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I was just too tired to chronicle day 9. I’ll wrap it into day 10.

Amazon recently delivered to our house a five-pound box of plaster-impregnated gauze. In another time, I may not have granted Zeke’s wish for this stuff, which he used several weeks ago in his afterschool art studio to make donut sculptures. But now, hey, we have plenty of time on our hands so why not figure out what to make with five pounds of plaster-impregnated gauze.

Tonight I ordered him a dozen chisel-tip black Sharpies and a package of colored chisel-tip Sharpies. Apparently all the black Sharpies in the house have now been used up because Zeke has done a LOT of drawing over the past week. He has been watching Mo Willems’ daily drawing tutorials since school closed last Monday, and recently we added Grace Lin‘s and Jarrett J Krosockza‘s to the mix. He also watches instructional videos on a couple other YouTube channels. He told me that all the professional artists and illustrators use the thick black Sharpies (which we discovered are called chisel tip) so we figured he should have some.

At bedtime I asked Zeke what he would miss and not miss about school, since we learned this afternoon that Virginia schools will be closed for the rest of the school year. He said his afterschool art studio, his art class, his first-grade teacher, and seeing his beloved kindergarten teacher in the halls. Truthfully, it’s been kind of a rough year for him. All his best buddies from kindergarten either moved away, were rezoned to other schools, or ended up in other classes. He made a couple friends in his first-grade class, but none were as special as those from last year. More significantly, however, he’s struggled to deal with the disruptive behavior of a few kids in his class. There’s enough there to write another whole post about, but what matters is that Zeke has felt a lot of stress at school, and I think he’s a little relieved he doesn’t have to go back. He asked me right before he fell asleep if after the homeschooling is over he’ll be a second grader. I said I imagined so. Hopefully his second grade class will be more peaceful.

As a soon-to-be teenager, however, Zoe will suffer more from having to stay home, I believe. Friends are often your salvation when you’re 13, and Zoe has tight ones. I had already scheduled a Zoom call for her to check in with her squad from school this afternoon. But when we heard the news from Gov. Northam, she asked if she could start the call earlier, then commandeered my computer for the next three hours so she could commiserate and laugh with her friends. She came down to the kitchen twice during the call to get snacks. In terms of schoolwork, Zoe already has years of experience using the school-issued iPads and nearly two years of receiving and completing assignments online. She has been conscientious about her schoolwork so far, although it’s only been a week. I have no idea what the long-term plan will be or how she will respond.

The same can be said of everyone else right now, I suppose. I am feeling surprisingly sanguine at this moment. Today I’ve been angry, frustrated, disappointed, impatient, indignant, exasperated, and just really sad.


Yesterday we enjoyed a nice outing to Shenandoah. We did, in fact, stop at the Apple House and pick up lunch and apple cider donuts. Then we sat in the back of our van, which I had cleaned out and laid blankets down on, to have a little picnic in the parking lot. Then we walked through the woods. After a while we realized we might be on the wrong trail, but by the time we got back to the parking lot to scope out the right trail, we were tired and decided to go home instead. On the way home we listened to Dvorak‘s New World Symphony, which was Randy’s request and seemed fitting as we drove down the mountain. On the way to the park, we listened to a family playlist that we created that morning. I don’t know why I’d never thought of this before because we always have arguments about music in the car, even though we have a tried and true system of taking turns. I guess everyone’s coronavirus creativity is on fire, so I suggested we all add songs to the playlist and put it on shuffle. And it worked! No arguing. And some really funny juxtapositions of songs.

Today Arlington County announced that all parks, dog parks, playgrounds, fields, and basketball and tennis courts are closed. Trails and community gardens are “closed to groups.” The announcement said “exercise or garden alone.” In the past week we’ve seen tons of clumps of teenagers hanging out and playing basketball when we’ve been hiking or walking. We’ve seen little kids on playgrounds. Clearly none of these people were social distancing. I’m going to exercise my judgment that our family group of four can go on a trail together because A) we have been quarantining together and B) our children cannot “exercise alone” on a trail. I know we can work out in our living room, if we move the furniture, but we’ve got to get out of the house sometimes. And I am not a rule breaker by nature.


I am not a superstitious person either. But I keep thinking about how a few months ago I was thinking about what the advantages of homeschooling might be. I started contemplating it after talking with three different women in one week, coincidentally, who were homeschooling their kids. Unlike the stereotypical idea of homeschoolers, none of these families are super religious or conservative or anti-public school as a concept. All of them just realized that their kids’ needs were not being met by their schools, so they decided to do something different. And given the challenges Zeke has experienced in his classroom this year, I started thinking about how it would be nice if I could give him a less stressful environment to learn in. But at the same time, there’s a lot he learns at school that I cannot teach him, and there are things he enjoys, and there are kids there and, oh, professional educators. But now I’ll get my chance!

This is the part of my car that is no longer attached.

I still have the driver’s side mirror that came on my Honda Odyssey, but it’s currently sitting on the floor of the back seat. Maybe a little Gorilla Glue will take care of that?

But let me rewind to the earlier excitement in my day.

Zeke stayed home from school today after receiving a diagnosis of flu b yesterday at the doctor’s office, where I took him at 8:30am because he had a high fever and seemed utterly miserable. There are many times when a parent wonders whether to take the kid to the pediatrician or just wait it out, but this was not one of those times. So I drove him to the doctor, dropped him off at home, drove to the pharmacy, discovered the pharmacy doesn’t open until 10am on Sundays, drove home to eat the breakfast sandwich that Randy got for me on his way home earlier in the morning when he realized he had shown up a day early for his volunteer shift at the Arlington Food Assistance Center, and drove back to the pharmacy at 10.

