You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘small house living’ category.

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.

Zoe and I stayed standing in the waiting room of Patient First tonight, wearing our homemade masks and trying not to touch anything. I sanitized my hands seven times while we were there. The receptionist, nurse, radiologist, and doctor were all wearing masks and safety glasses. It makes you feel a little like you’re interacting with robots or droids. Although the doctor had a stutter, which made him more recognizably human.

We went to urgent care at the recommendation of an unknown doctor with whom Zoe had a free telemedicine appointment tonight, courtesy of our new insurance plan and COVID-19, who suggested an X-ray of Zoe’s thumb and wrist to rule out a fracture. This was a couple hours after Zoe wiped out on her bike. I was taking a nap when Randy called to ask me to come pick Zoe up because she had fallen and hurt herself. I didn’t realize what a mess she was until we got home and I was tending to her wounds in the bathroom and wishing our bathroom was cleaner. I asked Siri to play Taylor Swift and asked Zoe to take deep breaths with me as she was on the verge of hyperventilating. I helped her wash off the scrapes, on her elbow, hands, knee, and hip, sprayed them with hydrogen peroxide, and bandaged to the best of my ability. Randy was my assistant, handing me bandages and medical tape. Turns out we had very little tape on hand, although I think some of it was leftover from when Zeke had surgery as an infant. We threw that one away. I realized I need to freshen up our first aid supplies.

So after Zoe was settled downstairs on the couch, I donned a mask and headed to CVS. I bought a wide variety of sprays, ointments, bandages, and tape because I always overbuy, but especially when I’m anxious. And I bought lemonade and seltzer and some extra Easter candy as a treat, as well as a couple bags of Bugles. Don’t judge.

I came home to the news that Zoe needed to get an x-ray, so I washed my hands 50 more times and helped her change clothes and used the new supplies to re-bandage all her wounds. Then we headed out.

Now we’re safely home and Zoe is feeling much better. Thankfully nothing is broken. The nurse at urgent care carefully removed all the bandages and cleaned everything again and reapplied medicine and put fresh bandages on. She wrapped an ace bandage around Zoe’s hurt hand and wrist.


It’s almost 2am and I’ve just returned from an eerie drive around Arlington in the rain trying to find Zoe a toothbrush because hers had somehow become contaminated and surprisingly we had no extra toothbrushes anywhere in our house. I had to go to four stores until I found one that was open, which ended up being a 7-11. Between Easter Sunday hours and coronavirus hours, everything is closed. And there was no one on the road. I have driven around late at night on my fair share of occasions and there is always at least a little traffic. I think I saw four other cars driving in my 30-minute odyssey.

Our house is a gigantic mess. The dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer are all running right now but there are still dishes filling the sink and piled up on the counter. There are boxes and cans of food piled up on another counter because I didn’t feel like it was safe to put them away yet. There is dirty laundry on the floor by the washing machine and clean laundry piled on the loveseat. There is crap everywhere. I’m wondering where I will get the energy to clean it up. And I do NOT have high standards, but I do need clean clothes to wear and glasses to drink from. I have changed clothes several times today–every time I went outside and came back in. And I have to wash all the masks that all of us wore today. I wore several myself. And regardless of how many times I washed my hands I still feel like those red spiked molecules are lurking.


Zeke is having a rough time. Both of my children have always been unusually emotionally self-aware, but I forget sometimes that he’s not even 7 (at least for a couple more weeks). He has not been acting like himself, and of course I understand why but I’m not sure what to do about it. I know I need to spend more time with him but I’m struggling to figure out what to do with that time that will be helpful to him, and how to avoid getting distracted. I keep thinking he will ask for something if he needs it, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, and I know I can’t expect him to be self-sufficient even when he acts like it.

