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Even in quarantine, Friday nights are a relief. Even if we don’t have lots of fun stuff planned for the weekend, we have very little un-fun stuff we have to do. I can dramatically reduce the amount of nagging and arguing I do with my children. We can sleep in without guilt.

It’s been a particularly intense and exhausting week, but I am feeling surprisingly good. Some highlights:

  • I finished two excellent books. Zoe and I read Will Grayson Will Grayson by John Green and David Leviathan and had a book club about it. She read her paper copy and I read it on my phone through the Libby app that enables you to check out ebooks and audiobooks through the library system. I don’t usually like reading books on my phone, but doing so gives me the opportunity to read in the dark when other people are trying to sleep. I am a big John Green fan so I was not surprised that I loved this book so much but it was still a pleasure to read. I also finished listening to Writers & Lovers by Lily King. I was enthralled by King’s book Euphoria and loved this one just as much, especially because it was vastly different in subject matter from Euphoria, but with equally compelling characters. And the narrator, Stacey Glemboski, did a beautiful job reading. Both Will Grayson Will Grayson and Writers & Lovers left me feeling like I wanted to know some of those characters for a long time, which is my favorite after effect of a book.
  • In today’s mail I received a t-shirt I had ordered after seeing it advertised on Facebook and after three of my friends also sent me copies of the ad and pointed out how perfect the shirt was for me. (In case you can’t read the shirt in my awkwardly posed selfie, it says YOU AXOLOTL QUESTIONS and features an adorable axolotl, an amphibian also known as the Mexican walking fish.

I played some games online with fun people. As part of candidating week at UUCA, I was in charge of game night with our candidate, so I had to figure out how that might work. Our family has played Jackbox Games at home on the Xbox and the computer but I had never played over a zoom call. Turns out it’s pretty easy to do, even if I was a little clumsy in the execution. So if you want to arrange a virtual game night with us, let me know. Randy and Zoe also played (from separate rooms) and were awesome. Randy dominated with cleverness in our first game and changed his username in the second game to avoid drawing attention from the games paparazzi.

The sun came out today and so I sprayed down the table on our patio, which gets super gross from pollen and pollution, and wiped down a chair so I could sit outside and enjoy my hastily assembled dinner of celery with peanut butter, pretzels and hummus, leftover cold mac and cheese with peas, and a chocolate yogurt, accompanied by a cranberry lime seltzer. This is the kind of dinner you have when you clean out the fridge right before sitting down to two and a half straight hours of zoom calls.

One last bright spot–this morning I spent a while sitting with Zeke at the dining room table working our way through a puzzle book. Zeke received a subscription to Puzzlemania for his birthday (thanks Grandma Cyndy!) and the first issue arrived yesterday. This magazine, from Highlights, is the next step up from the Puzzle Buzz magazine he has enjoyed for years (also thanks to Grandma Cyndy!). Puzzlemania is perfect for him now. He unscrambled words (with a few clues from me) and we did a logic puzzle (I love logic puzzles!) and some other word puzzles. I was so happy because we were doing a learning thing without Zeke getting annoyed about having to do a learning thing, and I didn’t have to come up with the activities, and we both had fun doing them!

Many of the things are still hard and sad and complicated, but I am choosing not to think about them right now. Instead I’m going to have a snack with my family before bedtime and be grateful that tomorrow is another day.

On Saturdays we become feral. While our pre-pandemic weekends were packed with activities and outings, Saturdays especially are now anarchy. When each of us is sleeping or eating or dressed is anyone’s guess. By Saturday I have no energy left to organize anyone or anything.

Yesterday evening, Zoe and I went for a masked walk around the neighborhood. we walked almost the same exact route we had walked 24 hours earlier, but somehow noticed new houses and different flowers along the way. We saw fewer people out, perhaps because it had been drizzling. Walking is nice and it’s a relief to be out of the house, but wearing a mask and detouring to avoid other people, few of whom make eye contact or say hello, remains uncomfortable and disorienting.

Meanwhile, Randy and Zeke had not left the house all day. The effect of this on Randy was an attack of lethargy at 8pm and Zeke was running laps around the first floor of our house. I suggested they do a workout, and soon they were both on our puzzle piece mats in front of the tv doing squats and burpees and planks in 30-second intervals.

