There is no substitute for you
no one else who knows what you know

Who says “Hello, my dear!” with such enthusiasm 
when I call, reporting that you are just hunky and dory.

There is no voice that sounds like yours
No one else who fusses quite the same way 
when someone tries to touch your hair
No one else with your signature scent of Charlie perfume

There is no one else who can host a hen party like you
No one else with that stockpile of snacks and treats
you’re always willing to share

There is no one else who drove me around 
High Point to see the Christmas lights
and invited me on last minute shopping adventures
always letting me in on important secrets

There is no one else who would bake a 
strawberry birthday cake 
for my imaginary friend

There is no one else who understands 
Nana’s mysterious recipes so well
and makes them as faithfully,  
always offering encouragement 
when I call from my kitchen with questions 

There is no one else who supplied me with 
such wonderful socks for so many years 
that I had to learn, as an adult, how to buy socks

There is no one else who would leave 
her teeth at home 
when we go out to lunch 
and then just order something
that doesn’t require too much chewing. 

There is no one else who loves 
a good recliner like you do
who devours as many novels at the beach,
who loves to watch the kids splash and swim, 
who skunked us all at cornhole.

There is no one else who loves 
banana ice cream like you do,
well, except your sister.

There is no one else who calls her “Faye Marie.”

No one else who rode eight hours on the Palmetto line
as soon as she heard about her sissy’s stroke
and sat with her for weeks on end
and laughed with her at all the nonsense
until she learned to speak again.

There is no one else who reads 
my Facebook posts
and calls my mother 
as quickly as you to discuss
unfolding events.

There is no one else who keeps as close an eye 
on the weather in Virginia 
and calls us with cautionary alerts.

There is no one else I can count on 
to play Words with Friends
in the middle of the night 
so I know when you’re awake
and you ask why I’m awake
and you play risqué words and tell me,
“I bet you didn’t know I knew that word!” 
and I can hear you laugh.

There is no one else I love 
to watch get off the train 
as much as you
when you come to visit.

There is no substitute for you.

For FG
May 23, 1941 – August 13, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do we seek our solace?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today we said goodbye to Ella, our 18-year-old Honda Civic, whose transmission conked out. We decided that the $4000 it would require to replace the transmission would be better spent on a down payment for a new (to us) hybrid car. Even though Randy has primarily been Ella’s driver since we bought our Honda Odyssey in 2013, I bought her on my own and she was our only car for a long while.

I bought Ella from Landmark Honda after my Saturn was–oddly–stolen. My Saturn was later recovered–unexpectedly spotted in an apartment building parking lot by a friend of mine six months after it had been stolen. But by then the insurance company already owned it and I had bought Ella.

Ella was the first new car I ever bought. I did my research and decided on a Honda Civic, then went to three different dealerships until I found one where the salesman wasn’t condescending. I brought my dad along because I was worried that the salespeople would take advantage of me somehow, or I wouldn’t ask the right questions. But it was going to be my car and I was going to be paying for it. At the first two dealerships, the salesmen addressed my dad instead of me. Finally, at Landmark Honda the salesman acknowledged that I was an intelligent adult, so I bought the car from him.

My favorite thing about her was the sunroof, which I chose specifically because I remembered how much I loved the feeling of the air coming through the roof at night (at which time it becomes a moonroof?) of the car my boyfriend in high school drove.

A Honda Civic is not a fancy car. And after 18 years, Ella had experienced ups and downs and was more than a little messy. She had worn through many bumper stickers and had collected a lot of crumbs that seemed to be just a permanent part of her.

At times when you’re a parent it’s hard to remember what it was like before you had kids. I know that I drove Ella for five years before Zoe was born, and then for six more years until Zeke was born and we felt compelled to get a minivan because we needed the space. So I know Randy and I must’ve been driving Ella on great dates and road trip adventures and who knows where else. But the pandemic has caused significant sections of my brain to fog over, so the details are murky. I know in my heart, though, that Ella was a good car and served our family well for a long time. And I always enjoyed feeling the breeze through the sun and moon roof.

Some days it is nearly impossible, and other days clearly impossible, not to drown in the catastrophic abyss that is the world right now. This is not news to anyone.

