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Where do we seek our solace?

In a pint of Ben & Jerry’s? A box of Little Debby snack cakes? Sugar is always there for us.

In video games? I can’t release myself into a digital world but I know it’s irresistible to some. Assuming a character with powers we will never know.

In novels, though, I can disappear for hours (if given the time). There will never be enough books for me. I require options. Multiple escape routes. People whose problems may be different from mine—or the same—and who solve them—or not.

In puzzles that I can solve, rearranging letters over and over until all the words have relinquished themselves. Although I never do have command of all the words. Some of them are squirrelly.

In scrolling endlessly—a mind-numbing habit that does leave me numb. One heart cannot soak up so much sorrow and cruelty and anger and bitterness and spite. Those seem to be the rotten fruits of scrolling. I suppose I sift through looking for the one unbruised apple, or a peach that’s ripe but not yet decaying. They are so hard to find these days.

If I’m lucky I find sanctuary in the presence of the humans who I love. But I have to tread lightly and speak softly because they are hurting too and seeking their own relief. I never wished to be someone who asked too much of others.

Perhaps the ideal place to take a vacation during a pandemic is a town whose population is 636. While it made me slightly uneasy that the nearest convenience store–Big John’s, also a gas station and place to play Virginia lottery machines–was a 10-minute drive away, spending a week far removed from the densely populated county where we live was a relief.

Water View, Virginia is located in Middlesex County, where approximately 11,000 people enjoy the luxury of 211 square miles. Compare that with Arlington County, where approximately 237,000 people are packed into 26 square miles. The day after we arrived at our Airbnb rental, Zoe and I drove to Walmart to pick up grocery items we had forgotten to bring. The trip to Walmart–the nearest grocery store–took 30 minutes. Where I live in Arlington there are more than a dozen grocery stores within five miles, not to mention drugstores and 7-11s. I will note, however, that every single person in that Walmart was wearing a mask.

What we did see on our trip instead of throngs of people were lots of cornfields. And corn. And fields with other crops that I can’t identify because I am a city girl. And small white clapboard churches. And big, beautiful houses juxtaposed with trailer homes and abandoned school buses and the splintered husks of houses and stores that have seen better days.

The house where we were fortunate to stay for a week overlooked the Rappahannock River. The house is at the end of a long paved road with dirt roads branching off in different directions. Dogs wandered around the neighborhood. One friendly beagle, who locals told us was named Mabel although her tags just identified her owner, visited us nearly every day. Randy nicknamed her the Mayor of Middlesex. Mabel came up onto the front porch and we brought her water. She tried to come in the house but we nudged her back outside. Zeke and his cousin were excited whenever she came around and went running outside to pet her and run around with her until she decided to wander off somewhere.

On the morning when Zoe woke me up at 5 to walk down to the dock to watch the sun rise, which I am still amazed she did given her proclivity for sleeping in, we heard several roosters crowing to announce the dawn and several dogs–perhaps Mabel included–barking and howling in response. Watching the sun rise over the river was glorious. And when we turned around to go back to the house, a double rainbow was visible even though we hadn’t seen a drop of rain. At night, we could see more stars than seemed possible when you’re used to living in light pollution. Simply looking out at the expanse of grass, the trees, the water, and the sky every day was such an unexpected balm.

The kids spent most of their time happily splashing in the pool. They invented names for their original dives and slid down the waterslide. The boys made up elaborate games in and out of the pool involving Harry Potter and dragons and superpowers. They read comic books that I bought for them on that trip to Walmart, and drew pictures and ate snacks. My brother-in-law cooked delicious dinners every night and spent hours picking crabs he had bought from a fisherman just down the road from our house so we could eat them fresh. We relished the opportunity to play with my baby nephew, finding new ways to make him smile and laugh and watching him explore the world and discover new skills every day. We played games after the little kids were in bed, at least whoever among us hadn’t fallen asleep while putting the little kids to bed. We made tie-dye shirts and bandanas, which was messy and fun. My brother-in-law took the boys fishing and they were unexpectedly patient and they each caught a fish! We dealt with bug bites and a bee sting and some sunscreen that melted into our eyes but we were ok. We ate popsicles and drank wine. It was good to be away from here.