Anyone who is a parent knows that this diagnosis on a Sunday requires immediate canceling and shuffling of plans. Zeke couldn’t go to church. Randy had to cancel his mandolin lesson because I had somewhere else I had to be and we didn’t want to require Zoe to babysit while Zeke was sick. I did some frequent checking in from the place I had to be. I had to find someone to replace me at a job I was scheduled to do and then pay them. And on and boringly but necessarily on. The ripple effect of a child’s fever and the instructions to be at least temporarily quarantined are far-reaching.

I had to take Zeke out, however, to pick up Zoe from school. It was pouring rain and I didn’t want her to have to walk the mile and a half home. Zeke was contentedly reading the latest Dog Man book in the car while we made the quick trip. On the way home, we were turning left from Walter Reed onto 9th Road South. This is a street lined on both sides with garden apartments. The two-way street has service roads on each side, which are also narrow parking lots for residents. As I turned left, another minivan was turning the wrong way down the street and suddenly pulling out toward me. I honked and swerved out of the way, but not wide enough to prevent her from hitting me. Somehow, most of the damage was to her car, although mine was scraped up, nothing was hanging off of it.

Thankfully the kids were ok and I got out of the car to talk with the other driver. She did not speak English. I tried for a while to ask about insurance or the police and she responded but not in any sentences I could quite understand. I had no idea what to do. I gave her my insurance information and my phone number. She gave me nothing. I don’t know why I didn’t ask for her phone number. I guess I wasn’t sure if she could provide it, although she had two phones with her in her hand. I don’t know why she had two phones. One didn’t seem to be working. I knew I should call the police, but I was also worried about my kids sitting there in the car, in the rain and cold, especially with Zeke having the flu. I kept thinking I could get arrested for leaving the scene of an accident but I didn’t know how the police would communicate with the other driver and I just really wanted my kids to be home.

Meanwhile, a gentleman with a mustache pulled up on the service road on one side and asked if we were ok. I explained the situation and he got out of the car and said, “I know a little bit about these things.” Not sure what things he meant, but ok. He looked at my car and looked at her car. He asked me, “what do you want to do? Your car seems ok.” I told him I just wanted to go home, but I wasn’t sure what to do because I couldn’t get any information from the other driver. He went up to her and said, rather close to her face, “She’s going to forgive you! This is why America is a great place! This is clearly your fault but she’s not going to call the police.”

This patriotic bystander seemed like he might have been an immigrant as well. He spoke English with a slight accent. The other driver did not really respond. I have no idea if she understood him or not.

I was, understandably, flustered by the whole thing. So I left, without getting any information from the other driver, or the witness, or the other car. I did not remember to do any of those things that you’re supposed to do.

So we went home and Zeke and Zoe and I played a board game and Zeke and I watched a movie and I folded laundry. I had left my phone upstairs and missed two calls from “unknown number” and two accompanying voicemails from a man saying he was calling this number because “a lady named Betsy hit his car and needed to repair it” or something to that effect. He did not leave his name or number, but a phone number that I later realized belonged to MY insurance company, that I had given the driver (presumably his wife?).

Then I remembered to call my insurance company. I felt ridiculous not having all the information I was supposed to have, but the guy on the phone was super nice about it. I’m guessing things like this happen more often than I realize.

After Randy got home I had to pick up Zoe from martial arts. It occurred to me that I might be able to find the car that had hit me if it was parked close to where the woman was inexplicably pulling out the wrong way. So in the dark and in the rain I had Zoe jump out of the car to take a picture of the license plate of the offending van.

Then I took Zoe to Giant because she needed yellow and blue sprinkles for a cupcake competition she’s doing at school in one of her classes. Giant has many things but yellow and blue sprinkles are not among them. We decided to head to Michael’s to check out its extensive inventory of dessert decorating accessories. I began backing out of my parking space in the garage at Giant when a massive cement pillar interfered with my exit by knocking the driver’s side mirror clean off of my car. I picked it up and put it in the back seat.

When we got to Michael’s and got out of the car, Zoe asked if she could give me a hug.

While Zoe located blue and yellow sprinkles and decided to make candy letters to spell out her school’s motto, I went to the bathroom, where I discovered I was getting my period (sorry for TMI but it’s germane to the rest of the story, I promise).

We checked out and I remembered to use some of the coupons that Michael’s sends me rather aggressively, and saved $5 on Zoe’s $15 worth of baking supplies, thinking that savings would come in handy when I had to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to get my mirror reattached to my car.

Back in the car I texted Randy that I had a) knocked the mirror off the van b) gotten my period in the store c) received a $5 discount. Randy replied that that was a weird reason for a discount, which made me laugh and laugh and laugh. And I showed Zoe and she laughed with me.

Oh, and did I mention that my mom is having heart surgery tomorrow?

Oy.

For the past several years, each day of November I have posted on Facebook about what I am thankful for. Or, I have posted every few days a few things I am thankful for. I find it challenging to stick to doing any given task every single day beyond the basics required for hygiene and decent parenting, even if it is a task I want to do and set out for myself.

In recent weeks (maybe months?) I have found myself more anxious and stressed than usual (which is saying a lot). I have struggled to focus my attention on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. I am getting plenty of sleep. I am walking a lot. But my brain is just on overdrive all the time. It feels chaotic in my head.