At this point everyone had gotten their second wind. I had been trying for several days to figure out how to play games using the Houseparty app or Jackbox games. Neither of these things are all that complicated, but my brain power has been compromised by the new normal.

So the kids and I played a few rounds of a drawing game with Zoe’s ukulele teacher, and after Randy dragged Zeke to bed, the three of us played some trivia games and something called chips and guac which is basically like Apples to Apples. I was reminded that I am old because the games included slang I’d never heard of, but there are also words Zoe doesn’t know so I guess we’re even.

I don’t even remember what time I attempted to go to sleep, only that by 3am I had not achieved success, so I got out of bed and wrote the first draft of the call to worship for next Sunday’s church service. I have always loved helping lead worship, but I haven’t done it in a while because of my ministerial search committee duties. Next Sunday, however, is (hopefully) the culmination of our search odyssey, as our candidate gives her second candidating sermon and the congregation votes on whether to call her as our next senior minister. So I was asked to serve as worship associate for the service. I feel a wee bit of pressure to perform, but it’s all self-imposed. I am excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Rev. Amanda and see what happens.

Sundays are less lethargic days, at least for me, because I make myself get out of bed to watch church. Also today I had many zoom meetings to host—both related to church and for family and friends. While there is something to be said for the convenience of video calls, they are just never going to beat being in the same room with people. I miss people! And hugs! Have I mentioned how I miss hugging people?

Monday and its accompanying structure—however erratic—is coming soon enough.

I’ve been pretty grumpy the past couple days. Migraines, the sorry state of our government, and the needless suffering of so many humans, especially those who have already been systematically oppressed for centuries.

An occupational hazard of working with organizations that are trying to heal the world is that I spend a lot of time reading and writing about all the brokenness. I’ve been editing a lot of documents lately about the lasting effects of institutional racism, such as dramatic health and educational disparities. I learn over and over again about systems and policies based in selfishness, greed, and so many people’s inability to walk in someone else’s shoes, or even believe that someone else wears a different kind of shoes. Why are we so arrogant?

Surprisingly, what got me out of my funk tonight was a ministerial search committee meeting via zoom. Our committee is in the home stretch of our epic two-year mission, and we are all stressed. But we received some wise guidance from our wonderful interim minister and shared some funny stories with each other and I felt a sense of relief being together. Meanwhile, Randy and Zoe made a delicious dinner of maple glazed salmon and maple glazed baby carrots and pearled couscous and spinach salad with strawberries. Zoe brought a plate up to the office for me to eat during my meeting and it was so tasty.

I am thankful for my search committee team members for so many things, but especially because they push me and inspire me to be my best self—to evolve and grow and look at the world in different ways—and to always think about what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

What woke me up at 3am with a headache and sent me stumbling downstairs in search of Cheez-Its and orange juice.

We were about to announce the candidate for new senior minister at church [which just happened in real life and I’m on the ministerial search committee so it was a big moment] and I was in the wrong room trying to finish writing the announcement. Also I realized I had a baby and had left him somewhere but I wasn’t sure where. Someone told me it was time so I ran into a room that looked like a high school gym, where people were crowded around a makeshift stage. I knew I was supposed to be on the stage with the rest of my committee, but none of them were there. Instead, a young Black guy wearing an outfit that was a cross between JROTC and marching band uniform was prancing across the stage with a fake rifle performing sort of a made-up color guard routine, but all by himself. A teenage girl with big black glasses and afro puffs was yelling at him that he was doing it all wrong and it was disrespectful. Then our interim senior minister Rev. Terasa, asked if there were any nominations for senior minister from the floor. I looked around, shocked, because this was not how it was supposed to happen. Suddenly the crowd included a bunch of kids from my high school. There were murmurs in the crowd and it was clear someone was coming up with a nomination from the floor. I was still stunned, trying to protest, but unable to get anyone to hear or pay attention to me. Then a young Asian man with wire-rimmed glasses bounced up to Rev. Terasa and handed her a piece of paper as he smiled at the crowd. Rev. Terasa look at the paper and shouted, “We have our nominee and it is Pete Buttigieg!” However, the person who then emerged from the crowd and started walking to the stage did not look like this:

The real Pete Buttigieg

He looked like this:

From Wikipedia: “Jefferson Davis “J.D.” Hogg, known as Boss Hogg, is a fictional character featured in the American television series The Dukes of Hazzard. He was the greedy, unethical commissioner of Hazzard County.”

