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Dangerous Mole

I just ordered $100 worth of dairy-free meal replacement smoothies for my teenager, to pick up at Whole Foods tomorrow, because eating anything solid causes her severe stomach pain and she’s nauseated all the time. She came home early from school yesterday, with a COVID test in hand and instructions on how to take it with a certified COVID test instructor watching her on video. She has taken dozens of COVID tests already, and she knows how to do it, but I understand they want to make sure people are doing it right. Certified COVID test instructor Mhaxine (who must recite her script a hundred times a day) had us focus my phone’s camera on various codes on the box and on my ID and on the test results. Zoe doesn’t have COVID, which I already knew. But now you can’t be home sick from school or go to the clinic without testing. You can’t go back to school without emailing the negative test results to the school nurse and attendance office. Meanwhile, we are going back and forth with the pediatrician and the pediatric gastroenterologist and Zoe is scheduled to have an endoscopy in two weeks. She’s missed two days of crew–which you’re not supposed to miss any days of between February 21 and the end of May. Tomorrow I’m going to deliver an açaí bowl to her at lunchtime because it’s one of the only things she’s been able to eat over the past few days without feeling sick. When your kid is miserable, all your priorities shift.

At least she has beautiful nails. I took her with me to the nail salon last weekend and she somehow managed to get acrylic nails without me noticing until I had to pay the bill. Even if she can’t eat, she can at least admire her nails and enjoy the sound of tapping them on her phone.

I have a list on my desk of all the appointments I need to schedule: mammogram (oh I guess I need to see the gynecologist first, to get a referral), colonoscopy, dentist, kids’ dentist, my dermatologist, etc. All things I’ve been putting off or rescheduling since COVID. Hopefully I won’t have lumps or polyps or cavities or dangerous moles. I keep thinking I could just spend a day making appointments, but that would not be a very pleasant day. Since COVID seems to be never going away, I just need to suck it up.

Also tomorrow I am taking Niki to a camp that they don’t especially want to go to, even though it seems amazing, because they would rather stay home and play video games all day, which they think is awesome but I do not. Tomorrow is a parent-teacher conference day, so they don’t have school, but I still have to work. Someday we will have a house where I can have an office that is not in the same room as the tv and the xbox, but that day has not yet come. So off to camp they go. Last week I finally finished signing them up for summer camps and classes. This year they have fencing and archery, a camp where they drive to different parks and explore them and look for little creatures and give them names (at least that’s what they did at that camp last year), book illustration, art, and Minecraft camp (I consented to one week of this since the rest of the camps are active or artsy). Three of the weeks (book illustration and art) are just half day classes rather than full day camps because I don’t have to work those weeks and so Niki will not complain about having to go outside when it’s hot or eat lunch in a room that’s smelly. I would say my kids are spoiled, but truthfully I don’t like eating lunch outside on the ground when it’s hot or in a room that’s smelly, so I can’t blame them.

Oh, how could I forget Niki is also going to sleep away camp for the first time this summer. We all think they will love it. They’ve been to family camp at Camp Friendship twice already. They know the people, they know the place. They have not, however, slept away from us in quite a while. They can go to sleep if someone is at our house, but not if they’re at someone else’s house. And they still love to fall asleep intertwined with a parent. We are having faith that it will all work out when they are at camp. Zoe will be there too, but of course not in the cabin with them. We still have six months to prepare. Zoe was homesick at night for the first few years she went to camp, even though she loved it there. She says she eventually would fall asleep just because she was exhausted. I am constantly reminding myself that my kids are capable of things we haven’t seen them do yet, and they will be ok. Hopefully we’ll be ok too. Whenever Zoe is at camp I check the website compulsively for photos of her having fun, and race to the mailbox to look for letters. I remind myself that, during a rocky first grade year, Niki dreaded school–and then it ended because of COVID. Then we homeschooled for a year. And they did not especially want to go back to school for third grade because it was so much fun being home with me all day! And they never had to get dressed! And they played video games after they finished their work! It took a while for them to get used to school again (as it did for most kids I think, whether or not they were homeschooled or virtual schooled or hybrid schooled last year) and now they actually like school. They come home and talk about what they learned, and look forward to seeing their friends, and miss school when they have to stay home. I honestly wasn’t sure that would ever happen again, since it basically hadn’t happened since kindergarten. I had started to think kindergarten was some magical year that we would never experience again and school would be a battle forever. But it’s ok now.