I am contemplating the causes of this (not that hard to figure out, really) and working on solutions (harder). One thing I know I need to do is express gratitude. I am absolving myself from any requirements of eloquence or grace or even complete sentences. I just want to put some things out into the universe.

I am thankful that

  1. Zeke has finally made two friends in his first grade class and I’ve finally managed to contact one of the moms and have actually arranged a playdate for next weekend. I am both relieved and excited.
  2. My sister has been coaching me in how to say no. You might think this would be simple for me, but you would be wrong. I am rehearsing these lines in my head and planning to use them soon. In fact, earlier today I offered to do something for a group I am in and then I thought about my lines and I rescinded my offer! It felt good.
  3. Several people I care about are dealing with life-threatening illnesses or taking care of loved ones with life-threatening illnesses right now. This is not what I am thankful for. What I am thankful for is that these people all have access to excellent medical care, and more importantly that they are surrounded by family and friends who are providing unwavering love and support. AND that some of these people are willing and able to share what they’re going through online so that the wider community of people who care about them can know what’s going on and offer continuous love and comfort and encouragement. It’s so unnecessary to suffer alone.
  4. Tonight I watched Zoe help Zeke with some martial arts techniques with confidence and patience I have never before witnessed in that situation. It would seem that becoming a black belt and taking a recently added leadership class at EvolveAll have really made a positive difference. She was kind and enthusiastic in instructing him and he was receptive to her teaching and demonstrated immediate improvement. I was proud of both of them.

    (I was going to try to write 30 thankful things here because there are 30 days in November but as the words seem to be just spilling out of me I’ll go for 10 tonight and do the other 20 later).
  5. I have a new client that I am so thrilled to be working for and whose work is making an enormous impact on our country with the potential to seriously change things for the better in the next year. This client completely fell into my lap unexpectedly and I am thankful for the referral from someone I worked with years ago and for the new relationship.
  6. My husband is keeping up with the impeachment hearings so he can explain everything to me. He is more attuned and seemingly better able to understand political news and analysis than I am and he loves to discuss it and doesn’t mind answering my questions. And I am thankful that (hopefully) some people are finally going to be called to account for their unethical behavior. There’s so much more they should be called to account for, but I guess we have to start somewhere.
  7. There are so many extraordinary books in the world and I get to read some of them. I have read (or listened to) some absolutely stunning books in recent months, including The Dutch House; Olive, Again; The Miseducation of Cameron Post; Normal People; Every Note Played; The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl; Children of Blood and Bone; Unsheltered; Sing, Unburied, Sing; Evvie Drake Starts Over; Starworld; Little Fires Everywhere; How Not to Die Alone; City of Girls; and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. This is not an exhaustive list. But a good one.
  8. We have a washing machine and dryer and a dishwasher in our house. These are the kind of conveniences we often take for granted, but they are actually huge. We do so much laundry in our house. I am so grateful that I don’t have to take it all to a laundromat. We have nice clothes. We have warm clothes. We have plenty of choices of what to wear every day. We can be as clean and as cute as we want to be.
  9. I have choices. I am so fortunate to have plenty of options in my life. At times it may seem like too many, but what a luxury to have too many choices. What to eat, where to go, what kind of work to do, who to spend time with, how to raise our kids, what kind of vacation to take, what camp to send our kids to, how to entertain ourselves. We have immense amounts of freedom and privilege in how we conduct our lives.
  10. I play soccer with a phenomenal group of women. I love my team and I love playing with them on Monday nights and I am pretty happy with the fact that I have become a better player over the past eight seasons. And we have new jerseys for the spring season! Stay tuned for pictures come April.

    It’s time to put Zeke to bed. I am thankful that he still loves to read and snuggle with me.

bodydiagram

This is where my organs would ordinarily be, if they weren’t displaced by my all-consuming anxiety. 

I am so filled with anxiety that I am certain there is no room left inside me for my internal organs. They have been squeezed together in some tiny crevice so my anxiety has ample room to luxuriously expand. The knots in my stomach have all but filled my stomach so there is little space left for such old-fashioned things as digestion to occur.

I have spent a lot of this summer reminding myself to breathe. Taking deep breaths that require much more effort than seems normal, but then again when was the last time I was normal? I suppose the breathing has helped, as the threatening panic attack remains hovering at the edge of my consciousness, ready to jump in at any time an opening presents itself. The panic attack is like a first responder, but not the helpful kind.

Chief among the myriad reasons for this anxiety (although really, who needs reasons?) are two new schools. Tomorrow my kids will get on their respective school buses–they have never ridden buses to school before–and be delivered to elementary school and middle school for the first time. They will have new buildings to navigate, new teachers to get to know, new classmates who speak different languages, new assignments to remember, new school cultures to learn.

Of course I realize that kids start new schools all the time. This is the way of the world. But all those other kids aren’t mine. And my kids, unfortunately or inevitably or just because of good old genetics, share with me just a bit of that predisposition toward anxiety. We are a sensitive people. I remember years ago hearing the adage that having kids is like letting your heart walk around outside your body, and so it is. Starting new schools is like your heart has developed some confidence, a sense of style, a few signature jokes, and then suddenly it’s stripped bare all over again, completely vulnerable in a new environment. And now my heart is split into two, wandering through two new schools, looking around desperately for other hearts that will be kind.