I was mortified that this guy was apparently going to be our new minister, but everyone else was cheering wildly.

In the next scene of my dream, I was asleep in my childhood bedroom, but next to my mom. I woke up, having just heard that the new minister was going to be Pete Buttigieg/Boss Hogg. I muttered, “it’s not true, it can’t be true,” and my mom, even though she seemed to be still asleep, opened her eyes wide and hissed, “IT’S TRUE!” in a really scary way.

Across the bedroom my dad was slumped in a chair, fast asleep but still wearing a khaki suit and a red polka dot tie. I wondered where Zeke was, because he was supposed to be asleep in another bed in the room, but he wasn’t. I reached for a sweatshirt to put on because I was cold, but the shirts I kept trying to wear were Zeke’s pajama shirts. They didn’t fit.

I looked out the window and noticed that Zeke had climbed up to the height of the second story window by stepping on a tree and then onto some latticework or an arbor. He was sucking on a lollipop and wearing a baseball cap. I was alarmed. “It’s the middle of the night! Why are you outside climbing a tree?”

He looked at me and grinned slyly and said, “I have the day off tomorrow.” I ran downstairs and out the front door and retrieved him from the tree.

And then I woke up, head and heart both pounding, used the bathroom, and headed downstairs (in real life) for a snack. While writing this I have finished the box of Cheez-Its (it was almost empty anyway) and my glass of Tropicana (no pulp).

Yesterday a family member sent me this article from National Geographic explaining why people are having dreams like this during a pandemic. Apparently I’m not the only one and there’s science behind it all. But I really hope this isn’t going to be a recurring 3am activity for the rest of the quarantine. I really hope not.

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.

I skipped writing yesterday. I am trying not to feel guilty about this on top of all the other things I’m inclined to feel guilty about because I don’t really believe in feeling guilty about things if they don’t involve harming others. Of course, there are things that I’m doing (or not doing) that others might feel harmed by. But I’m not responsible for other people’s feelings, right?

This week has been rough. I think it feels especially painful because it was supposed to be spring break. Technically it is spring break–there’s no expectation of online classes or distance learning or homeschooling–but otherwise our day-to-day existence is no different than it has been for the past several weeks since the quarantine began. I still have to work, and I’m not doing a great job of it because I can’t concentrate and it’s just awkward to have work meetings on my bed. I feel like I’ve been neglecting my kids, especially Zeke, but I can’t pull myself together enough to get all the things done and carve out the time I want to play with him. I have the sensation of sinking slowly into the abyss. Sometimes I am able to crawl out and take a shower.

Being trapped in the house during vacation is disappointing but also confusing and ominous. Nothing is normal or as it should be. I should have the week off. We should be having fun. I don’t want anyone else to tell me how we can have fun at home. I don’t want anymore input or ideas. I just want relief. If spring break is cancelled, what does that mean for summer? I feel like the unreality and unpredictability of this situation is wearing away at my soul.

Randy suggested getting takeout tonight in part because we are running low on food and in part because he wanted to get out of the house. Zeke was so excited to go with him. On the way to the restaurant they stopped at a friend’s house to pick up masks that her mother had made and she was sharing with us. These masks are the opposite of cold and clinical. They are adorable. And freaky. There is something unsettling about wearing something over your face that has been lovingly sewn with cute fabrics to prevent yourself from catching or transmitting a deadly virus. I kind of dread wearing one when I go out because I will be reminded every second of this frightening world we are living in right now.

Adding to my anxiety is that the climax of a monumental project I’ve been working on for the past 22 months is coming in the next 48 hours. I have spent thousands of hours and expended enormous emotional energy as a (volunteer) member of the ministerial search committee for UUCA–more time and effort than I ever could have imagined, despite the fact that the nominating committee warned us it was a “big commitment.” On Friday we will announce our candidate to the congregation. Then in a few weeks we will hold approximately a million virtual opportunities for people to “meet” the candidate and vote on whether to officially call the candidate as our next senior minister. I’m sure there are ways to make this situation more complicated but I don’t want to explore those right now.

