could have been true. I know he was bored by everything they were doing. He knows more about iPads and apps than I do and probably than the teacher does. I completely understand that other kids in the class need to learn all this, and it’s necessary for the teacher to spend time going over the use of the apps for the rest of the school year to proceed as planned, but I wondered how long it was going to be until something happened that engaged Zeke.

When I was in college I had a summer internship at a community newspaper in a nearby suburb. Journalism is my family’s trade and I had assumed since I was a kid that I would become a reporter, editing every school newspaper along the way. It turned out that I hated being a real reporter. What they asked me to do seemed far removed from the kind of writing I had envisioned doing. And some of what they asked me to do just felt wrong. When I discussed this with one of my editors, he said I had to pay my dues. My reaction was that I didn’t want to pay any dues, I wanted to write. So after college I launched a career writing for and about nonprofit organizations, which has proven much more satisfying. The reason I bring all this up is that I feel like Zeke slogging through virtual learning was the equivalent of him paying his dues. But to what end?

Then last night I attended virtual back to school night. The principal and assistant principal at Zeke’s school are lovely people. I had witnessed his teacher doing her damnedest to make all this work even though none of it was what she had signed up for. These people are responsible for educating hundreds of kids and working with an immensely diverse group of families. I get it. But watching the standard presentation about school and the standard presentation about second grade left me cold. There was nothing that got me excited for Zeke or optimistic about what lay ahead for him. If we were in non-Covid times and had been at back to school night in person, I think I would have overlooked the standardness of everything, banking on the fact that Zeke would make friends and develop a relationship with his teacher and experience new opportunities at school that I couldn’t provide for him at home. But in virtual school they have no chance to make friends, or even chat with their classmates. It is not part of the schedule. And it’s really hard to differentiate for a variety of skill levels when you’re all watching one screen. I know they are supposed to use Mondays to pull small groups for extra help, but that wouldn’t include Zeke. The tipping point may have been when the teacher told us that the kids needed to stop spinning in their chairs and doodling and playing with fidget toys. They are seven years old and they have to do school from home and not go anywhere or do anything fun. I think you can at least allow them a little spinning or fidgeting or doodling. It is entirely possible, and even helpful to many kids (and adults) to do something with their hands or bodies while they are listening to someone talk. I’m pretty positive the teacher isn’t going to be able to stop these kids from moving during class, and I imagine everyone is going to get frustrated if she tries.

Earlier in the summer I had reached out to various communities I’m part of to convene parents to talk about what on earth they were planning to do with their kids if school was all virtual this fall. This was before we knew school would be all virtual this fall. Some parents were trying to form learning pods or social pods, some were already committing to homeschool, and many were entirely unsure of what path to take. So this week I’ve been reading all my notes from these discussions and the emails folks have exchanged about homeschool resources. I started researching curricula and found one–based on literature and secular–that I really liked. I made a list of pros and cons and discussed them with Randy. Then Randy and I explained to Zeke what pros and cons are (Zeke’s initial guess was that pros are people who are really good at something, which is also true). Zeke added his own ideas to the lists, and enthusiastically agreed that he didn’t want to sit in front of the iPad for five hours a day. Together we watched a video about the curriculum and Zeke promised that he would do the work and I promised to be patient. Today I filed the notice of intent to homeschool paperwork with the school district and emailed the principal, assistant principal, and teacher to let them know our plans. We’re ordering the curriculum and plan to start Monday.

Today Zeke begged not to go to virtual school, and since we had already made this decision it seemed silly to force him, so I made an ad hoc lesson plan. We did some logic and word puzzles from his puzzle magazine. He read his book of female Marvel superheroes, and wrote a story about Rogue. He usually complains vociferously about writing by hand, so I let him write in Google Docs on my iPad. He wrote a whole paragraph. He knew how to press a key and say a word that he wanted to spell and the iPad supplied it. I don’t even know how you do that. When we needed to leave the house, I asked him to stop writing. He said, “once you start writing, it’s hard to stop.” He has never, ever, ever said anything like this and almost always whined and moaned when asked to write anything. And he did a few pages of multiplication tables in a workbook I bought back in the spring but never got around to using. I am not under the illusion that it will always go this smoothly, but I felt like it was a good omen. I think homeschooling will provide opportunities for Zeke that I haven’t even imagined yet.

I’m going to have to be more organized and disciplined to get my work done and homeschool Zeke at the same time. But I’ll figure it out, because I think it’s the best thing for him. I hope and pray that this pandemic will end sooner rather than later and he will be back in the classroom next year, and running around at recess, and telling jokes to his friends in the cafeteria. In the meantime, wish us luck.

There is no substitute for you
no one else who knows what you know

Who says “Hello, my dear!” with such enthusiasm 
when I call, reporting that you are just hunky and dory.