This year for the first time I have a number of friends who are sending kids to college. Zeke’s previous preschool teacher and preschool director, friends from church, friends from high school and elementary school, and my yoga teacher all delivered offspring to college for the first time in August. (All to excellent Virginia schools, as it happens). When I think of them, even when I see the pictures on Facebook of their smiling kids in freshly decorated dorm rooms, I feel like my heart is not simply walking around outside my chest, but has been forcibly ripped from my body and flung hundreds of miles away, where it may be lying in a ditch, attempting to struggle to its feet. College! Thinking about this literally makes my chest hurt. My daughter is only seven years away from this prospect. When I ran into our wise preschool director the other day and mentioned this, she said not to think about it yet, just to concentrate on kindergarten and sixth grade right now. Which is good, because that is all I am capable of at the moment.

I try hard not to be a helicopter parent. My philosophy is much more free range, although it’s challenging in a culture of helicopters. I do believe in giving my children the opportunity to be independent, and learn things, and grow on their own. But what if kids are mean to them? What happens when kids are mean to them? Because it’s bound to happen and it’s already happened and it’s so hard. Did I mention we are sensitive people? This summer at a couple of camps some little boys said mean things to Zeke. I don’t know what all of the words were. Some of them, as I recall, were, “I don’t like you.” No one wants to hear that, but when you’re 44 it’s easier to give someone the side eye and walk away. Of course, when “I don’t like you” is accompanied by being punched in the back while you’re trying to make art, it’s harder to let it slide. Especially when you’re five. The day after this happened, Zeke was desperately and theatrically upset when I tried to drop him off at camp. It took 30 minutes for me to get to the bottom of the problem, but I did. I talked with the teacher and reassured Zeke that she would keep an eye on things and make sure the boys didn’t bother him. She moved him to a different team, and he was calm and everything was fine. By the end of the week he was playing with the same boys. Sometimes I don’t understand how life works at all.

With girls it’s different, of course. I’ve been hearing a lot from fellow parents of tweens that we should brace ourselves for the mean girls of middle school years. Optimistically I feel like we can bypass this particular trauma because we’ve been dealing with mean girls since Zoe was in kindergarten. While she had an overall excellent experience in elementary school and has always had lots of friends, there was rarely a time in which she didn’t have at least one “friend” who was trying to manipulate and control her. There was the girl who, in kindergarten, insisted that Zoe play Justin Bieber (Zoe didn’t even know who he was, but cried about it nonetheless), and later threw rocks at Zoe because she was trying to meditate when the girl wanted to play. And there were other girls for the following five years who tried to take advantage of Zoe, who threatened to abandon her if she played with other friends, who attempted to enlist her as a personal assistant. There was so much drama. And it wasn’t even middle school yet. So the good thing, I keep reminding myself, is that Zoe has so much experience dealing with this behavior and has learned how to stand up for herself and take care of herself in ways that it took me many more decades to learn myself, that maybe she’ll be ok in middle school. I hope.

At her school open house, she was not the only kid to be walking around in a daze, clinging to a parent’s arm, wondering how she would figure all this out on her own. I know she won’t really be on her own. There will be 899 other kids there! I know she’ll be ok. But I also know it’s a little terrifying, and no amount of reassurance from her parents will take that away until she does figure it out for herself.

Less than 24 hours from now, my kids will be at school. I’ll be on my way to a new yoga class I signed up for, which will be an excellent way for me to not sit home and cry or give in to that panic attack. Then after yoga I’ll come home and attack the million work assignments I’ve been neglecting during the last week of summer when I’ve been trying to squeeze in the maximum amount of fun experiences with my family so they can have happy memories to hang onto during their own moments of encroaching anxiety. And I’ll try my best to focus on getting my work done while I count the minutes until those school buses pull up to our bus stop and I not very casually envelop my children in gigantic hugs and try not to pepper them with all my questions about how the first day of school went. I will exhale. And the next day at least it won’t be quite so new.

Today was the final Sunday of our November theme of abundance at UUCA. I led worship, along with my friends Bob and Kendra. You can watch a video of the service here: http://www.uucava.org/livestream/.

You can read my meditation and prayer here:

I encourage you to put your feet on the floor. Feel your seat beneath you and observe the presence beside you of caring people, whether they are friends or family or strangers. Notice your breath. Breathe in peace. Breathe out love. Breathe in comfort. Breathe out compassion. Breathe in strength. Breathe out generosity. Whatever you need right now, feel it filling your body every time you inhale. Whatever you wish to share with the world, feel it gliding into the atmosphere on your breath.

Spirit of life, we come together here today after having been scattered near and far during the past week. Some of us are refreshed and rejuvenated by time off from work and reunions with beloved family and friends. Some of us are weary from tense and difficult moments and feelings of obligation rather than joy. Some of us labored, some of us were served. Some of us were surrounded by love, some of us were lonely.

Whoever we are, may we find refuge here.

Spirit of life, as we begin again today, we ask for another chance. An opportunity to be kind to ourselves. To truly love ourselves so we can better love others. We seek relief and ease because some of us are Just. So. Tired. We seek clarity when facing an uncertain diagnosis, or no diagnosis at all, in the midst of debilitating symptoms. We seek reassurance as we endeavor to do right by our children when parenting can be so stressful. When we are young and when we are old, we seek acknowledgment. We want to know that we matter. At every age, we wish to be heard and understood. We seek grace along the path that is littered with our mistakes. We seek courage to be bold and step onto a new, unfamiliar path. We wish for the strength to unclench our fists and let the anxieties, the fears, the old hurts be carried away on the winds, leaving our hands and our hearts free. We long for the freedom to laugh and to cry with abandon. We seek release.