Last night we had a Zoom Passover Seder and Zeke refused to participate. He wouldn’t even appear on camera. The only thing he was willing to do was nibble matzoh and then find the afikomen. Literally five minutes before the Seder he and his cousin Charlie FaceTimed to practice the four questions and decide who was going to read which questions. But when the time came, Zeke wanted no part of it. I understand on one level that all this behavior is in direct response to the crisis we’re living through, but I am not sure how to help Zeke deal with it.


This morning we watched the UUCA Easter Sunday service on YouTube. It was a moving service with thoughtful and apt reflections about how the times we’re living in are changing us, and how growth can require darkness and patience. Rev. Terasa brought her metaphor to life by making sourdough bread during her sermon. I guess that’s something that video preaching from home enables you to do. In the end, I really wanted some fresh bread. And I really missed my church people. And I stumbled back into the darkness. I saw all these Facebook posts of friends whose families dressed up for Easter even though they weren’t going to church, and took beautiful pictures and hid and found eggs. We didn’t even get around to dyeing eggs. We didn’t have a special meal. I ate a bowl of cereal while I watched church at 10am and then Zoe and I ate macaroni and cheese and peas when we got home from urgent care at 10pm. Today did not speak to me of new beginnings.


To be fair I should acknowledge that yesterday was a better day. Zoe and I went on a four-mile bike ride, which was the most I’ve ridden my bike in years. The weather was beautiful. We passed several people we know while we were out. And as we pedaled past a field, we saw a little girl taking some of her first steps to her dad while her mom took pictures. We cheered for her. I am pretty sure some other good things happened yesterday too, but honestly I don’t even remember. The days are so long now and they bleed into the nights where sometimes we sleep and sometimes we don’t.

A sage person recently reminded me that two contradictory things can be true at the same time. This wisdom seems particularly relevant right now, as the world struggles with a terrifying pandemic that is killing hundreds of thousands of people and causing widespread unemployment, hunger, and myriad manifestations of physical, social, and emotional distress. At the same time (which seems almost cruel to say because the first thing is so awful it feels insensitive to contradict its weight) there are good things happening that would never have otherwise been possible.

In no particular order:

  • Greater appreciation of teachers and school staff
  • Cancellation of standardized testing
  • More downtime for over scheduled kids (and adults)
  • Less consumer spending (at least at our house)
  • Dramatic reduction in air and water pollution
  • Families and friends connecting more using technology
  • Grandparents learning how to use more technology
  • Individuals and families getting outside and exercising together
  • Greater appreciation of grocery store workers, janitors, garbage collectors, and other essential workers who don’t earn enough money
  • More time for kids to explore their interests and passions
  • Opportunity to be creative about learning (please note I am NOT saying this is easy or that homeschooling is simple or that most of us aren’t going berserk, just that we can think differently about what’s important for our kids to be learning and doing and maybe that’s not the same as what it has been for a long time)
  • Workplaces learning how to be more flexible
  • Greater awareness of the brokenness of our healthcare system and hopefully more public and political will to fix it (of course doctors, nurses, and medical staff are AMAZING! I’m talking about the overall system, insurance, etc.)
  • Neighbors helping each other out more
  • People who don’t usually go to church (or synagogue or mosque, etc) or museums, or the theater, or the ballet, or wherever else, may check these things out online and maybe find new destinations and communities when this thing is over.

I’m sure there are many more, but I’ve been thinking a lot about adaptability and innovation. Yesterday I was both delighted and dismayed to watch Zoe’s first home-based virtual martial arts class. Dismayed only because our family loves the EvolveAll community so much. EvolveAll has been a major part of our lives for eight years now. In recent times, since both Zoe and Zeke are students there and since Zoe was training for and earned her black belt, we typically spent six to nine hours in the studio every week. We love the instructors and the staff, we love the kids and parents, we love the warm, encouraging, and fun vibe. And we haven’t been able to be there for three weeks!

