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What is it called
when you’ve been
hiding inside
for so long
that when it’s safe
to emerge
you are reluctant
to embrace
your freedom
not quite
trusting
the invitation

What’s the word
for when you
can only
sit on a bench
watching people
who are probably
your friends
but whom you can’t
quite recognize
talk to each other
and laugh
you assume
they are smiling
too

What does it mean
when you’ve
forgotten
how to make
polite conversation
at a gathering of
more than
three people
when most
of the people
seem extraneous
and make you feel
awkward and
ill-equipped
for the world

How do you
follow the rules
when they are
constantly
being rewritten
how do you know
which ones to
obey and
which ones to
ignore

Where do you
find the strength
required
to survive
in the wild
when you’ve
become accustomed
to shuffling
back and forth
in your
designated
enclosure
littered with
all the evidence
of living

© Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
April 2021

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.

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

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

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

Then I stormed out of the house.

To go to T-Mobile.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I have no idea why my hair grows out instead of down. I have left the realm of Bob Ross hair and have entered Malcolm Gladwell territory, and that’s not somewhere my hair wants to be.

But like every other seemingly small decision in our current circumstances, I have to evaluate the relative risk and safety of getting my hair cut. I’ve gone to see my stylist once since the pandemic started, and the salon was practically deserted and we were both masked. But every day is a new chance for some coronavirus bits to float in through the front door, right?

School starts a week from tomorrow and our house is in chaos. We are rearranging most of the rooms in order to give the kids their own rooms. This was a shift we had first discussed in the spring before the pandemic, which we planned to implement when summer started. Then we canceled that plan because my office, which was to become Zeke’s bedroom, was suddenly occupied by my husband, who was working from home. Because my work is more flexible and sporadic, my office became wherever in the house I was sitting.

Of course none of that has changed—we are still both working from home—but the realization that the pandemic is nowhere near over and the kids may be doing school from home from now through June has become undeniable. So we have been selling furniture and giving away furniture and buying new furniture and rearranging furniture to accommodate everyone in the hopes that we will each have a modicum of privacy and quiet. Randy will carve out a corner of our bedroom for his office and I will try to create an oasis for myself on one wall of the family room. In the meantime, our stuff is in bins and boxes and piled in the hall while we try to assemble all the pieces of the puzzle.

Hopefully a positive side effect of this undertaking will be the purging of many toys and books and who knows what else that’s lurking in our closets. I have no idea what to do with all the upcycled art I’ve made. It feels like it would be counterproductive to throw it in the trash from whence it was once rescued. I am trying to calmly remind myself that this whole thing will take a while. Of course we want the kids’ rooms mostly in place by Tuesday, but getting all the details right and inevitably buying accessories and giving things away in order to maintain the proper balance of stuff takes time.

Zoe is the most excited of all of us about this transition. She has thoughtfully researched design concepts on Pinterest and noted cool lighting and decor she’s seen on TikTok. I asked her if she could help Zeke with his decorating, so she asked him what kind of vibe he was going for. I don’t think vibe means a lot to a seven-year-old, even one as sophisticated as Zeke. He has said he wants to put up some of his drawings on the walls. I suggested getting a white board so he could write down things he needs to do or when certain activities are happening. He said, “maybe YOU need to remember when things are happening, but I don’t.” Perhaps he’s right.

So we’ve been spending a lot of furniture but it’s probably fine because we saved so much on school supplies this year. No need for new backpacks or lunchboxes or pencils or crayons or erasers or glue sticks. Or all those supplies that are communally used in elementary school—tissues, ziploc bags, wipes. We did go to Target and buy some notebooks and folders and post-it notes for each kid. Otherwise we have enough crayons, markers, pencils, and paper for a whole class of kids. We stopped by Zeke’s school today to pick up his new iPad, and we received instructions from Zoe’s school about how to reset hers for the new year.

The thrill of a new school year is tarnished by the fact that the kids aren’t actually going to school. I’ve seen so many first day photos on Facebook of kids at their desks, or in bed with a laptop. Zoe dyed some of her hair pink this afternoon for the occasion. We’ve gotta figure out something to get us excited.

Seems we’re at a tipping point where more things are broken than not. This is metaphorical and real.

Yes, we have indoor plumbing and three bathrooms, but at any given time two of our toilets are out of order. Restrooms available for paying customers only.

Tripping over piles of dirty laundry and bags of recyclables and items waiting to be repaired or repacked or repurposed, looking for the space to create two classrooms and two offices for the four of us.

Mold is creeping in behind the sink and chunks of the kitchen tile are breaking off (since we had to tear up the floor on top because the kitchen sink leak was worse than we thought) while we procrastinate, waiting for the kitchen fairy godmother to appear and find affordable and aesthetically pleasing countertops and flooring and cabinetry for us that both matches and increases our resale value and she will wave her magic wand and make our kitchen beautiful.

Now every breakdown is weighted down with symbolism. Our country and our world are crumbling as we watch, why should I be any different, says our house in an Eeyore voice.

Of course I know how lucky we are. You need not remind me. But at this moment we are trapped by dark clouds that are not just threatening but delivering on their promised storms and that bright side is just out of reach.

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.

Some of the subtle and unsettling changes in daily life that you notice 65 days into quasi-quarantine:

Instead of searching through the piles of clean laundry on the couch looking for some underwear or the pants that still fit, you’re mostly looking for a clean mask that fits.

You don’t realize until nighttime when you’re on a zoom call with friends that you haven’t looked in a mirror all day and had no idea that your hair looked like that.