Whatever we seek, may we glimpse it today in this place, and claim it for our own.

 

And here’s my reflection:

FINDING YOUR ABUNDANCE

I have a contentious relationship with time. I am always running late, always composing an apology in my head. I promise it’s not because I don’t respect you or value our relationship. It’s because I am overly optimistic. I always think I have time to do one more thing before I go. Write one more sentence, put away one more load of laundry, cross one more thing off my to-do list. I am wildly unrealistic about how much time something is going to take. You would think that by this point in my life I would’ve figured this out, but no.

My family is so often late that we’ve invented a game called the good excuse bad excuse game. Note that we do not play this in the exact moment when we’re tumbling out of the house and into the minivan, because I would be way too flustered. But in a moment of calm, we can play. Here’s how it works. One person says, “sorry I was late, I decided I didn’t feel like getting out of bed, but eventually I did.” Everyone responds, BAD EXCUSE! Another person says, “Sorry I was late, I was rescuing 100 puppies from a burning building.” GOOD EXCUSE! And we continue to come up with the most pathetic or most heroic excuses we can think of.

As silly as this might seem, the good excuse bad excuse game points to an unspoken truth. The most valuable use of your time is often when you are helping someone else, when you are sharing your abundance, just like in the story Kendra read earlier. But what are the abundances we have to share? How can we find them when we so often focus on what’s scarce in our lives?

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you may have sorted yourself into one of the Hogwarts houses. Is your abundance bravery, loyalty, intelligence, or ambition? Do you possess an abundance of patience in a world that prioritizes speed and multitasking? Are you able to bring presence into a culture of preoccupation? I know that I am awed by people who are able to be fully present with me, to make me feel like I am the only person in the world who matters at that moment. Yet this quality is not one of my abundances. For better or for worse, my mind is always tuned in to several channels at once. I can’t NOT hear a conversation happening across the room, or the oven timer going off, or notice that someone in the vicinity needs something. One of my abundances is an astute power of observation, but not focused presence.

Maybe your abundance is more practical, like agility with numbers and the ability to manage or make money. I interview a lot of people on behalf of one of my clients who say they became budget counselors because they always loved numbers. I have always felt like I am allergic to numbers. At the annual meeting at church, my eyes glaze over when they talk about the budget. I am terrible with money. I sometimes wish our currency were only in words instead of numbers. Then I could understand. This trouble with numbers often comes into conflict with another of my abundances, which is generosity. Are you raising money for Multiple Sclerosis research, or orphans in Haiti, or school supplies for girls in Nigeria? I am guaranteed to donate, whether or not I can afford it.

In fact, one of my favorite holiday traditions, for the past 10 or 15 years, has been giving alternative gifts to nonprofits that I hand pick—and now my husband and children help choose—for all of our family members. We do this at an alternative gift fair, like those sponsored by Alternative Gifts of Greater Washington, or in Arlington, Gifts that Give Hope—which is hosting this year’s event on December 9 at Discovery Elementary. Or online through the Catalogue for Philanthropy. What these organizations do is bring together wonderful charitable groups and tell you what exactly your $10 or $20 or $50 donation would do for their beneficiaries. For example, a $5 donation to your local animal shelter would buy chew toys for a dog waiting to be adopted. A $25 donation to a nonprofit that serves single moms who are survivors of domestic violence would buy a week’s worth of diapers. A $50 donation would buy a bike for a young person in an African village to have the transportation needed to start a business. We take time to think about what kind of donations would be meaningful to each family member. Like the dog toys for Uncle Larry and Aunt Susan who have loved dozens of dogs and cats over the years. Cooking classes in honor of my aunt who taught me to make delicious food from scratch. You get the idea. On Christmas morning, we open these gifts along with all the others and read out loud where the charitable gift will be going. My family’s goal on Christmas morning is to make people laugh or cry, and often these gifts elicit tears. And they don’t take up room on anyone’s shelf, and they’re making the world a better place. These gifts also remind us of just how much abundance we have in our family and our community.

Going for the laugh is also fun, like when I got my mom an autographed 8×10 photo of Adam Levine because she’s a huge fan of the Voice. You have to balance things out.

The paradox about my contentious relationship with time is that time is what people want most from me. Time is what my kids want, time is what my parents want. My husband, my dog, my friends, my clients, the church. Even though it doesn’t feel like I have a lot of it, time is my most valuable abundance to give.

My parents have everything they could possibly want, and more. But my mom is thrilled if I give her a Christmas gift of a day where I help her clean out her closet and go to lunch. We take each other to concerts and plays and readings, where we share the gift of time spent together, sharing an experience. Seeing and hearing live music is one of the great joys that my husband and I share. When we devote so many hours to working and managing the house and taking care of our children and our dog, the simple act of making the time to be together and do something we both love can seem monumental, but it’s so important.

What Facebook has abundance of is memes, and many of them are silly, and some are annoying, and some are offensive. But some are really good reminders of what matters. One I remember said something like, “if you have a stack of dishes in your sink, it means you have enough food to eat. If you have a pile of laundry to fold, it means you have enough clothes to wear.” It’s easy in Arlington, or in Northern Virginia, or Greater Washington, to feel like we don’t have enough. We have plenty of first world problems. But we also have plenty of abundance. Abundant opportunities, abundant amusements, abundant things to see and people to meet. Abundant chances to serve. Abundant ways to receive.