I was thrilled, however, (although not surprised!) to see the tremendous effort that Emerson, Christian, Elijah, Kamil, and the team have put in to creating a new experience for the kids. Over the past three weeks they had posted training videos online, but watching a martial arts video on your own is not that much fun, compared to the feeling of working hard together in class. So yesterday EvolveAll launched its live classes via Zoom, along with a participation component for parents and kids using Class Dojo. I could tell how glad Zoe was to see her martial arts instructors and friends again, even if only on a screen, and to get back to practicing black belt techniques.

Through the magic of Zoom, Master Emerson could see into everyone’s living rooms or basements, and offered guidance on how people could modify their techniques so as not to kick any nearby furniture. At the end of class he solicited feedback from the students, whose main request was more and longer classes.

Of course everyone would rather be doing martial arts (and ballet class, and music lessons, and soccer practice, and everything else that’s been cancelled) together in the studio or on the field and not in their living rooms, but it is so reassuring to know that just because you can’t see your people doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Maintaining a strong sense of community is essential during physical isolation, and I know these kids (and their parents) will never forget the instructors, teachers, coaches, and other folks who are helping us stay together.

  • This is what you do when your six-year-old purple stripe belt has his first live martial arts class via Zoom 30 minutes after your first Google Hangout staff meeting with your new client is scheduled to begin.

  1. Make Zeke clean up rogue legos off the rug
  2. Move table off the rug–stand it up between other stuff near the back door
  3. Create a Zoom account for your six-year-old on your iPad
  4. Find martial arts Zoom invitation in your email
  5. Text it to yourself so you can open on your iPad
  6. Copy Zoom link into iCal on the iPad
  7. Show Zeke how to open iCal and click on the link
  8. Show Zeke how to login to Zoom
  9. Have Zeke remind you how to AirPlay iPad screen onto tv
  10. When Zeke asks how long until the class starts, realize you need to go ahead with that time-telling lesson
  11. Gather materials to make paper clock using instructions from PBS Kids
  12. Realize you don’t have a metal brad so try substituting with a weird plastic brad from the toolbox
  13. Assemble clock
  14. Realize the plastic brad does not allow the paper hands to move easily
  15. At Zeke’s suggestion, replace paper hands with pipe cleaners
  16. Provide brief lesson on how to tell time
  17. Make fruit smoothie because you realize you haven’t eaten all day and you’re going into a 90-minute video call
  18. Put blender in the sink and turn on faucet to sprayer mode to rinse out blender like they do at Starbucks
  19. While putting smoothie ingredients away, realize that blender is overflowing with water and faucet is now spraying water all over the kitchen floor
  20. Hastily up kitchen floor
  21. Briefly sit on patio to do conference call outside but realize that’s totally untenable
  22. Sprint upstairs to do the call in your office, which is now your husband’s office, while your husband does his conference call in the bedroom
  23. Meet new coworkers at virtual staff meeting and try to figure out four new assignments received in past 24 hours
  24. Try to remain focused despite incoming calls and messages from friends, family, and other clients

This gets easier, right?

Right?

Last Sunday my friend D and I led the service at UUCA, on the theme of Embracing the Mess. D wrote a great scene in which our kids (and one bonus kids) demonstrated how to make a mess and we figured out how to deal with it. This was not much of a stretch for any of us.

A moment from our “Embracing the Mess” service on July 14.

If you’d like to watch the service, visit http://www.uucava.org/livestream/ and click on archives and click on the July 14, 2019 service.

Here’s my reflection from Sunday:

One of the reasons I became a Unitarian Universalist after spending many formative years as a Presbyterian was that I wanted more variety than the Bible seemed to offer. When I discovered that UUs looked to many sacred and secular texts as sources of inspiration, I was delighted. As a writer and reader, I love discovering wisdom from new people and places.