And there is a nation of innocent people being attacked for no reason by an evil lunatic dictator. There are a lot of blue and yellow flags and lights and tributes. But I sure don’t know what to do, except wonder why our world is such a mess. The president stood up for LGBTQIA+ kids and mental health care in his State of the Union speech, but did not mention canceling student debt, or racial equity, or DC statehood. I did enjoy seeing two women–Kamala Harris and Nanci Pelosi–sitting behind him though, instead of two white guys. And maybe if the other old white guys don’t get in the way, Ketanji Brown Jackson will be confirmed to the Supreme Court and we’ll be just a little closer to having more justices who look like the people in our country and again, not all old white guys. No offense to the old white guys I love. They are not the ones I’m talking about.

In preparation for a meeting at work today I watched this video by Georgetown Law professor Kristin Henning, author of The Rage of Innocence: How America Criminalizes Black Youth. I have the book on my desk to start reading next week. As part of my new job with DC Action, I’m working with folks to reframe the conversation on youth and crime. Professor Henning describes in the video how Black young people are targeted and often arrested or harmed because they’re seen doing normal adolescent activities. DC Action and our partners are working to help District leaders, journalists, and others understand that there’s more to the story of a 14-year-old charged with carjacking than the need to lock him up for a long time or hold him accountable. Does it not occur to anyone that when 12-, 13-, and 14-year-olds are committing crimes like these, we need to look deeper? As I’ve written in op-eds and blog posts, the people who need to be accountable are the adults who are failing to provide meaningful out-of-school-time activities, mentoring, emotional support, job opportunities, and mental health care to young people–especially young Black people–who have suffered disproportionately through the pandemic. I see the struggles in my own kids, who have as much support and resources as they could possibly need. So when I read every day about people trying to ban books by and about Black and brown people and LGBTQIA+ people (don’t get me started on Texas Gov. Abbott who would rather have queer kids committing suicide than offer their families support) and school systems prohibiting teachers and students from discussing race or racism, or people saying antiracism is actually racism, I get enraged. No wonder I can’t sleep.

This, I think, is why people are obsessed with Wordle right now. It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely solvable. You can point to it (which is why so many people post their scores, although I do not) and say, “Hey, I did a thing! I accomplished something despite my existential angst and general feeling of despondence about our country and our world and all the personal and global problems with which I am grappling.” Or maybe that’s just why I play Wordle.

I haven’t been back to church in weeks, even though they’ve resumed in-person services. Going to church has always brought joy to me and been so important in my life, but the thought of going back again where everyone is masked and I don’t recognize even my friends and hugging is no longer a thing just makes me anxious and sad. I know wishing everything were back to “normal” is futile and there’s no such thing as normal anymore. But I haven’t yet arrived at a state of grace where I can embrace the constant change and dizzying feeling of flux. Maybe some days. But not today.

It’s just me and John Denver and the Muppets in the family room this Christmas Eve afternoon. I am wrapping presents. Everyone else is in their bedrooms, asleep or otherwise occupied by a virus (not COVID, we checked) or depression or a device. I am hoping the quiet alone time will enable everyone to muster the energy and good cheer required by Christmas Day with the family tomorrow.

Spread out across the kitchen table and counters are ingredients for treats that will likely not be baked tonight. Maybe if everyone rallies we will throw a few things together. Or not. I have secured two excellent vegan pies and a variety of appetizers and my brother-in-law is preparing the rest of the feast. Neither of my children have eaten much in recent days. My younger child suddenly doesn’t like any of the food they used to like. My older child has been dealing with stomach stuff. But we have another whole week of vacation so maybe people will be inspired to bake. Or not.

What I am giving myself this Christmas is the gift of letting go of expectations. The past 21 months have been like some kind of demonic algebra problem in which there are many more variables than constants. And even non-demonic algebra made me cry when I took it in junior high school. The universe is filled with ever expanding unknowns.


The kids and I just came back from a lovely drive-thru Christmas Eve moment at church. UUCA decided to cancel in-person services tonight after they learned from the Arlington Department of Health that COVID cases in Arlington had doubled from December 21 to December 22. Determined to share joy with the congregation, the ministers and staff set up luminaria along the driveway, the music director was playing carols outside on the keyboard, the ministers were festively dressed and waving their glowing Christmas wands and greeting families, then some mystery person was operating a snow blower so we enjoyed a moment of white Christmas Eve, and then the intern minister was handing out little goody bags including a candle we can light at home during the service, and he collected the hat and mittens we brought for the mitten tree. It was all very sweet and touching and we drove through a second time just to say thank you.