As we close out our month of abundance, and our weekend of abundant food and company, and we look ahead to a month that may be filled with hope or anxiety, love or loneliness, generosity or uncertainty, or maybe all of these. Remember to take with you this month your inner abundance. Is it compassion? Vision? Wit? Steadiness? Creativity? Maybe you can’t name your inner abundance right now. If that’s the case, give yourself time to find it. And when you find it, give it away.

May it be so, may it be so, may it be so.

04277121_zi_blue_silverLast night around 6, when I was waiting for a friend to pick Zoe up for tae kwan do because I didn’t want to bring Zeke because he was coughing and his shoes were soaking wet because I let him stomp in a puddle when we were picking up Zoe from school and when we got home I discovered the dryer, which we just paid $400 to get repaired, was screeching mercilessly whenever I turned it on, I started feeling panicky. I was upstairs waiting by the window with Zoe to spot her ride when it arrived while downstairs Zeke had found a tray of Christmas treats Zoe had left out, and was stuffing chocolate covered peanuts in his mouth. When I ran downstairs to find him, there was a blend of saliva and chocolate seeping all over his face and clothes and his mouth was full of unchewed peanuts because he still doesn’t have that many teeth. He had also managed to open Zoe’s Finding Nemo DVD that she received for Hanukkah the night before and had somehow smeared it with chocolate as well. I wiped off his face and yanked off his shirt and fleece and went to put them in the bucket that we soak stained things in but discovered I had left it outside on the patio and it needed to be washed. And I couldn’t wash it because the sink was full of dirty dishes and bottle parts because even though Zeke will drink water from a cup he still refuses to drink milk unless it’s in a bottle.

I was short of breath, my chest was tight, I felt nauseated and dizzy. I have a friend just a few years older than me who had a heart attack last year. Someone else my age with whom I graduated from college died this year from one. And one of Randy’s grad school classmates just died from a possible heart attack. I was increasingly panicked. I looked up the signs of a heart attack and a panic attack and found several websites that said the symptoms are remarkably similar. How helpful!

When Randy got home he dropped me off at urgent care. I should have just gone to the ER. The people at urgent care did not demonstrate any sense of urgency whatsoever. The receptionists and the physician’s assistant all seemed bored and completely uninterested in their jobs or the fact that people they were helping might have some sort of problem. They acted like they had been hired for jobs at lackadaisical care. The PA greeted me with, “So are you having a heart attack?” I told her I didn’t know what was wrong, that’s why I was there. Later when she was doing the EKG and tears were streaming down my face she repeatedly told me to relax. Oh ok. Thanks for the advice. The doctor, who was at least friendly, said I was fine and there wasn’t really anything he could do for me, as my heart and lungs and blood pressure were normal. He asked if there was anything stressful going on in my life. I didn’t even know where to start. I offered, “I have two young kids…” He said something like, is that all? I didn’t go into the running my own business thing or the fact that it’s Christmas and Hanukkah and so many things are undone or the fact that tragedies local and global are constantly breaking my heart and assaulting my soul. He asked if I wanted anything to calm me down, like a Xanax. I declined, as I have attempted to use Xanax in the past and even in small doses it makes me feel drunk and unable to function. Calm, sure, but not really worth it.

So the good news is I didn’t have a heart attack. The list of things to do remains long and the stacks of stuff to deal with are piled high. I am struggling to resist the urge to climb back into bed with my book–The Gravity of Birds–which is so good. In the meantime, I will listen to John Denver and the Muppets and try to get back to work, and be thankful that my heart is good.

You always hear about how the best thing for babies and kids is consistency. I would rather focus on the virtue of flexibility. As a parent and as the owner of a small business, no two days of my life are ever alike. There’s no consistency from day to day. There are many things I’d like to do every day but don’t, or plan to do but can’t. I don’t do routine that well. Maybe there are babies and children out there who are consistent, but mine aren’t. And their parents aren’t.

We do feed them consistently, although not on a fixed schedule. We keep them clean. We consistently go into their rooms during the night when they cry. We give them countless hugs and kisses every day.

And we are consistently late.

I am almost 40 so it seems unlikely that my consistent inability to do anything at the same time day after day will change. So I just need to stop consistently feeling guilty about it.

Sometimes you end up nursing your baby in the driver’s seat of your minivan in the parking lot of McDonald’s because his persistent screaming from the back seat was about to make you plunge your car into a snow bank. No varieties or volume of music would assuage him, nor your own voice, which is admittedly becoming less soothing. You’re on your way home. It’s been a long day filled with things that did not go well. Why is he screaming? It’s anyone’s guess. He is probably teething. Although he has seemed like he has been teething for the past six months or so. He is probably hungry, because it’s dinner time. You’re hungry. You plied him with cheerios and yogurt melts earlier, and you attempted to give him milk. But as is his habit lately, he will not breastfeed when there are people or things nearby that might be remotely stimulating. He drinks a few sips and–although you know he is hungry and you know plenty of milk is available–he wrests away and tries to throw himself onto the floor so he can crawl toward something compelling, like a glass object. He may be crying because his sister is not in the back seat with him as she usually is, since she has just been dropped off for a sleepover. She is a reliable source of companionship, entertainment, and cheer, and she is missing. He may be tired–as you are–and crying is his favorite way of expressing that. He may be frustrated that he has removed one of his socks but not the other. There is no telling. But you realize you cannot make it home while enduring the screaming any longer, so you pull into the parking lot, as far away from other cars as possible, and try to nurse. At first he refuses, clinging to his tears and then distracted by the novelty of the steering wheel, the gear shift, the buttons that control the music and temperature. Eventually, thankfully, basic desire for nourishment overcomes innate curiosity and he turns to you for milk. And he drinks.