That said, I acknowledge that the Bible includes some great stories. They’re not always easy to understand, universal truths are embedded in those parables. My perspective on Jesus is that he was a kind, compassionate, and generous person and a powerful teacher. When I think about embracing the mess, I keep coming back to this story from the book of Luke, chapter 10, verses 38-42.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Picture the scene. You have an unexpected celebrity guest—plus his entourage—and you’re working frantically in the kitchen to find something suitable to serve. You’re pouring chips and salsa into your best bowls. You’re searching for the corkscrew to open a bottle of sauvignon blanc. You’re preheating the oven to pop in some Trader Joe’s appetizers. 

And you’re doing it all by yourself, while your sister is in the other room laughing at your guest’s amusing anecdotes and not lifting a finger to help you. Maybe it’s not your sister, but your significant other or your roommate. Regardless, you’re growing increasingly frustrated at them for having a good time while you’re working your tush off.

I have a question for you. How many of are familiar with the enneagram? How many of you are type 2?

For those of you who don’t know the enneagram, it’s an ancient tool used to help us understand motivations and behaviors. The enneagram can be a useful way to examine the choices we make and help us to become emotionally healthier. 

Type 2 is known as the helper or the giver. Martha was likely a type 2. A bunch of guys show up on her doorstep and she immediately gets to work making dinner. There is a need to be met, and she assumes it is her responsibility to meet it. She does not understand why no one else is helping, because it is so obvious to herthat there is work to be done. 

I will confess that I am also a type 2. After years of emotional work, however, I would like to think I am a healthy 2. This means I would probably head to the kitchen to get snacks for Jesus and his friends, but then I would order pizza so I could join in the conversation sooner. I might ask the apostles to take everyone’s drink orders. 

Unhealthy 2s plow ahead with all the work themselves, becoming increasingly resentful. Healthy 2s will ask for help when they need it, or even decline a request that someone makes of them. My spiritual director calls this “the holy freedom to say no.” The enneagram provides a direction for each type to move toward in order to balance out unhealthy tendencies. For type 2s, we are guided toward 4, known as the romantic or the individualist. I suspect Mary in this story was a 4. When Jesus showed up at her house, she knew exactly what she wanted to do, which was sit and hang out with him. What could possibly be more important?

I can’t count the number of times when I was younger that I cleared the table and started doing dishes when I had friends over just to get the mess out of the way. And then missed out on time I could have spent having fun and laughing with people I loved. The dishes will always be there. I have learned that community, conversation, and connection are much more important. 

A couple months ago, a friend of mine from college emailed me to say he and family were going to be in town and wanted to get together. He asked if we wanted to meet at a restaurant, but I suggested they come to our house, knowing it would be more relaxing, and that the kids could play, and we would have more time to talk. He agreed, although he suggested we get takeout and he offered to bring wine and dessert. I ordered dinner from Bangkok 54 and we had a fabulous time, and I did very little work.   

Of course, I’m not saying you never have to clean your house, but that embracing the mess provides an opportunity to cultivate both connection and creativity. 

How many of you have ever lived in a house overrun by Legos?

This has been my house for the past decade. 

We have built Lego sets of a lunar lander, Hogwarts, the Millennium Falcon, the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, countless superheroes and villains and their vehicles, and many more. We have thousands of Legos that have been used to build fabulous creations even more imaginative than the sets you buy at the store. Everyone at our house is a builder, but Zeke in particular is on his way to becoming a master builder. Where I see Legos scattered all over the coffee table and the floor, he sees superhero hideouts and innovative spaceships and cars that can dive and fly and so many technologies that might actually come to fruition someday. I have no doubt that he could become an engineer and design the prototype for an actual car that flies.

Our house is also littered with overflowing bins of art supplies, books piled up next to densely packed bookshelves, and magazines with ideas for making new stuff out of old stuff you have lying around. Sure, sometimes I wish my house looked like something out of a magazine, where you’re sure no one actually lives there because there’s no stuff. But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to give up the time our family spends making art, reading, and creating with everything that surrounds us. 

Embracing the mess opens up possibilities and allows for freedom. This can be risky. And liberating.