I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Jenny Lawson’s Broken (in the best possible way) and I am addicted to her honesty. She is absolutely hilarious. And she narrates all her own books so you definitely feel like you’re laughing right there with her. She also struggles with a host of challenging physical and mental illnesses, including severe anxiety and depression, and she holds nothing back when discussing them. Coincidentally, I just finished reading The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun, which I received at my friend D’s Jolabokaflod (book exchange party). Apparently I love reading romance novels now–some of my favorite books this year have been by Casey McQuiston (who I had the pleasure of meeting!) and Emily Henry. I always thought the genre was limited to the ridiculous Harlequin Romance novels I used to get from the library when I was 13 and flip through with my friend Diane to find the sex scenes and laugh hysterically. Or books you see in airport gift shops with terrible titles and pictures on the cover that make you cringe. But I’ve come to realize that there’s a new kind of romance novel that’s actually just a regular novel–funny and smart and compelling–whose plots happen to center on a romance and that include surprisingly charming sex scenes. Anyway my point here was actually that The Charm Offensive was a much about mental health and gender identity and how we treat each other as it was about romance. The book includes realistic depictions of OCD and anxiety and depression and self-discovery and stigma in our society.

I’ve read so many articles in the past year about how the pandemic has affected our mental health. As you might guess, or know for yourself, it’s not good news. For kids and young people, it seems to be even worse, because they’re mired just as deep in the intermittent isolation, the uncertainty, the constant churn of disappointment from cancelled plans, but they have so much less control over their lives and their choices than adults do.

My kids have been so happy to be back in school in person this year. Over the past four months they’ve made new friends, cultivated relationships with new teachers, and–not insignificantly–been able to leave the house every day, follow a predictable routine, learn things, see people besides us, and practice being their own individuals. I know the school system is prepared for a return to virtual learning if COVID demands it, but I dread that decision if it comes. Several schools in DC have already reverted to virtual learning for at least a few weeks as we ride out Omicron. It just makes my heart hurt to think about all of us home all the time again and trying to do work and school all at the same time in our little house and eventually driving each other berserk.


I love my kids so much. And I think they’re really awesome people. Not that I haven’t always felt this way, but you know how it’s easier to get perspective on people when they’re not staring you in the face 24/7? They are each unique, but they are also both funny and kind and creative. They both still want hugs all the time. They both love music. During the pandemic the four of us bonded watching live streams by Brandi Carlile, and we’re all going to get to see her perform live in 2022 if some freaking future virus variant doesn’t get in our way. For the past few Christmases, I’ve taken the kids to Five Below to shop for each other. They bought excessively sequined stockings there and filled them with treats they knew each other would like, and they opened them first on Christmas morning (in part to buy us time before we had to wake up). This year Niki learned that they too could be Santa, so at Five Below the kids chose treats for each other and for Randy and me. Today we’ve taken turns filling all our stockings with thoughtful surprises. I love being Santa and sharing Santa with them.


So we are moving slowly right now. And that is absolutely ok. We haven’t written any Christmas letters. Even my mom, who is the driving force behind this tradition, suggested that there’s not much to write this year because she doesn’t like to write about only negative things. Of course there have been silver linings. But there’s also been a lot of %*&(*^#@ (insert your favorite curses here). And when you’re surrounded by it, writing a cheerful missive seems just a little bit out of reach. We haven’t sent presents to our family members who live far away. You know who you are. I promise you’re still on our list, and we are grateful for the gifts you’ve sent that are currently under our tree. (At least we decorated our tree!) I have yet to send e-gift cards to any of my kids’ teachers. A few weeks ago I did remember to put out a box of snacks and drinks in front of our house for the delivery people. There are always a lot of delivery people and they are working their tushes off. I know they’ll still be busy after Christmas delivering the various things we ordered that are still sitting in Groveport, Ohio or Tucson, Arizona on Christmas Eve.

We’re doing the best we can. And I’ve learned this year that my best varies from day to day. Maybe even from hour to hour. Life is a lot. So many people I love have faced crises and losses this year. But we keep going. We provide shoulders for each other to cry on. We check on each other. And tonight we light candles to shine through the darkness. We hold onto hope. Neither the grinch nor omicron can keep Christmas from coming.

Merry Christmas to all. And to all a good night. Sending you all love, peace, and health.

“Give back to the universe that which is not ours to carry.”

Lately this sage advice, included in the centering meditation that my spiritual director offers before every session, has become a necessary mantra.

Because there is so much that people throw at me, so much around me that my heart consumes, that I cling to, that I clutch tightly to prove to myself and the world that I am, in fact, a good person, it is easy to feel myself sinking under the weight of it all.

And so I examine each piece, peel it off my spirit (it makes that squelchy sound like pulling apart velcro) and metaphorically fling it into the sky. And then I feel peaceful and at ease and live happily ever after.