Zeke lettered two Black Lives Matter signs, but in the end he decided not to join us for the peaceful protest organized by our church. Zoe and I stood with almost 1,000 other people holding signs calling for justice and support for our Black siblings. People honked and waved and held their fists high as they drove by.

I am balancing the enormous looming threat of a police state, the murder of innocent people, the continued willful ignorance of people who insist on saying, “all lives matter” when no one was suggesting that theirs didn’t, with the mundane concerns of each passing moment.

Like the fact that I let Zeke bail on his knitting class this afternoon because he was getting frustrated and couldn’t catch up. I tried to step in an help but I couldn’t figure out how to cast the yarn on either, which is the whole reason he was taking a class instead of me teaching him how to knit.

And the fact that a few hours before he had passed his martial arts test to earn his next belt but only after so much freaking out and crying and refusing to do the test because he was scared he wouldn’t pass. His level of anxiety was way higher than I’ve seen it before, I am guessing because martial arts via zoom is hard to handle sometimes and because he feels the pressure to excel like his big sister the black belt. And perhaps because we’ve been talking about police brutality and innocent people being hurt and killed and he’s trying, like all of us, to process.

Of course knitting and a martial arts test seem trivial compared to what’s happening in the world right now and indeed what’s happening just a few miles east of where we live, where Trump just authorized police to use tear gas and rubber bullets to suddenly disperse a peacefully assembled crowd in broad daylight so he could hold up a bible in front of a church and decry “lawlessness.”

All kinds of ordinary and excruciating suffering is still happening. Outside of Covid-19 and institutional racism and white supremacy there are still people I love (and many I will never know) who are mourning, who are sick, who are lonely, who are depressed, who are struggling. And there are still ordinary joys—smiling babies and new puppies and kids riding bikes and people sharing what they have and holding each other up. And there are the tasks that always need to be done. Even in a revolution and a plague you have to make dinner and wash the dishes. It’s a lot. Holding all these things in your heart and your mind and your gut is a lot. For anyone.

My friend lost her mom today. Not to Covid-19, but to a torturous form of cancer that took her brain long before it claimed her body. I don’t know if there’s a good way to die, but from the stories my friend shared, this experience sounded excruciating. What I imagine as the small blessing that shone through the abyss was that my friend and her siblings and father were all there together for the last several days. And they were at home, surrounding their mom with love.

I learned about her death as I was with my own mom, delivering a key lime pie and homemade cards from my kids for her birthday. I sat, wearing a mask, across the living room from my parents. We don’t usually sit in the living room when it’s just family, but it seemed safer. I was keenly aware of how lucky I am to still have my mom.

I am aware of how lucky I am to have my kids and my husband with me all the time. Sure, it would be lovely to have just a smidge more alone time now and then, but I have no shortage of touch. Someone in my house seems to be hugging me at any given moment. Or holding my hand or sitting in my lap or just leaning on me. I am more grateful for this than I used to be.

I talked with Zoe tonight about the murder of George Floyd. We need to talk more. I need to make sure that what she understands about the racism of Amy Cooper and the killing of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor is not just from Instagram, and that she recognizes our responsibility to fight against white supremacist culture. Then I have to talk with Zeke about all this, which is considerably more daunting. Books to the rescue, once again. In the few days and hours since the recent torrent of news about racist cruelty, I’ve also seen a proliferation of resources and actions and ideas for white people who want to be anti-racist and teach their kids to be anti-racist so we might actually have any hope of fixing our fractured society. I read about excellent children’s books on the subject on Embrace Race and The Conscious Kid. And in my emerging efforts to support local bookstores instead of relying on the convenience of Amazon, I ordered some from One More Page. I also prioritized several books I’ve had in my to-read stack for a while—Stamped, White Fragility, and The Fire This Time—and committed to reading them this summer and talking with others about the implications for our lives. There is always more I could be doing, and I know it’s not only up to me. But all of us have to do this work to make a change. Until we do it, Black and Brown people will continue to be victimized at the hands of white people. We cannot stand by and watch. We cannot wait for someone else to step in. As Bernice Johnson Reagon wrote in Ella’s Song, “we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”