Both my kids attended AUCP, the phenomenal preschool located here at UUCA. After Zoe graduated and before Zeke started, AUCP launched a program called Timber Tuesday, where, every other week, a class spends the entire three-hour school day in the woods near Long Branch Nature Center. Rain or shine. I have never been an outdoorsy person, and I was skeptical about this at first, but AUCP’s director Susan Parker quickly sold me on the value of spending this time outside. Kids who struggled to conform to classroom expectations thrived outside when given plenty of space to explore. Kids with sensory or motor challenges pushed themselves to climb rocks and touch trees and splash in the creek. As a parent, one of the most important lessons I learned was that it’s ok to get messy. Just bring a change of clothes. Or be prepared to ride home in your underwear. 

I remember sometime after I had become a Timber Tuesday convert that my kids and I were out after a rainstorm. Instead of instructing my kids to avoid a puddle, I encouraged them to jump in it. They were astonished. 

They have certainly taken that encouragement to heart. Two weeks ago, our family was on vacation in Lewes, Delaware. One evening we went to the beach to watch the sunset. One minute we were walking with our toes in the water, and next thing I knew both of my kids were laughing and splashing, submerged up to their chests in the Delaware Bay, fully clothed. Then we went to get ice cream. Because why not?

lettersWelcome to the scavenger hunt at our house! I’m sure you’ll enjoy rifling through the eclectic collection of special treasures we have thoughtfully gathered in our home. Do your best to find all 10 items and you will win an exciting prize to be announced later.

1. One letter, number, or shape magnet that has been peed on. Don’t worry, you will not need to pee on any magnets yourself. You can find a whole bucket of said magnets, previously peed on, in the hallway. They were peed on by Zeke after his bath while I was searching for the diaper ointment. Randy put them in the sink to wash them off, but then he put Zeke to bed and didn’t get around to washing them off. I moved them into a bucket so Zoe could brush her teeth in the sink. No one has gotten around to washing them off yet. Bonus points if you volunteer!

2. A trail of cornstarch. Did I mention Zeke’s diaper rash? One of the remedies suggested by his babysitter is sprinkling cornstarch all over his parts. I have not yet found any targeted way to sprinkle cornstarch. But I did discover tonight after Zeke apparently somersaulted into Zoe’s bike chain (because Zoe’s bike is in the hallway) and got bicycle grease all over his beautiful new sweater that he wore for the first time today, that you can use cornstarch to remove bike grease from clothing! Generously sprinkle cornstarch all over the grease and let it absorb the grease. Then later, scrub off the grease with dish detergent. It works! You’re welcome to bring your own Ziploc bag or tupperware container and take home several spoonsful of cornstarch for your own personal uses. We easily have a year’s supply in the one tub we purchased. Actually, no need to bring your own container. Move on to #3

3. Tupperware with a lid that fits. We have a whole cabinet full of plastic containers and lids. If you can find a container and lid that go together, they’re yours! Use them for the cornstarch, or #4

4. Leftovers. The way food ingredients are sold and recipes are written, we typically make dinner for four people. While there are, in fact, four people in our family, one of them eats very little, except of course when he eats a lot. But you never know. We almost always end up with half a serving of food left. Or maybe one and a half servings. Or maybe three pieces of fish but no sides. Or a pint of couscous. We are not good at eating leftovers. Call us lazy, or excessively picky, or just call us when the dinner you’ve prepared is ready for us to eat. But we don’t want the leftovers. You can have them. Please fill up your containers.

5.  Things for Sale or FreecyclingWe have a lot of things we are trying to get rid of. We just have a lot of things. And a small house. And we don’t need all the things. We donate a lot of things to people and organizations. But we also would like a little extra cash, so sometimes we try to sell things. We post them on Craigslist and we get snarky replies from jerks. Occasionally someone buys something. But we have stuff that we just don’t want to throw away because someone might want it and someone might pay money on it and surely that Smurf or ET stuffed animal from the 80s will be super valuable on eBay. Really, we just want to make some space. So if you see anything you want to buy, just make an offer. Even if it’s not one of the things we’re trying to sell. Bring cash. Or just take what you want. We probably wouldn’t even notice it’s gone.