After a while you step gingerly out of the car and oh so carefully try to put him back in his carseat, talking softly to him to try to erase any lingering memory of his previous activity there. He is quiet. You strap him in. You get back in the driver’s seat and start to pull back onto the road. He starts to cry again. Your heartbeat accelerates and your hands clench the steering wheel. You start to sing “Old MacDonald” (no relation to the restaurant–different spelling) and run through your mental catalogue of 15 or so animals. He is quiet again. You are so tired you start getting the animal noises wrong. You switch to “The Wheels on the Bus” and exhaust the list of bus features and riders. He is still quiet. You stop singing and feel profound gratitude for the silence.

On good days, parenting is made up of many ecstatic moments interrupted by a few exasperating ones. On bad days, the reverse. Some days as a parent I can rejoice in the trivial triumphs, like getting Zeke’s nails clipped so he won’t claw himself or us in fits of excitement or fatigue. Other days I look around at the colossal mess and the long list of undone items and struggle to see what I’ve accomplished, other than keeping everyone fed and alive. Which is something, but sometimes seems like a low bar.

While I am a working mom, my work only happens during the hours that Zeke is in day care and Zoe is in school, or sometimes at night if necessary. Although night office hours are much fewer and further between since Zeke was born since his sleep patterns are utterly unpredictable. But I am on my own with the kids most afternoons, and with Zeke on Fridays, and typically on snow days, so I did identify with this post by The Ugly Volvo. Parenting a baby can be so spectacularly joyful and so thoroughly frustrating from moment to moment.

At this moment, thankfully, Zeke is asleep. It was a hard-fought nap. He has a cold, so he was only willing to nurse briefly because breastfeeding makes it hard for him to breathe when he’s congested. I knew he was tired and still hungry but he screamed and battled fiercely when I tried to keep feeding him. Eventually I liberated him from his napping cocoon and took him downstairs to play while I pumped four ounces. Luckily I was able to entice him to stay in the play area instead of crawling off to find uncovered electrical outlets while I was tethered to the breast pump. Then we returned upstairs and he sat up and gave himself the bottle while I sneakily eased him half into the cocoon. As soon as he finished drinking and discarded the bottled I zipped him all the way up, singing “The Wheels on the Bus” at the top of my lungs to distract him from his capture. Then I rocked him and toned it down until he zonked out.

At nine months, he seems gigantic. He’s wearing 18-month clothes and stretches out way beyond your arms when you’re holding him. And he’s so tough and sturdy. He hardly seems like a baby because he appears indestructible (don’t test this, please). He just steamrolls over toys of any shape or size to get what he wants. He crawls so much faster than you expect and then you really don’t have time to look away or do anything you thought you’d have time to do between when you put him down and when he’s at the top of the stairs, or in the kitchen. He’s made a game of taking a toy and throwing it on front of him and crawling to get it and can repeat this over and over circuiting around the first floor of our house. At long last, he has two teeth–one fully in and the other emerging–and loves to use them to crunch. In fact he’s so excited to feed himself that more often than not he wants cheerios and the other little crunchy things instead of the baby food. I think the baby food is getting boring. But we haven’t quite gotten to the point where he can eat what we’re eating. Probably what has to happen is us putting in the extra effort to make some table food that’s appropriate for him, but we haven’t quite managed to do that yet. And I’m also not sure that anything I can make will be as nutritious as these little pouches of spinach, apple, and rutabaga, or plum, berry, and quinoa.

Zeke recently discovered clapping, and today I saw him pick up two blocks and clap them together and enjoyed his reaction when he created his first hand-held percussion instrument (aside from one of his favorite hobbies of smacking and tapping all wooden surfaces). Much like his sister and his parents, he loves music. Yesterday we went to the open house at Zoe’s former preschool, which will hopefully be Zeke’s preschool next fall. One of the first people we ran into was the music teacher there. One of my favorite times when I used to co-op in Zoe’s class was going to music class and seeing the kids either enthusiastically sing and dance and stomp around, or just observe mutely. I am reading the book Quiet right now and gaining a better understanding of how personality develops and what it means when kids are introverted or extroverted or low-reactive or high-reactive or sensitive and the various combinations of all of those factors. And I know participating in preschool music class isn’t really everyone’s thing, but I think all of the kids are still taking it in on some level, and how it comes back out remains to be seen. Zoe was not always a jubilant singer, but that didn’t inhibit the development of her fascination with and intense enjoyment of music. Today in church, she was sitting with me in the front row, right behind the grand piano, percussionists, and bassist, with a great view of the choir. On the first Sunday of the month, kids start out in the sanctuary and participate in the first part of the service, then listen to a story for all ages, and then go to their religious education classes. But after the first couple songs, Zoe said emphatically, “I want to stay for the music. I don’t want to go to class.” So she stayed, and she seemed as entranced and moved by the music as I was, singing to herself quietly, but clearly part of the moment.