Kidding!

My overactive brain and “of course it’s my job to save the world!” nature don’t give up that easily. Still, I try. Still, I am frustrated when there’s nothing I can do. I love having something I can do. I have to remind myself, every day, many times a day, that sometimes all I can do is be.


In years past during November, inspired by friends who modeled the practice, I posted something every day on Facebook that I was grateful for. Other Novembers I’ve participated in challenges to blog every day, or write something every day, or create something every day. This year in November, I’ve gone back to the basics: make sure your kids get to school every day, fill out the COVID symptoms questionnaire from the school system every day, drink water every day, get dressed before 4pm every day, remember to take your meds every day. And. to be honest I know there have been some days when I have definitely not accomplished all these.

We’re living in a sort of reality purgatory right now. We’re not quarantined or isolated like we were last winter. Most things are open. We’re allowed to roam freely, but there is a constant lingering question of whether we should hanging over our heads. The new questions du jour whenever you see someone you know are, “Did you get your booster?” [no, but I’ve scheduled it for when I can afford to feel horrible the next day] “Which kind are you getting?” [not sure, whatever they give me, I guess?] “Where are you going to get it?” [through the county health department, where I got my previous shots] Sometimes the conversation turns to wondering why so many people refuse to get vaccinated, even when it costs them their jobs or various freedoms. This is a question for which I have no good answer. Another question is why is the newest threatening variant named omicron? What happened to the other 10 Greek letters after delta? Were those variants not important enough? And more substantively, are we going to have to live with COVID for the rest of our lives? Will they eventually have to start naming the variants after people, like hurricanes? Are we ever going to get to see the lower half of strangers’ faces again?


When my thoughts start spiraling out of control like this, I remind myself to give this business back to the universe. I definitely cannot carry the weight of a global pandemic, or even a neighborhood microdemic (a word I just made up), on my back. There is nothing I can do except make sure my family and I are vaccinated and wear masks and be aware of risks while trying to enjoy life as best we can.

Which leads me back to gratitude. Even when–or especially when–we are existing in this state of emergency that has lasted way too long to be an emergency anymore but it’s definitely not normal (note the accelerating approach to spiraling thoughts)–I return to gratitude. Even when conventions of punctuation and syntax fall away, I can be thankful. And it makes me feel better to share.

(in no particular order) I am thankful that…

  • My church has reopened for (fully masked) in-person services and a few other activities. Going back to church every Sunday gives me an anchor and a steadiness that I crave. The (absolutely essential) safety protocols kinda get me down, but I’d rather be in the sanctuary following the rules than not be there at all. I am glad that online services have been meaningful for so many people, but after a while they just weren’t doing it for me.
  • Independent bookstores are thriving, and I am able to support my local women-owned and Black-owned and queer-owned book shops. Last week I walked into One More Page to pick up some books I had ordered online, and asked a bookseller what books she recommended for middle-grade readers that feature non-binary characters (per the request of my non-binary child). She practically leapt out from behind the counter and said “YES! Middle grade books featuring non-binary characters!” as if this were a request she had been waiting for and she was finally getting the chance to fulfill it. I always love going into this store and chatting with the booksellers and reading the post-it notes that offer each bookseller’s concise personal reviews.
  • I had a highly amusing visit with my primary care doctor last week, who I finally made an appointment with to have him look in my ears. Back in August I had an inner part of each ear pierced, which I’ve finally acknowledged was a mistake. The piercings have been bothering me for several weeks but I can’t actually see them because of where they are, although I could feel that something was wrong. Anyway my doctor took a look and confirmed that something was wrong. I asked him if he could take out the piercings and he said, “I could … but I really don’t think you want me to.” Apparently he’d never had a patient come to him with problematic piercings, so I was proud of that. He sent me on my way with a prescription for antibiotic ointment and instructions to see my ENT next week.
  • My book club is meeting in person again and there are now two babies who are involved! Two of my friends had babies over the past year! And I get to play with the babies while we talk about books (and other things). Did I mention BABIES?
  • After 16 years of running my own business, I am going to start a new full-time job in January! I will be Senior Writer for DC Action, which I’ve been working with as a consultant for the past two years, and I am so excited to be joining the staff. I launched my own business before I had kids, in part because of an insensitive remark that my previous boss made to a colleague who arrived a few minutes late to a staff meeting because she had to take care of the unexpected needs of one of her kids. I decided at that moment that I didn’t want to work anywhere that didn’t understand that my (future) kids were my priority. So working for myself all this time has been wonderful and liberating and fun and also challenging and frustrating. But I’ve always been able to put my kids first. Now that they’re closing in on 15 and 9, they still need me, but not in such immediate ways. Since I’ve been working for myself, people have often asked me if I would ever go back to a regular job. I always said only if the perfect opportunity presented itself. There’s no such thing as perfect, but this job is pretty close. I’ve known and loved the executive director for many years, and one of her mantras is family first, so I know that if my kids need me, I can be there. One of the COVID silver linings is that we all know now that many jobs sure can be done from home. So I will not be expected to go to the office every day, but I will still get to have colleagues and work on a team! I’ll get a regular paycheck and not have to beg clients to pay me! When I do go to my office it’s in a cool neighborhood with lots of places to get lunch, and I love going out to lunch!
  • I was back on the field this fall with my soccer team Ice & Ibuprofen. I’ve been playing on this team since 2016 and it brings me such joy, although my soccer skills are rudimentary at best. COVID canceled a couple seasons, then this spring and summer the league sponsored loosely organized pick-up games for anyone who was interested. I played all spring and summer and was happy to be moving again, although I didn’t love playing with strangers as much. A lot of the women I played with (and against) in the pick-up games were in their 60s, a few in their 70s, most of them way better than me, and quite a few of them on the bossy side. I did get to know a few folks who I have seen again this fall since the teams have reassembled, but it’s great to play with my team of encouraging and laid-back ladies again. AND I recruited my sister to join us this fall. Despite her concerns that her soccer skills would be rusty since she last wore cleats in 8th grade, she was fantastic and an excellent addition to the squad. It was fun to do a grown-up activity with her.

There’s plenty more, of course. But that’s enough for now. To balance out all that I’ve returned to the universe to carry, I extend my gratitude to and for the cosmos. And Thanksgiving leftovers. And pie.

They only ask for the impossible

It is up to me to make it real

They live in worlds of their own creation

I commute back and forth, hurtling through space when I am summoned

They commandeer my body, almost as insistently as when they were babies

Even now they want a snack and need a snuggle and ask me to stay until they fall asleep

They want me to guess their secrets, to read their minds, to understand what they can’t quite speak

Sometimes I do. Sometimes I can’t. Sometimes it’s too raw too much too painful to take in. I don’t have it in me anymore to pretend otherwise.

They want to be with me and away from me at the same time.

They only ask for the impossible

It is up to me to come up with an answer

My brain is doing that thing again. Thoughts, ideas, worries, questions careening around and crashing into each other, leaving shattered fragments that no one is coming to sweep up. Neurons are firing and everything is aflame.

Here are some of the things I’m thinking about.

  1. Why do we think everything at Target will be cheap but we end up always spending so much money there?
  2. Why did we think COVID would be over by now and unsurprisingly it’s getting worse? I am depressed by the thought that this will be the third consecutive year that COVID impacts our kids’ school years (not to mention everything else, but I am particularly concerned about my kids. And everyone’s kids.
  3. Will we ever be able to stop dealing with COVID?
  4. Do other people have to reschedule everything as often as I do?
  5. I am pleased with myself that I convinced my teenager to do something she didn’t want to do–wear a baseball hat–while learning to row, to keep the sun out of her eyes.
  6. I am proud of her for spending 10 hours this week on the Anacostia learning to row. The sport is fascinating to me, and I love the idea that she knows how to carry a boat into the water, and row down a river, and it’s beautiful to watch. I am hoping she will join the high school crew team this year.
  7. Zoe and her friend are in our kitchen right now doing some activity that they have not revealed. They said it’s a science experiment. Maybe they’re making a cake?
  8. Part of me wonders if I’ve spent so much time away from church during the pandemic that I won’t go back.
  9. I have used various products and still cannot seem to get our towels to smell good. What’s the secret?
  10. I worry that as a straight, cis person, there are just too many things I will never understand.
  11. I am proud of myself that I haven’t had a Coke or Dr. Pepper in several years. I was addicted to caffeinated soda for most of my life. I wish I had quit sooner.
  12. There are only 38 days left till the first day of school! We need supply lists! We need schedules! We need orientation! Zoe’s never walked around in her new high school! Zeke needs an amazing teacher and some awesome friends! So many expectations and unknowns.
  13. I am amazed at all the things my children know.
  14. I am surprised by how much I enjoy reading Rick Riordan’s books with Zeke.
  15. Yesterday at the library I ran into a friend who was there with a large group of children who were looking for books. My friend’s colleague said she needed extra hands to help the kids find books they wanted. So Zeke and I helped them look up titles and authors on the computer, find them on the shelves, and browse through the shelves for books we thought they would like. Both Zeke and I really enjoyed it. I told the person who was wrangling the kids to let me know next time they were going to the library so we could meet them again.
  16. Zeke is going to play soccer this fall and I am so excited for him, and truthfully, looking forward to being a soccer mom again (in addition to being a mom who plays soccer). I really hope he has a fabulous coach and great teammates and makes friends.
  17. I loved the new Black Widow movie and I am thinking about getting some new piercings in my ear in the style of Natasha and Yelena. I’m probably never going to get a tattoo, so why not have a little more bling in my ears?