6. A Mixed Media Collage of Your Creation. This is where the scavenger hunt deviates from those you may have participated in in the past. Here you actually sit down and make art, using the wide variety of available materials. Some of these materials date back to the 1970s, but they’re still useable, because anything can be art! Create with clay, yarn, foam stickers, unused Valentine cards, rubber stamps, glitter glue, puffy paint, crayons, markers, pastels, watercolors, tempera paint, old postcards, construction paper, old Christmas cards, tax returns, receipts, cookbooks we haven’t used in years, and more. Just ask if it seems like it might be valuable before you start gluing.

7. Lint. Again here you will enjoy the opportunity to express yourself artistically by creating a lint sculpture. Bring home a treat for the kids when you can craft a lint doll or stuffed animal to snuggle with at night. Or, for the more pragmatic among you, weave a lint blanket to keep in the car for emergencies. If you’re particularly ambitious, gather enough lint to insulate the new addition you’re building on your house. We had to get a new washer and dryer last year after our dryer conked out and the repairman declared it impossible to resuscitate after three visits. Our new washer and dryer work great except for the lint filter in the dryer, which is not entirely willing to do its very basic job of collecting lint. Some of the lint is just free spirited and follows the advice of Fleetwood Mac and insists on going its own way. I feel like this wild lint is probably a fire hazard, so if you would collect it for us, that would be a huge help.

8. Laundry. You might say you have your own laundry and you don’t need ours, but you would be wrong. We have so much laundry that we are certain there’s something in there you would like. Any time of day or night that you happen to come by to participate in this scavenger hunt, you will find some laundry in the living room. This will be clean laundry. It may or may not be folded. Not to worry, the dirty laundry is in hampers or at least in a pile on the floor in front of the laundry closet, so you won’t accidentally pick something out from the dirty laundry, unless that’s what you’re into, and we’ll just pretend we didn’t see it. If you don’t want to spend a lot of time poking around in the unfolded laundry, you can look upstairs in one of the bedrooms or maybe even the hall and just pick up a bin filled with already folded laundry! Don’t even look at it–just take it and then when you get home you’ll be surprised by the contents. Will it be size 3T t-shirts, shorts, socks, and pajamas? A sleepsack you can hide your cat in? Or a kids’ martial arts uniform? Or grown-up jeans and dozens of t-shirts advertising computer programs, 5Ks, or our favorite bands. Anything you get you will love, I promise.

9. A Mouse. Ok, this might be tricky. I’m not really sure if there are any mice still living in our house, but if you find one and take it with you, then we will be sure there is one less mouse sharing our space. If you can’t find a mouse, I will accept a mousetrap and still give your credit.

10. Something We’ve Lost. This is kind of tricky because you don’t really know what you’re looking for, but if you can look behind and under furniture or in the tops or corners of closets and you turn up any object that any of us has been looking for a while and hasn’t been able to locate, you definitely win. If you come up with something that we wanted, we will keep it. If you find something that we didn’t even realize was lost and we really didn’t miss it, it’s all yours. We insist.

Found all 10 items? Hooray! Congratulations! You are like Sherlock, but not a sociopath (probably). And your prize is already right there in your arms, or in your complimentary tote bag that we gave you on the way in. It’s all yours! You found it, you keep it. Enjoy! And thanks for making our house just a little more livable. We’ll be happy to come to your scavenger hunt soon. You probably have some really cool stuff that we’d like.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,194 other followers

Follow You Ask a Lot of Questions on WordPress.com

Listen to my podcast: Five Questions with Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso

http://betsyrosso.podbean.com
%d bloggers like this: