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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.

Can’t sleep. Finished the book I was reading. Did the NYT crossword. Checked Facebook and Instagram and found no breaking news. Earlier tonight when I was lying in bed reading, Randy went into the closet and came out with a button down shirt and khakis on hangers and hung them on our linen press. This was the first time he’s done that since March. I had forgotten that his office is reopening in phases and his group is eligible to go in this week. He was actually allowed to go in on Tuesday but he was coughing a little so the app that his company instructed employees to use to monitor their health advised him to call a doctor and wait until he was free of any symptoms for three days. The cough had disappeared by Tuesday night and the doctor said if no other symptoms developed (they didn’t), he was fine.

We discussed his plan to go into the office a few weeks ago when his company announced the system and precautions they were implementing. Randy and I agreed it might be worthwhile for him to go in and check things out and if he felt it was unsafe in any way he could just come home. Theoretically this would enable me to work in our home office again and reduce the number of zoom meetings and google hangouts I have to do from our bed or in the family room or dining room with kids asking questions or the Xbox making noise. It’s been way too hot to work in the backyard tent. And perhaps being in the office would enable Randy to have his own quiet time away from the kids and the noise of me having my meetings in the next room and just break up the monotony of never leaving the house except to check the mail. And the mail is usually junk anyway.

But now I am worried about him going into the office with people I don’t know. People outside our bubble. In a building whose ventilation system may it may not be good. This afternoon and evening I participated in three consecutive online meetings. During the first one, related to one of my clients, someone announced that she had heard from someone who worked at the Pentagon that the whole country was going to shut down for two weeks except for hospitals. While I doubt this was anything but wishful thinking that our government was suddenly going to take the coronavirus seriously and do something to save lives, the idea kind of freaked me out, if only because I imagined it would spark some sort of insurrection by the people who believe wearing masks infringes on their individual liberty.

The second video call was a school board meeting during which members of the public were invited to voice their opinions about the proposed learning models for the fall. Last month the school system announced that the options would be 100% distance learning and a hybrid of distance learning and two days a week of in-person school. Parents were asked to choose a model for their children by July 20. Then Tuesday they announced that everyone would do 100% distance learning until at least October or November and then some magic formula would be used to transition to the original plan. Everyone is freaking out about all this. I get it. No one knows what will happen. People want their kids and families to be safe. People want their kids’ and their lives to go back to “normal.” But there is no normal anymore. Teachers are pleading for a plan that doesn’t require them to choose between their health and their jobs. At the meeting tonight, the vast majority of testimonies were in favor of distance learning or another community-created plan. Many of the callers were teachers. Only a few people were in favor of full-time in-person school, which is what the Trump administration would prefer, despite the continued surge in cases nationwide and mounting evidence that Covid-19 does affect kids. I was relieved, at least, that the callers were all respectful and reasoned in their statements. This was in sharp contrast to the Facebook comments during Tuesday’s briefing from the superintendent where most parents came across as self-centered and entitled, not to mention rude and disrespectful. I sure wouldn’t want the job of school administrator right now. Under the best of circumstances it is impossible to please everyone, but now when everyone is traumatized and panicked, there’s a whole new level of demands.

Friends have been asking me what I think and what we’ve chosen for our kids and I repeat my mantra that I’m trying not to get too invested in the discussion because the only things that seem clear to me are that we have no control over the global health situation right now and that whatever happens with the schools may change a million times between now and September 8. I know how lucky we are that I have a flexible job and can take care of my kids as needed. I recognize that privilege. I also wish people would calm down. There are a lot of type A parents in Arlington who need to realize their kids will not fall behind when everyone in the universe is in this same position. I wish more parents were willing to think creatively about how we can make education different or better or innovative in some way instead of trying to make it normal or squeeze it into this box that had just been upended.

The third zoom meeting was, happily, a trivia night hosted by our martial arts studio, just as a fun way to keep the community connected. We were winning after the first half but sank to fifth place by the end thanks to some tricky questions about the periodic table and the meaning of Simba’s name. (Lion) Also we didn’t trust our instincts about plasma or Aaron Burr. But we had fun. EvolveAll’s general manager, Brian, played great music (from my youth, so zoe complained it was all old) while we conferred on answers to the questions, and we laughed. It’s a relief to laugh. So many of these days are so tense. The bad news is relentless. And even a few days back from our vacation it feels like we’ve been stuck inside forever.

The other night zoe and I drove to CVS after midnight to buy bug bites remedies because she couldn’t sleep from the itching—a souvenir of our recent trip. Based on the advice of friends via Facebook, I bought Benadryl cream, calamine lotion, and another tube of something promising to alleviate pain from a variety of bites. I like to cover the bases. We wandered the aisles while we were there just in case there were other things we needed, taking advantage of the completely empty store. Cheap thrills.

It’s been four months now. I’ve stopped counting the days. I stopped blogging every day because I lost momentum. I remember back in March when I thought we’d still be able to go away for spring break, and back in April when we felt sure things would be back to normal by summer. Now the only thing I’m sure of is that we have to get used to this, even though no one wants to and it is still hard. Every other ad on my Facebook feed is for a different style or design of face mask. That’s the cool new thing to buy now.

Last night when swallowing a pill, something went awry and I spent an hour struggling to dispel the intense pain in my chest. I was crying and spitting and trying to burp. It was ridiculous and horrible. Twice before I have gone to urgent care with chest pain only to hear that it was probably indigestion. My heart, thankfully, is fine. And I’ve had the occasional panic attack as well. I think last night the tablet irritating my esophagus might also have triggered the panic, as the anxiety is always there under the surface, just waiting for an excuse to bubble up.

I should try again to sleep. I could write 1,000 more words about the other minutiae from my day but I won’t. This day has already lasted 40 hours at least. Tomorrow is Friday, but what does Friday even mean anymore? I should try again to sleep.

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.

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