  18. Zoe is leaving on Sunday for sleep away camp for two weeks. It’s a long time away from us after a year and a half of always being with us, except for an occasional sleepover with family. She asked me to write her notes in advance for her to open every day while she’s there, in addition to the email and mail I will send her while she’s gone. People say it’s better for campers to immerse themselves in camp life instead of thinking too much about home, but Zoe seems to need the connection. This will be her sixth year, so I guess she knows what she needs.
  19. This could be a whole different post, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what a particular experience it is to go clothes shopping with a teenager who 1) has a much different body type and confidence in her body than I did when I was a teenager and 2) has a much more sophisticated sense of style than I did when I was a teenager.
  20. I am so angry and tired of the racism and sexism and ableism that continue to dominate the narrative in sports, especially visible now as the Olympics are starting. Women aren’t allowed to wear shorts because men want to see them in bikinis, or they want to wear shorter shorts that are easier to run in but they are deemed too short for running. They can’t wear swim caps that protect natural Black hair. They can’t compete because they are trans or they smoked pot months ago in a place where it was legal. Or they are Paralympians who are deaf and blind and have to quit the team because they’re not allowed to bring a personal support person to Tokyo to help them navigate the city. I feel like there are just dark, smoky back rooms full of crotchety old, straight, cis, white men who are doing their damnedest to make life as hard as possible for women, women of color, LGBTQIA+ women, and women with disabilities.

There’s more that I’m thinking about, but I need to get dinner started. That’s another thing to think about.

What I’ve just finished doing at 3am: ordering more masks for my son. Fortunately, there are lots of masks on sale now. Perhaps some companies are slowing down their production or getting rid of their stock? I feel certain that Zeke will have to start third grade wearing a mask every day at school. I had been hoping and praying and wishing hard that he would be vaccinated by September, but from what I’ve been reading, that’s not going to happen.

This morning I learned that a friend of mine–not only vaccinated, but hyper aware of vaccination and COVID protocols as a volunteer for the county health departments vaccination clinics–got COVID anyway. Apparently from his son, who is not yet 12 and thus ineligible for the shot. And he thinks his son contracted the virus during an outdoor fishing camp. This news scares the crap out of me. I had heard about vaccinated people getting infected and I know that the vaccination makes it less likely that their case would be severe or fatal, but I don’t know who those other people were or how carefully or carelessly they behaved. But I do know my friend, who is a science teacher, takes the virus seriously. And I know we have all heard for a while now that it’s ok to be outside without a mask. Until, of course, it’s not.

We have a big basket of masks on the table beside our front door. And a bucket on the floor where we deposit the masks we’ve worn so they can be washed. But a lot has happened since the early days of the pandemic when masks were in short supply and we wore whatever we could get our hands on. So probably 75% of our masks are ones that we don’t wear. They don’t fit right, they’re made of uncomfortable material, they’re too hot, etc. Early in the mask wearing days we did what we had to do, but when you realize you’ll have to keep the mask on for hours at a time, you want one that doesn’t drive you crazy.

Beyond the immediate issue of making sure all of us have the masks we need to be safe, I am starting to wonder when we’ll be able to trust the CDC, the health departments, or whatever other medical authorities are telling us what to do. I believe in science and I absolutely know all these people know more than I do about COVID. But I also know there are politics involved and pressure from the public and doubtless mysterious forces unknown to me that influence these decisions. So how do we know the right thing to do? First we didn’t have to wear masks. And then we did. And now we don’t, sometimes, except when we do, but that seems to be highly variable right now. Meanwhile, cases are rising. Sure, they are worse in areas where fewer people are vaccinated. But now that there aren’t many mask rules, anyone can walk around breathing the air that everyone else breathes and there’s no telling whether they could be carrying COVID or not.