Ella’s Song

Lyrics and music by Bernice Johnson Reagon 
Sung by Sweet Honey in the Rock 

We who believe in freedom cannot rest 
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes 

Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons 
Is as important as the killing of white men, white mothers’ sons 

That which touches me most is that I had a chance to work with people 
Passing on to others that which was passed on to me 

To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail 
And if I can but shed some light as they carry us through the gale 

The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on 
Is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm 

Not needing to clutch for power, not needing the light just to shine on me 
I need to be one in the number as we stand against tyranny 

Struggling myself don’t mean a whole lot, I’ve come to realize 
That teaching others to stand up and fight is the only way my struggle survives 

I’m a woman who speaks in a voice and I must be heard 
At times I can be quite difficult, I’ll bow to no man’s word 

We who believe in freedom cannot rest
We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes

What’s beautiful
and enticing
about the woods is
everything that
isn’t there:

Zoom calls
group texts
dirty laundry
to-do lists
lesson plans
screen time requests
calendars
pans and plates piled in the sink
budgets
bills
bad news

Oh and also
there is clear water
flowing over mossy rocks
unending trees
unexpected flowers

a tiny toad
a noisy woodpecker
and
my children
laughing

My call to worship for the May 3, 2020 service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington.

Invocations

You may not even realize
as you step out of your
front door each morning
that you are not the 
same person you were
when you closed the door behind you
the night before

You are freshly washed
having sloughed off
the roughness of yesterday
ruminating on what’s to come
digesting buttered toast and orange juice

Or that was you, before…

What if you’ve now got nowhere to go
this morning

or any morning

what if the only incentive
to get out of bed is
the hug and the kiss 
from a little boy who wants help
pouring milk into his cereal bowl

Is it still a new day
when the only threshold you cross
is the one into your
fluorescent lit kitchen?

Even then, you are more than
you were the day before
you’ve read a chapter
solved a puzzle
listened to someone’s story
made a sandwich 
watched a…

View original post 60 more words

Here are some current realities:

Our downstairs toilet is clogged but I am scared to have a plumber come into our house.

My back hurts because I have been working today from my bed. I bought a little foldable computer stand so I don’t have to hunch over but my bed is much more comfortable for sleeping than for working.

The kids and I went on a hike to a new place and only saw one person but it was humid and buggy and we weren’t quite sure where we were. Luckily we made it out but I don’t think we’ll go back there. Also we only have sketchy makeshift masks.

I am still tired of thinking of what food to make and making it. My cooking mojo is fading fast. The less food we have, the more creativity is required, and my creativity mojo is also fading fast.

Sudden change in atmospheric pressure = migraine. Migraine severely compromises any remaining mojo.

originally published on Invocations. blog

In this house
I can always tell 
who is coming up the stairs
by the weight and velocity of their footfalls

Because of the creaky floors
I know when anyone is walking anywhere
Like a Marauder’s Map in my mind

The thin walls reveal
every conversation 
personal noise in the bathroom
keyboard stroke
video game melody
piece of television dialogue
even when all the doors are closed
If I don’t want to hear all the details
of your life
I have to put on music 
but then 
you will hear 
my music

Sometimes I sleep
just to claim some time
by myself 
but even then I am not really
alone

There are certainly houses
smaller than ours
but ours is small enough
that there is no privacy
but plenty of intimacy 
as I can hear you breathing
and I am thankful that
you are breathing

Today I tried to work while wearing headphones and listening to Bach’s cello suites so I could drown out my children’s noises but they both asked me so many questions I had to take the headphones off and pause Bach about 25 times. Eventually I wound up working in their bedroom while Zoe folded laundry and watched Queer Eye in the family room and Zeke watched drawing tutorials and drew at the dining room table. In case you were wondering, sitting in a bean bag chair is not the most ergonomic way to type on your laptop.

There have been no pajamas in Zeke’s drawer for a couple days now as we are behind on the laundry. So he’s taken to wearing regular clothes to bed, and then he’s already dressed for the next day!