One of the revelations of this quarantine business is demonstrating how people respond to other people’s thoughts, feelings, and problems. There are a lot of solvers out there. Sometimes you want someone to give you suggestions or solutions. But most of the time, I’ve learned through both personal and professional experience, people just want to be heard. Right now, especially, I think most people just want to be heard. When I post or text when things are hard, I usually just want to know that someone else gets it, that they’ve been there, that they feel the same way or understand what I’m saying. So thank you, empathizers and affirmers of the world. I appreciate you.

When you are stuck in the middle of chaos and confusion and you feel like it’s impossible to be your best self or do the right things, it’s easy to slide swiftly in the other direction–facing your worst self, feeling greasy and smelly and unable to get out of bed. I know it’s not completely bleak. There are moments of relief and glimpses of grace. Then they seem to disappear again and you’re awake at 2am wondering how to make the next day better.

Tonight we watched a makeshift team of superstars use their powers for the greater good.

Last week when I heard about a televised concert being hosted by Elton John and featuring an array of pop stars and celebrities, I figured it was another goodwill effort by musicians to bring cheer into our quarantined and anxious lives. Turns out, the concert was perhaps the most important public service announcement I’ve ever seen.

The iHeart Radio Living Room Concert for America not only delivered heartfelt performances direct from the living rooms (or diving board, in Tim McGraw’s case) of talented musicians, but included scene after scene of doctors, nurses, hospitals, EMTs, and firefighters working to help people through the pandemic. The show highlighted video clips of impassioned pleas from medical workers sharing what they’ve seen and beseeching the public to stay home. Elton John encouraged viewers to donate to Feeding America, a hunger-relief organization that is working to make sure millions of families are able to access nutritious food, especially when they’ve lost their jobs or are facing illness and to the First Responder Children’s Foundation, which supports children and families of first responders.

We’ve been reading the news obsessively–perhaps Randy even more than I have because he’s a news junkie to begin with–and we have watched and read devastating firsthand accounts from doctors and nurses. But the horror of this situation is still fresh, and seeing these people–still in their scrubs, with masks hanging around their necks–describe what they had just lived through was heartbreaking.

Watching this concert gave me hope, however, because it was being broadcast on Fox, on YouTube, and on the IHeartRadio app, and I suspect that millions of people who have not been obsessively reading the news–perhaps even some of those people who ignorantly and inexplicably attended coronavirus parties and crowded Florida beaches on spring break–were watching too. And I hope to God that what they saw shocked them and shook them and will make them stay the hell home and away from people they might unwittingly infect or be infected by, for the greater good.


This morning I watched something entirely different, although it was also created and shared by a team of heroes. Because of the pandemic, my church–along with many religious congregations around the world–has moved to conducting Sunday services online. UUCA has a long tradition of live-streaming services on Sunday morning so people can watch from home, but now that we’re literally not supposed to be together at church, they’ve had to come up with new ways to create the Sunday morning experience. Before I joined the UUCA ministerial search committee two years ago, I was a member of the worship team at UUCA and I absolutely loved contributing to Sunday morning services. I know how much goes into planning and conducting a service, even under ordinary circumstances, so I was profoundly grateful to the ministers and staff and worship team who made today’s service happen. Board of Trustees representative Amy offered a welcome from her front porch, with cherry blossoms blooming in the background. Gail, (another) Amy, and Gay shared reflections about how they are finding love and light in this unbelievably confusing and difficult time. Gail’s daughters Carmen and Kamila told the story “We Are Not Afraid,” about the illegally integrated Highlander Folk School in Tennessee and the students’ response when armed white men broke into the school. The girls sang “We Shall Overcome” so sweetly. Gail and Gay quoted the Persian poets Rumi and Hafiz. Gay read the Maya Angelou poem “Continue.”

“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”

Maya Angelou

And there was beautiful music by our accompanist Sophia, an original song and a wonderful rendition of “Meditation on Breathing” which I LOVE, by the talented Kristin Cotts. And so much more. It was all so much MORE than a regular service could be. We had the opportunity to see people and hear from them in their own homes, to meditate to photos and videos of the ocean, and to experience a deeply reassuring coming together of voices and faces of people I love.