I hate wearing masks. Often my glasses get fogged up, no matter how I position or pinch the mask to avoid it. My face gets sweaty. When I try to take off my mask, it gets tangled in my glasses and I take them off by accident. I have been so relieved over the past several weeks to not worry about always wearing a mask, enjoying the freedom of my vaccinated status. But now I’m wearing them again to the store. So is my vaccinated teenager. I really don’t want to start wearing them outside again, but of course I will if I have to. But how will I know? Is there some ultimate COVID sage who I should listen to above all others? Do I rely on my own judgment, despite the fact that I have no expertise whatsoever in epidemiology?

Sure, life is better than it was a year ago. I am thankful that most of our family is vaccinated. But this thing is clearly not over, and I wonder if it ever really will be.

When people talk about having “all the feels,” does that include feelings like grumpy, disappointed, jealous, and agitated? My sense is that “all the feels” usually means “bittersweet” or “proud, yet wistful,” or something else that ends up leaning more toward the side of heartwarming and nostalgic rather than annoyed and overwhelmed. Maybe that’s just me.

Today was Zoe’s graduation from middle school. Except “graduation” here means, they showed everyone’s name on the screen, along with their photo, or if their photo wasn’t available, the Yellowjacket school mascot. A couple kids read poems they had written and the principal shared some “words of wisdom.” (Clearly I’m really feeling the air quotes today). Zoe watched this “ceremony” on her laptop, in her bed (where she has done most of her classes this year) as shared by her 7th grade teacher. Randy and Zeke and I watched downstairs. We quietly cheered for the handful of kids who we recognized. When Zoe’s name came up we cheered louder and I went upstairs to give her a hug. She was nonplussed. She is now a rising high school freshman and she is still, as usual, in her pajamas in the middle of the afternoon. And I don’t blame her. She and her classmates missed out on the 8th grade dance, Kings Dominion trip, picnic, and of course a real life graduation ceremony. She never even met most of her teachers in person. She’s only been to school a handful of times to take standardized tests or to pick up supplies. Tomorrow she will go to pick up a t-shirt and a certificate. Anticlimactic is an understatement.

I keep trying to hype high school, and as Zoe will be fully vaccinated in less than a week, she will be able to enjoy as normal a summer as is possible in a country that is still unevenly recovering from a pandemic. She’s looking forward to the beach, and returning to sleepaway camp, and getting to see friends in person at school. But she still won’t get back what was lost this year. Yesterday we were at the pediatrician for her annual checkup. When the doctor asked about Zoe’s sleep habits and when she goes to bed, I just laughed. The doctor said she’s gotten that reaction from all the other parents of teenagers this year. Pretty much everything Zoe reported sounded pretty typical, the doctor said. Which I guess makes me a feel a little better, a reminder that I’m not the only parent who has struggled every day for the past 18 months trying to figure out how to keep their kids engaged while also cutting them an appropriate amount of slack. Of course I know I’m not the only one, because I have friends and they have all had similar if not identical struggles this year. But in the moment, it’s easy to think you’re the only one who doesn’t have a clue what to do, because at any moment the pressure is only on you to figure it out.

Meanwhile, this week I have also been trying to get my client work done. At the beginning of the school year, when we decided to homeschool Zeke for second grade, my husband asked if it would be too much for me to be Zeke’s teacher while also running my business. I said, “probably, but I feel like that’s what we have to do.” Now at the end of the school year I can confidently say, “absolutely, it was too much to do,” but I still feel like it was what we had to do. Hopefully Zeke learned something. None of my clients have fired me yet, so I guess I managed ok, although I know I could’ve stayed more on top of my work. When you’re homeschooling, you have to provide some sort of evidence at the end of the year that your kid learned something. This can be a portfolio evaluated by a qualified professional, or a standardized test. As much as I do not like standardized tests, I chose that option because it was a lot simpler. Since Zeke was in second grade, I gave him the second grade test in late April, when we had pretty much finished everything I planned to do and both of us were running out of steam. He did great. Then this week I learned that you’re supposed to give your kid the test for the grade they’re entering, not the one they finished. This is totally counterintuitive to me, but I wanted to do the right thing, so I ordered the 3rd grade test and gave it to him. The test is online. When I tried to access the scores, it kept telling me sections of the test were incomplete. Apparently Zeke raced through several sections (it’s a long test) so he could play Xbox sooner. So we sat down together and I watched him answer all the additional questions. This included the reading comprehension section. One of the reading passages was extremely confusing, even to me. So in the end his reading comprehension score was not great. In fact, it was much lower than his score in April. I emailed all the test results to the principal, who shared my confusion about why you would give the 3rd grade test to a second grader, but she assured me that she would put him in class with the right teacher who will presumably see that he reads well when they hear him read.