At 3am this morning after I finished my client work, since I had no opportunity to do it during the day, I wrote a list of small wins in my new notebook. I bought this new notebook last night at Target, while in the midst of having a panic attack because of the school supplies. The school supply section at Target has always been beloved by our family. Unlike some parents, I actually love shopping for school supplies. I have since I was a kid and got to pick out a new Trapper Keeper every year. But last night seeing the vast array of products just sent me into a downward spiral because school + Covid-19 + completely inept government response = nothing good. Everything about this situation is heartbreaking and infuriating and all those shiny folders just reminded me of that.

But back to those little victories. Notice how easy it is to get distracted by awfulness? If you haven’t already seen the video of the explosion in Beirut, don’t watch it. Deep breaths. Focus.

So, small wins, right?

Zeke made this guy!
  1. Zeke is taking a sewing class and a magic class now, both of which he is really enjoying and fully showing up for.
    After carefully curating his summer of camps back in January and having them all be canceled because of Covid, I haphazardly signed him up for a variety of online classes. I did not put in nearly as much thought or planning into this as I did with the camps, so sometimes I over scheduled him and sometimes I signed him for things that required more involvement from me than I was able to provide. But magic and sewing stuffies have been big hits. And yes, I am still putting in some time buying sewing supplies and helping cut out patterns, but Zeke is getting there and is determined to learn and practice. His current career ambition is to become a costume designer for Marvel. I feel like between his sewing and drawing skills, he is on the right track. He can make costumes for theatre productions in high school or create Halloween costumes for his friends. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
  2. Zoe is learning to use nunchucks in her martial arts class.
This is not Zoe. This is Bruce Lee.

I don’t honestly know why they’re using nunchucks, but it’s cool and Zoe was practicing on her own last night, which is always a good thing. I am also just happy that both she and Zeke are back in their martial arts classes at EvolveAll (via Zoom, of course) after taking a brief break. We are all eager to get back to the studio, but in the meantime they are getting exercise and pushing themselves and we still love being part of the EvolveAll community.

3. I finally figured out how to use my AirPods during Zoom meetings. If this doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry about it. If you understand, you will appreciate it.

4. The aforementioned Target trip was principally to buy more lightning cable chargers because mine are always being borrowed for other people to charge their devices in other parts of the house and and we all have so many freaking devices now that there are never enough chargers. So I bought some in fun colors and perhaps now no one will steal mine.

5. The pile of super stinky laundry from our Camp Friendship trip is diminishing. It is not yet gone, but it’s more like a speed bump than a mountain.

6. I helped my mom do a hard thing yesterday.

7. I’m taking a surprisingly fun class through church about how parents can be sexuality educators for their own kids.

8. I’m listening to a fantastic book–No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal.

9. We’ve made some delicious dinners lately from Hello Fresh. The kids don’t always eat them, but Randy and I love them and they’re not the same thing we always make and they’re healthy.

10. I am not water soluble! Twice this week I ended up doing a chore outside in the pouring rain and I didn’t melt. It’s always reassuring to note this underrated quality.

More often than not lately our current existence seems untenable. I’m yelling at my kids too much. My house is a disaster area. My husband and I haven’t had a date in eons. But at least I’m not water soluble.

When I came back to the Crescent Inn
to pick up our order–chicken parm dinner, spaghetti and sausage, flounder and shrimp, and chicken tenders–the red-haired woman behind the counter was packing it up

She wore a leopard-print mask that fell slightly below her nose
On her left arm were tattoos of origami cranes
On her right arm a purple dahlia

She was telling me that she was just waiting on one more salad and the chicken parm when another customer walked in
A short, round woman with a brown ponytail, wearing a pink shirt
She was wearing a disposable mask
but asked the red-haired server–I’ll call her Dahlia–
if she could have a mask from the box on top of the counter
Dahlia said, “they’re a dollar,” and the customer–I’ll call her Karen–seemed
disgusted, as if Dahlia had said, “they’re pre-infected with COVID.”

Karen announced, “I’m here to pick up an order!”
and Dahlia said, “Yes, ma’am, I’m just packing up this lady’s order and I’ll be right with you.”

“I ordered an hour ago!” Karen proclaimed, although she had just walked into the restaurant.

“I’ll get your food as soon as I can,” Dahlia said, while checking and double checking that all of the items in my order were present, including the little containers of ranch dressing for the side salads, and the garlic bread that was actually just buttered toast, maybe with a hint of garlic powder, wrapped in brown wax paper. “I’m just one woman.”

Evidently this comment provoked Karen. Perhaps she thought Dahlia should be several women.

“Why you gotta treat me like shit?” Karen asked. I stood up straighter and shifted away from Karen as subtly as I could manage.