In the middle of these two moments, I experienced a moment of shared joy as I watched Zoe pedal confidently around and around and around the (completely empty) church parking lot. Zoe technically learned how to ride a bicycle a few years ago, but she never felt comfortable enough to actually ride for fun or transportation. She even made her own bike (which she was riding today) through a cool program in our community that teaches kids how to fix bikes and enables them to earn one of their own after putting in a certain number of hours. Until now, however, there were always things she wanted to do more than practice riding. She agreed to get back on the bike today, and after just a little while she went from riding a few feet and then hesitating to zooming around the blacktop with a huge smile on her face. After we went home, she asked Randy if he would take her back to the parking lot so she could ride some more.

Zeke has not yet arrived at this state of grace, but he will. He spent about 20 minutes working on gliding around on his bike, which has no pedals right now, but which we will reattach the pedals to as soon as we can borrow the right tool. After that he decided to return to the car to read his book, which he was content to do while Zoe rode.

One kid at a time…

When a tickle in your throat strikes terror in your heart, it’s hard to act like everything is normal. When you wonder every single time you wash your hands, which seems to be in the high dozens every day, if there was any virus on your hands and if you washed it off enough or if you left some on the faucet handle, it’s hard to return to what you were doing with your full attention. When you already personally know two people who have lost loved ones to this virus but you know there will be many more, it’s hard to concentrate on anything.

You can distract yourself for a little while at a time. I finished a great YA novel last night and started another one today. I cleaned the kitchen and planned meals for the week. Zeke and I played Uno. I started studying A Little Bit of Tarot along with the cards in the deck my friend Tracey gave me before she moved away. Our family watched a sweet and funny movie–The Unicorn Store, starring Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson like you’ve never seen him before. Tomorrow we’re going to watch online church and take the kids and their bikes to an empty parking lot to practice riding.

Of course you have to live your life, because that’s how it works. And when you have kids, you have to keep things moving so they don’t absorb all your anxiety, because they will if you aren’t careful. And right now I have a lot of anxiety, and I am notoriously bad at hiding my feelings.

I’ve been through difficult situations before when people told me I had to keep it together for the kids, and not cry in front of them. I understand the need to be strong and reassuring for your kids, but I also believe kids learn from their parents that it’s ok to have feelings, and it’s ok to have negative feelings, and that they’re part of life and you have to figure out how to handle them. Life isn’t always pretty or easy, and if you don’t have a model for how to face the hard times, sometimes you refuse to face them, or you fall apart. I know there are lots of ways to be a parent, and this isn’t a subject covered in the instruction manual. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here. Parenting is already fraught with uncertainty, and living through a pandemic unsettles everything that much more.

I’ve been taking for granted all the things I love to do that involve being surrounded by strangers. Hearing live music and singing along with people you’ve never met but who find meaning in the same songs that you do. Seeing a movie and laughing or crying along with everyone else who is laughing or crying. Eating delicious food at your favorite restaurant, noticing everyone else satisfying their craving for that same food. Exploring a museum, learning something new, being inspired, wondering how the exhibit is speaking to those around you. Going to the beach and watching people fly kites and build sandcastles and splash and swim and throw frisbees and soak up vitamin D. Being at church and listening to a sermon that might be preached just for you and also for hundreds of other souls searching for ways to make sense of the world, and lighting candles, and praying and meditating together, and holding hands and agreeing to help each other be a force for good in the world.