When I submitted Zeke’s test results to the school system, the person in charge of home instruction students wrote back and asked if Zeke would be continuing home instruction next year. I replied that no, I had already enrolled Zeke at his old elementary school for third grade. She responded, “how wonderful for your son!” I chose to interpret that as her pleasure that things would be back to normal for him, not her relief that he would not be forced to do homeschool with me for another year.

The rest of the time I’ve just been trying to balance Zeke’s screen time with other activities that he can do without me, reminding myself over and over that he starts camp next week and will be intellectually stimulated, have the chance to make friends, and run around outside. Since he hasn’t had to get up and get dressed at a particular time on a regular basis since last March, this also feels like the first week of school for him, even though it’s summer. To that end, I’ve been trying to buy him new sneakers. He has complained for a while that his are uncomfortable, so I assumed he had outgrown them. I’ve bought his last few pair of shoes without getting him measured because the only children’s shoe store I know about is 40 minutes away. We were all set to go there on Tuesday, when I discovered they are closed on Tuesday. We went to the mall, against my better judgement. Three different people in three different stores measured his feet and got three different sizes. We didn’t buy any shoes.

When Zoe and I set out for the pediatrician yesterday, we discovered our van had a flat tire. One $22 Lyft later, we made it to the doctor. I didn’t have time to deal with the tire until last night. At 9:30, the AAA driver arrived, and had me drive my van up the ramp of his tow truck. It felt like being on an amusement park ride but much scarier because you’re in your own car. He towed us up the street to the service station, and then had me back the van off the truck! A friend of mine lives in the apartment building behind the gas station, so I alerted her to come to her window and watch. Apparently she waved but I couldn’t see because I was trying not to drive my car off the side of a truck.

Thankfully, today the van is fixed. They changed the oil and replaced the wiper blades, and the total repair cost was less than I’ve ever paid for a car repair, so that’s something. I should have the words “silver linings” tattooed on my arm. But not in air quotes.

  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 feel like my brain is producing a constant stream of reminders of everything I’m doing wrong or failing to do at all. Even if I take a walk or meditate or try breathing techniques, it all comes rushing back at me in waves as soon as I stop. I am neglecting all these things I’m supposed to do for my health, and I’m overwhelmed by them. 

My kids want my undivided attention all the time. Zeke cries when I try to get him to do schoolwork he doesn’t want to do. Every day is a battle over what he’s willing to do. He is upstairs right now sobbing because I asked him to write something about a tv show we just watched about otters, which he loved, and which he was telling me all about. I just asked him to write down what he told me, but he refused.

I forget so many things. I don’t respond to emails. I completely space out on tasks I’m supposed to do. I write things down and don’t do them, or I forget to write them down. I can’t concentrate at all. 

I can’t keep up with my text conversations with friends because they always seem to be texting when I am in the middle of both teaching Zeke and trying to do a work task.

My sleep is total chaos. The medicine I’m taking for my sleep disorder doesn’t always work. I often end up wiped out by evening and fall asleep at 5 or 6 for an hour or two. Sometimes I am awake until 2 or 3 or 4 because I can’t get my mind to calm down. 

I am so tired of missing everything that we can’t do because of COVID. I am tired of being disappointed, and my kids being disappointed, because something we used to do, or we want to do isn’t possible. I am tired of not knowing when things will get better, or when my kids will be back in school every day. 

I am tired of everyone being on top of each other all the time and having to relocate a million times a day to work. I am tired of battles about screen time and video games and social media. 

I am tired of feeling like this. I know I am depressed, but I’m not so depressed that I can’t get out of bed or function. So maybe I’m not really depressed? Randy is being extra nice to me because he can see I’m struggling, which I appreciate. But I’m tired of struggling. Some days things go well, and I think I’m better, but then something doesn’t go well and I’m back to feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. 

I feel like I can’t accomplish simple things anymore, like figuring out what to make for dinner. 

I feel like since I’m trying to do everything at once, I am not doing anything well. 

I’m tired of being worried about the potential health consequences of all of our actions.

I’m tired of grief. 

I don’t want people to try to solve my problems or pity me. I know everyone is struggling and suffering. I wish I were more resilient. I’m tired of feeling pathetic. 

One of the only things that brings me joy right now is making art. Now I have stacks of paper and canvases piling up around my house that I don’t know what to do with. 

I just keep feeling like everything is too hard. I know my life is relatively easy, compared with many people around the world. We have a house, and enough food, and we can buy the things we need. None of us are sick and we haven’t lost anyone close to us from COVID. So why can’t I make myself feel better, do better, be better? It’s just too hard. And then I feel pathetic. 

But…here’s some of my art.

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.

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