Instead of showering at your convenience, you have to negotiate shower privileges with your spouse because both of you roll out of bed and start the day without bothering to shower until a) your first zoom call of the day or b) you need to leave the house to go to the grocery store or pickup takeout food.

Even though you can’t see it behind the mask, you still put on lipstick before leaving the house. Some habits stick around.

Instead of attempting to clean the house, you engage in micro cleaning. If one kitchen counter is wiped down, or one table cleared, or one shelf tidied, you count it as a victory. It is impossible to clean the whole house when everyone is in it all the time.

You realize that Target brand toilet paper is actually fine. Even though you’ve always been a toilet paper snob, both a Charmin loyalist and disdainful of Scott, when you found shelves filled with Target brand you snapped it up and have been pleasantly surprised.

You are grateful to three different friends who generously gave you gifts of dish soap. When you ran out, before your friends came to the rescue, you ordered dish soap online. Then it arrived and now you are blessed with dish soap to last for a while, which is good because your family continues to eat and drink with gusto.

You cannot concentrate on anything for mire than 30 seconds except when you are alone, which typically happens only after midnight or before 9am if you are able to wake up at 8. You seldom use these hours wisely, but that’s nothing new. Occasionally you meditate or write, and that has to be good enough.

I am sitting in my car, which is parked in front of our house, hiding from my kids.

I just spent a long time talking to a friend commiserating about mom stuff. Even though I know it intellectually it is always reassuring to hear how other people’s kids aren’t perfect and are, in fact, making their mothers crazy the same way yours are.

Of course you know I love my kids with all of my being, but this 24/7 togetherness is wearing on me. I’m sure it’s wearing on them too. And they have even less opportunity to escape since they can’t drive. I guess theoretically they could go hide in the car too. But they haven’t tried. Yet.

It is not my nature to find people to blame my troubles on. Nor do I usually fault myself for everything that goes wrong. But under sustained stress I begin casting about for the culprit. This afternoon while Zeke was finishing his lunch I started clearing the space in the family room where he does his online martial arts class. I sent him to put his uniform on. When he tried to open the door to his and his sister’s room, she quickly shut it because she was about to change. Zeke came back downstairs, still in his pajamas. So I ran upstairs and yelled at Zoe that Zeke’s class started in five minutes and he needed his uniform. She yelled that she didn’t know that and stormed out of the room to change in the bathroom. I brought the uniform downstairs and turned off the video on the Zoom call so Zeke could change. I tried to tie his belt, because Zoe usually does it but she was in the bathroom, and I did it wrong because I always do. Zeke’s supposed to know how to do it himself, and he learned it, but then forgot, because the instructors or Zoe always do it for him. Meanwhile, his instructor on the Zoom call is doing a belt tying lesson at that exact moment, and Zeke is playing with Legos. I tell him to look at the screen and follow along. He says he can’t see the screen (perhaps because he’s not looking). I attempt to drag him away from the Legos to in front of the tv so he can follow the demonstration. Apparently the dragging hurts him and he crumpled and starts to cry. So I feel terrible that I hurt him and furious that he wouldn’t listen and irritated that he can’t remember how to tie the freaking belt. I am mad at myself, at him, and at Zoe. Then I shift that anger to the coronavirus. And then to Trump. And white supremacists and our white supremacist culture. Maybe I’m also a little pissed off at whoever it was in Wuhan, China who ate a bat or a pangolin or whatever animal it was that transmitted the virus to humans, thereby launching a global pandemic. And what is a wet market anyway? It sounds messy and gross.

So I’m in my car. Not meditating. Not doing yoga. I didn’t do the yoga yesterday that I promised myself. Just stewing while looking through the windshield at the hot pink roses and watching the blue sky through the window.


Zeke has figured out how to get a laugh. He just shouts or says or sings outrageous words or phrases, sometimes using funny voices. When he was learning to ride his bike he kept yelling, “Peruvian chicken!” as if it were a battle cry. Another day he circled the family room saying, “Romania! Where are you? Romania!” At dinner he’s come out with so many weird remarks that Zoe started keeping a list. Then last night I was carrying him up the stairs to bed because he insisted he was too tired to move and because I’m a sucker. He looked over my shoulder at Randy, who was at the bottom of the stairs, and said, in a pretty good approximation of an old lady voice, “Matthew! Get some water for Granny!” And I started to laugh so hard that I had to put him down because my stomach hurt.

So I’ll probably go back in the house now, because my kids are usually funny and nice. And I’m hungry.

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.

I miss eating at an Indian or Thai restaurant and ordering something that’s just a little spicier than I expected and having my water glass endlessly refilled by the server.

I miss taking my kids to the library. Does anyone else feel increasingly awkward about having all these books checked out way past their due date? I miss reading about a new book or discovering a new author or series with Zeke and going immediately to the library app to put something on hold.

I miss variety.

I miss hugging my parents and my sister and brother-in-law and nephews. I especially miss all the baby snuggles I am missing out on.

I miss planning fun excursions for my family and actually going on them.

I miss being able to think a complete thought in solitude.

I miss sitting across the table from friends and having breakfast or lunch or dinner and a conversation no one else is listening to. Or if other people are listening, they’re strangers so it doesn’t matter.

I miss the assurance that if something breaks or someone gets hurt I can get it fixed or get them checked out without endangering anyone.

I miss browsing.

I miss Zeke and his cousin playing together in person, even though it isn’t always peaceful. Zeke texted Susannah recently that Charlie is his best friend.

I miss managing Zoe’s complicated social life.

I miss being able to run to the store for a couple items and not have my family tell me to stay safe, like I need to be vigilant and ob the lookout for a dangerous virus that might jump out from behind a tower of cereal and attack me.

I miss privacy.

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