Even reading, which you might think of as a solitary activity, often involves strangers. I love going to the library–helping my kids pick out books and finding something for myself. And in Arlington I almost always run into someone I know at any library. Browsing in bookstores, which is as much a sensory experience as an intellectual one. I’m one of those people who likes to feel the covers of the books and inhale the scent of paper and ink. At my favorite bookstores there are post-it notes or little notecards taped to the shelves explaining which books are recommended by which of their booksellers and why. I love discovering wonderful things to read thanks to mysterious other readers who are humans rather than algorithms. This month I had planned to go with three good friends to hear Glennon Doyle read from and talk about her new book, Untamed. I would’ve been in the audience at the Lisner Auditorium with thousands of other fans, mostly middle-aged moms like me, feeling intense sisterly solidarity. I was also excited to go with one of my best friends to see one of my all-time favorite authors Ann Patchett speak at a local middle school. Being in a room with strangers and knowing they have all read the same books you’ve read and have been moved by them too is heady.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time over the past 13 years at playgrounds, which are usually lively and well-populated. Around here, if you spend more than 10 minutes at a playground, you’re likely to hear families speaking in at least a couple languages besides English. It’s always fun for me to guess what language they’re speaking and where they might be from. I haven’t heard any languages besides English (random French, Spanish, or German phrases thrown around by my family notwithstanding) in a couple weeks now. Even when we’ve been out on hiking trails in Northern Virginia, I feel like I hear mostly English. We see a lot of white guys in their teens and 20s, some of them talking on their bluetooth earpieces, looking like they’re training for something big.

Just before coronavirus exploded in the US (fortuitously), I had the opportunity to be part of literacy activities at both my kids’ schools. At Zoe’s middle school, I coordinated Booktopia, where invited all 1,100 students to come to the gym (not all at once) to pick out a book to keep. Any book they wanted (that we had)! This involved a lot of volunteers who helped me sort, organize, and restock the books, then sell the leftovers at the used book sale at the school a few days later. Booktopia involved conversations with students and teachers and touching a lot of books that a lot of people had touched. I didn’t think too much about that at the time. The book fair at Zeke’s school was held the same week. This year the book fair was presented by one of my new favorite Arlington organizations–READ (Read Early and Daily). READ’s mission is “ensuring babies and young children have new, quality, culturally relevant books of their own that are mirrors and windows into their everyday lives and communities.” One of the ways READ funds its book giveaways is by running school book fairs. One of the best things about this set-up is that our school book fair had the most spectacular selection of books with diverse characters by diverse authors that I have ever encountered. And since I had just spent several months ordering books for Booktopia that featured diverse (in every possible way) characters written by diverse authors, I was super impressed. The point here is that book fairs are another occasion where many kids and teachers and parents are swirling around. I love helping kids pick out books. I love reading with kids. Now when I think about that I just think about all the possibility for transmission of germs.

Then there’s substituting as a co-oper at Arlington Unitarian Cooperative Preschool, which I have enjoyed doing on occasion since my kids graduated from there. Turns out it’s much less stressful to co-op when A) you’re not required to do it but you’re getting paid for it and B) your own child is not demanding your attention when you’re supposed to be helping with the whole class. The bad news is that infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are pretty indiscriminate about who or what they touch and when and it doesn’t matter where their hands have been. The good news is that AUCP is really into good handwashing. Every kid and every adult washes their hands before snack and after snack and after the playground and before lunch and after lunch and of course after diaper changes and using the potty. One of the lines I always remember from the many parent orientation sessions we attended there was the preschool’s fabulous director Susan Parker saying, “I suggest you invest in a good hand cream because you will be washing your hands all day long.” All that hand washing practice has paid off! So many adults have had to come up with creative ways to remember how to wash their hands properly, but I guarantee you that the five and under set at AUCP have it down already.

Next Monday would’ve been the first game of the soccer season with my amazing women’s team Ice & Ibuprofen. We have cool new jerseys for the season, with a new logo. I don’t know when we’ll have a chance to wear them. Soccer involves a lot of contact with other people. You could kick a ball back and forth while standing six feet apart, but you couldn’t play a game. I know a lot of my teammates know each other because they live in the same neighborhood and their kids go to school together, but I only see them on the field. We had tickets for our family to see the Washington Spirit play their season opener at Audi Field for my birthday. Randy has season tickets to DC United. There are few things as thrilling as cheering on your favorite players and teams in a stadium filled with tens of thousands of other fans. No matter how big your TV is, it’s not the same watching from your couch.

Even though we’re going a little stir-crazy, my family is fine. We have more than enough stimulating and fun activities to do in the house. And we’ve been hiking. We’ve been FaceTiming and Zooming with friends and family. All that is absolutely saving our sanity and keeping our brains engaged. But there’s something about being out in the world, surrounded by strangers, doing something you love and they love too, that I am missing deeply.

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?

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