There is no voice that sounds like yours
No one else who fusses quite the same way 
when someone tries to touch your hair
No one else with your signature scent of Charlie perfume

There is no one else who can host a hen party like you
No one else with that stockpile of snacks and treats
you’re always willing to share

There is no one else who drove me around 
High Point to see the Christmas lights
and invited me on last minute shopping adventures
always letting me in on important secrets

There is no one else who would bake a 
strawberry birthday cake 
for my imaginary friend

There is no one else who understands 
Nana’s mysterious recipes so well
and makes them as faithfully,  
always offering encouragement 
when I call from my kitchen with questions 

There is no one else who supplied me with 
such wonderful socks for so many years 
that I had to learn, as an adult, how to buy socks

There is no one else who would leave 
her teeth at home 
when we go out to lunch 
and then just order something
that doesn’t require too much chewing. 

There is no one else who loves 
a good recliner like you do
who devours as many novels at the beach,
who loves to watch the kids splash and swim, 
who skunked us all at cornhole.

There is no one else who loves 
banana ice cream like you do,
well, except your sister.

There is no one else who calls her “Faye Marie.”

No one else who rode eight hours on the Palmetto line
as soon as she heard about her sissy’s stroke
and sat with her for weeks on end
and laughed with her at all the nonsense
until she learned to speak again.

There is no one else who reads 
my Facebook posts
and calls my mother 
as quickly as you to discuss
unfolding events.

There is no one else who keeps as close an eye 
on the weather in Virginia 
and calls us with cautionary alerts.

There is no one else I can count on 
to play Words with Friends
in the middle of the night 
so I know when you’re awake
and you ask why I’m awake
and you play risqué words and tell me,
“I bet you didn’t know I knew that word!” 
and I can hear you laugh.

There is no one else I love 
to watch get off the train 
as much as you
when you come to visit.

There is no substitute for you.

For FG
May 23, 1941 – August 13, 2020

Some days it is nearly impossible, and other days clearly impossible, not to drown in the catastrophic abyss that is the world right now. This is not news to anyone.

At 3am this morning after I finished my client work, since I had no opportunity to do it during the day, I wrote a list of small wins in my new notebook. I bought this new notebook last night at Target, while in the midst of having a panic attack because of the school supplies. The school supply section at Target has always been beloved by our family. Unlike some parents, I actually love shopping for school supplies. I have since I was a kid and got to pick out a new Trapper Keeper every year. But last night seeing the vast array of products just sent me into a downward spiral because school + Covid-19 + completely inept government response = nothing good. Everything about this situation is heartbreaking and infuriating and all those shiny folders just reminded me of that.

But back to those little victories. Notice how easy it is to get distracted by awfulness? If you haven’t already seen the video of the explosion in Beirut, don’t watch it. Deep breaths. Focus.

So, small wins, right?

Zeke made this guy!
  1. Zeke is taking a sewing class and a magic class now, both of which he is really enjoying and fully showing up for.
    After carefully curating his summer of camps back in January and having them all be canceled because of Covid, I haphazardly signed him up for a variety of online classes. I did not put in nearly as much thought or planning into this as I did with the camps, so sometimes I over scheduled him and sometimes I signed him for things that required more involvement from me than I was able to provide. But magic and sewing stuffies have been big hits. And yes, I am still putting in some time buying sewing supplies and helping cut out patterns, but Zeke is getting there and is determined to learn and practice. His current career ambition is to become a costume designer for Marvel. I feel like between his sewing and drawing skills, he is on the right track. He can make costumes for theatre productions in high school or create Halloween costumes for his friends. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
  2. Zoe is learning to use nunchucks in her martial arts class.
This is not Zoe. This is Bruce Lee.

I don’t honestly know why they’re using nunchucks, but it’s cool and Zoe was practicing on her own last night, which is always a good thing. I am also just happy that both she and Zeke are back in their martial arts classes at EvolveAll (via Zoom, of course) after taking a brief break. We are all eager to get back to the studio, but in the meantime they are getting exercise and pushing themselves and we still love being part of the EvolveAll community.

3. I finally figured out how to use my AirPods during Zoom meetings. If this doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry about it. If you understand, you will appreciate it.

4. The aforementioned Target trip was principally to buy more lightning cable chargers because mine are always being borrowed for other people to charge their devices in other parts of the house and and we all have so many freaking devices now that there are never enough chargers. So I bought some in fun colors and perhaps now no one will steal mine.

5. The pile of super stinky laundry from our Camp Friendship trip is diminishing. It is not yet gone, but it’s more like a speed bump than a mountain.

6. I helped my mom do a hard thing yesterday.

7. I’m taking a surprisingly fun class through church about how parents can be sexuality educators for their own kids.

8. I’m listening to a fantastic book–No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal.

9. We’ve made some delicious dinners lately from Hello Fresh. The kids don’t always eat them, but Randy and I love them and they’re not the same thing we always make and they’re healthy.

10. I am not water soluble! Twice this week I ended up doing a chore outside in the pouring rain and I didn’t melt. It’s always reassuring to note this underrated quality.

More often than not lately our current existence seems untenable. I’m yelling at my kids too much. My house is a disaster area. My husband and I haven’t had a date in eons. But at least I’m not water soluble.

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.

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