When Zoe and I drove to the church parking lot so she could practice riding her bike, two police cars were there, parked facing opposite directions so the officers could chat. Zoe was worried they were there to prevent rogue cyclists so we left hurriedly. We ended up at a school where Zoe rode laps around the track and then around the school building. I walked a mile around the track while she pedaled. She asked me to take a video of her riding, and she has achieved enough velocity now that I had to jog behind her. During one of the laps in front of the school, I heard someone call my name and saw the mom of one of Zeke’s martial arts classmates across the street pushing her baby in a stroller. I stopped briefly to chat with her (while remaining across the street from her). Because it took me a few minutes to return to Zoe, Zoe worried that I had been arrested for unlawful recreation. Zoe is very law-abiding.

One of my big accomplishments today was pumping up one of the tires on our minivan. My sister observed that it looked flat last time I made a delivery to her house (I brought her an iPhone charging cable and she gave me a bag of latex gloves). I carry in my car a small air compressor that you plug into the car to inflate your tires. I bought this at the suggestion of Reidy Brown after I got a flat in a hotel parking garage and a super nice guy used one on my behalf. I didn’t realize you could just own one of those. But I bought one and it’s come in handy.

Although bits of news and information about the pandemic and its effects on people I love and the people they love we’re still floating around in my atmosphere today, I managed to focus enough on the tasks at hand that I wasn’t sucked underwater by grief and anxiety. I don’t think I can ever get used to this, but I think I am learning how to live despite it.

While writing an email today I typed the phrase “virtual insanity” and suddenly remembered the 2010 song by Jamiroquai. How could I possibly have forgotten about it until nearly three weeks into our new virtual existence? And how did Jamiroquai predict all this so clearly? https://youtu.be/4JkIs37a2JE

I’ve noticed on Facebook a significant increase in ads for whimsical underwear and comfy loungewear. And I am noticing how many pairs of my pajama pants have sprung holes. I imagine all the people with whom I’m having Zoom meetings conducting their business wearing underwear printed with pandas. Maybe I will order some matching animal loungewear for my family so we can quarantine in comfort and style.

We survived our first day of homeschooling. I posted on Facebook that we didn’t start getting grouchy until 4pm, which I considered an accomplishment. Even just a day into my unexpected teaching career, I have learned a lot.

  • We got a late start so we skipped our morning movement time. This meant that Zeke took many breaks from our morning learning time to jump on the trampoline. The trampoline is little and has gone through periods of collecting dust in our house, but no more! Thanks to my mom for giving us the trampoline a few years ago. It seems essential for homeschooling.
  • I couldn’t access the materials that Zeke’s school provided, so I gave Zeke some assignments from an activity book for second graders that my mom picked up at a garage sale at some point for us. Once again, thanks, Mom! Zeke calculated how much money a girl with a lemonade stand made, made observations about penguins, did some addition and subtraction, and sailed through a logic problem.

    Later tonight I figured out how to download the first grade distance learning packet from Zeke’s school but discovered that most of it is pretty easy (except for the science projects, which I am simply not ambitious enough to undertake) and decided I will just continue with the second grade workbook.
  • The best part of the day was making art. Zeke did some drawing and painting. Zoe made me a bracelet and painted. I made a weird little mixed media box thing. We listened to music. The art making was calming and fun. Maybe we will finally use up the vast stores of art supplies we have on hand.
  • Randy came downstairs from the office to have lunch with us. We all had a healthy, homemade lunch together around 12:30pm. This was strange! But good. Usually when I’m on my own I forget to have lunch until 2 or 3pm, or I get fast food, or go out.
  • In the afternoon, the kids and I each retreated to a different comfy piece of furniture to read our books. Zoe started a Jason Reynolds novel, Zeke read a Geronimo Stilton book, and I continued reading Mercy House.
  • The other highlight of the day was a hike at Potomac Overlook. The kids were reluctant to venture out, but once we got there they were excited to be outside, walk through the woods, and climb back and forth across the stream on various boulders and over fallen trees. We encountered only a handful of people in the park and we said hello from six feet away. When we got home, we scrubbed down and put our clothes in the wash.
  • Even though I’ve been creating and populating this blog about things to do during the quarantine, I hadn’t really figured out how to incorporate the resources into our day. I realized by the end of the day today that I need an actual lesson plan for tomorrow, not just a schedule. So I created one. We’ll see how it goes…

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