Is it easy to be hard on yourself as a parent, or as a nursing mom, or as a nursing, working mom. Sometimes things do not go the way you expected them to go, or the way you think they must magically go for everyone else. But sometimes they work out fine. And sometimes your baby beams at you for minutes at a time without breaking eye contact, showing you the best way he knows how exactly how much he loves you. And sometimes your first-grader holds your hand and sings with you in church, or snuggles up to read, or gives you a kiss when she knows you’re feeling beaten down, and she even says “I love you,” because she can, and she does. And a nap would be nice, but you know you’ll make it through one way or another.

 

I’m sure everyone in my family has now seen more of my breasts, and more often, than they ever expected or cared to. My boy Zeke loves to nurse. And why wouldn’t he? Thankfully, he’s a good sleeper, usually going through the night without needing to eat these days. As a result, however, he packs it in during the day, breastfeeding six or eight or a dozen times a day. I lose count. Every day I intend to keep track, but my brain is so cloudy that I forget. He enjoys long, luxurious meals. He appreciates quick snacks. When I’m out in public, especially in a crowded place or if strangers are seated nearby, I feed Zeke under a nursing cover. I can’t imagine it’s very discreet, because anyone would see what I’m doing, but at least my boobs and my belly are not exposed to a room full of people. But at home, or on vacation, I don’t bother. So Family, I hope you haven’t been offended. I am nutritious.

After a long and thorough search for an acceptable day care provider to care for Zeke when I go back to work in earnest, I found someone who has run her home-based day care for 33 years. Her house is five minutes from ours and she seemed conscientious and the kids there seemed happy. Zeke won’t start there until September, and even then he will only be with her two days a week and with my parents for two. I’m sure he’ll be fine, and if I decide I don’t like her, we can always take him out and find someone else. And yet. Putting him in day care at all feels like a colossal betrayal. I am his source of sustenance. Sure, he’s taken bottles of breast milk from his dad and grandparents and great aunt. But it’s me he loves to eat from and with. Sure, there’s some ego involved here. Being the mother of a baby is nothing if not a rush to the ego–look what my body developed and birthed and now I’m feeding him and he’s growing and WOW — I am doing this. Even if it’s basically all happening automatically and you’re not really doing anything yourself, just letting yourself be used as a vessel and a milk factory. Still, it feels impressive and gratifying. Much as you feel pleased with yourself when you take him to the grocery store in the stroller and buy $100 worth of groceries that you shop for with a basket attached to each side of the stroller and then you stroll home the half mile with 9 bags hanging from the hooks on your stroller handlebars. You don’t always have that many opportunities to feel really physically competent–or at least I don’t–but taking care of this baby provides plenty.

I realize that soon after he starts day care, he will likely start eating some solid food, so he won’t be as dependent on nursing as he is now. At some point, that will be a relief to me and certainly to Zoe, who is visibly frustrated with the lack of intimacy she is able to share with me now in terms of snuggles and lap time because Zeke is so often occupying my arms and taking priority. Life will be easier for me, just simpler and less demanding, when I don’t have to nurse so much. But at the same time that intensity of being needed, and being able to provide such an essential service for this wonderful little person, will diminish. And as much as constant breastfeeding has driven me insane, when I just want to eat a sandwich or go to the bathroom, the thought of giving it up makes me equally sad. I know I’m not giving it up just because he’ll be in day care, but it will all be different. And we know change is hard. Although when you have kids, change happens about every five minutes whether you like it or not.

I can see Zoe changing by the minute since her brother was born. While she seems less likely to listen the first time and increasingly able to stand and stare at us when we ask her to do something, or why she did or didn’t do something, wearing this expression of complete intransigence, she is also more independent and both able and willing (if sometimes resigned to doing so with a loud sigh) to amuse herself for long stretches. I guess she realizes it’s either be her own entertainment or stand around being pathetic while we take care of her brother. Last summer I took her to the pool almost every day after camp and played with her in the water. This summer it has proven complicated and exhausting to get in the water with Zeke, although I’ve done it a handful of times, and Zoe has adapted quite nicely. She swims by herself, throwing in pool toys and diving to catch them, or she makes friends, or she plays with kids she’s met before. She’s adapted.

Before Zeke was born, Randy and I easily agreed that we would be sure to spend one-on-one time with Zoe to make sure she got enough attention. Of course that makes sense and is what any good parent would do. But then life happens and it’s harder to do the things that obviously of course you should be doing. I had this idea that I was spending all this time with Zoe because I spend a lot of time driving her places and watching her swim, or do tae kwan do, or what have you. But Zeke is always there. And as often as not, screaming in the car.

So finally, I took Zoe out today for a mommy-daughter outing, to get our nails done. Something definitely not appropriate for babies and something only big girls get to do. She chose neon orange for her toes, and what she called sparkly indigo for her fingernails. And she got flower designs on her thumbs and big toes. Then we went out to lunch, where Randy and Zeke met us. Thoughtfully, Zeke slept through lunch.

Then after lunch I had the opportunity to indulge myself in some mommy-alone-without-kids-and-not-attempting-to-do-work-or-errands time, while Randy hung out with Zoe and Zeke at home. I had a reflexology foot massage, supremely relaxing in its own right, but also just blissful in that I was just on my own, being taken care of, and not taking care of anyone else at all. Even for a minute. My breasts safely cocooned inside my shirt.

It’s good to be needed, even when it’s exhausting. And it’s good to have the chance to give something to other people who need you besides the little one who just likes to suckle and smile. And it’s good to take care of yourself once in a while. And now that it’s bedtime for the grown-ups, that means it’s time for me to pump, to make a bottle for Zeke to enjoy with someone else who loves him.

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