“I’m sorry?” asked Dahlia. “What did I do to upset you?”

“You’ve been treating me like shit from the moment I walked in here,” Karen explained, as if using logic. “Will you hurry up and get my f***ing order? I’ve never been in here before but I’m being treated like shit. Is Mike here? Mike knows my sister.”

“He is here,” Dahlia said. “Would you like to speak to him?”

“No, but he knows my sister!” Karen reiterated.

Dahlia looked at me and I looked at her, eyes wide. “You wanted ranch with that salad?” she asked, even though she knew. “Yes, please,” I answered, with all the politeness of a person who had definitely not been treated like shit and had not witnessed anyone else being treated like shit, other than the way Karen was treating Dahlia.

Dahlia used the opportunity to go into the kitchen to get the ranch dressing, murmuring an explanation of what was unfolding out front. I expected a manager or someone authoritative to come out to appease Karen. Instead, a man with a gray mustache came out, surreptitiously looked around, and dumped a bucket of clean silverware onto a dishtowel on the counter. He returned to the kitchen.

While Dahlia was in the kitchen, Karen muttered to herself about how she had been treated. I continued to inch away.

Finally Dahlia finished packing up my order and handed it to me. “Here you go, honey, you have a wonderful evening. Enjoy your dinner!” she said in a tone that said, “look how I am pleasant and definitely do not treat customers like shit!”

“Thank you so much,” I said, “You have a good night” in a tone that I hope conveyed, “I’m so sorry that this lady is being so inexplicably rude to you and I would have definitely said something to her if I had not been afraid she had a gun, which is not an unreasonable fear given the culture of impulsive gun violence in our country, including a recent episode in which a security guard at a dollar store was shot to death by a customer who did not like being asked to wear a mask.” Hopefully she understood.


Zeke blasting off from the high dive, which is actually a high platform.

We had the whole 660 acres of Camp Friendship almost to ourselves for three days. This would’ve been Zoe’s sixth summer at Camp Friendship, and it would’ve been our second summer of family camp there. Of course camp was canceled because of Covid-19, but we still had the opportunity to spend a few beautiful, sweaty, blissfully screen-free days in the hills of Central Virginia.

A family-owned summer staple since 1966, Camp Friendship counts on hundreds of campers each week of summer to stay in business. Without these campers, does camp even exist? Well, yes, if you bring your camping spirit. This summer Camp Friendship is renting out its cabins and inviting guests to enjoy the amenities of camp as long as they bring their own gear. The exceptions: you do not need to bring your own horse or kayak. Trail rides on some of the camp’s 68 gorgeous horses are available (for an additional fee), as are lessons from the camp’s resident tennis pro. The four of us went for a fun hour-long trail ride, led by Susanne (who runs the equestrian center there) and Caroline, who has worked with horses her entire life. Our patient horses were Frank (for Randy), Haley (for me), Secret (for Zoe), and Wilma (who was the perfect size for Zeke). Randy and Zeke took a tennis lesson (also an additional fee) with Alina, who runs the tennis program. I realized that the equestrian and tennis programs do provide an important stream of income for the camp year-round, as locals come to ride and play whether or not camp is in session.

My horse, Haley

Many of our hours at camp were spent in the lake, either swimming or kayaking. They open the lake for boating in the morning and swimming in the afternoon. You can also fish there as well. We actually borrowed fishing gear for the trip but the kids never got around to using it. I was reminded that I actually like kayaking, and that Zeke can actually do it on his own–although he did get kind of stuck in some bushes at the edge of the lake at one point, but Randy extracted him. Camp Director Ashleigh (originally from South Africa) and another camp staffer Amy (originally from England) were on lifeguard duty the whole time we were there, so we enjoyed chatting with them a lot. They (along with literally everyone at Camp Friendship) are super friendly and welcoming. Kayaks, canoes, paddles, life jackets, and inner tubes are all provided at the lake. They are sanitized between uses.

We brought a soccer ball and frisbee with us as well, but it was a wee bit hot and humid and we didn’t end up using them. (Note, the cabins are not air-conditioned. Bring fans. The showers, however, are glorious. I took several cold ones to refresh myself.) In between our activities we played a lot of cards (Speed is the official card game of Camp Friendship and Zoe loves to beat us at it) and board games (Randy and Zeke played infinite hands of Marvel Fluxx, and we all played Kings in the Corner and Apples to Apples), read our books, and napped. The only activity we hoped to do that we couldn’t was a hayride because it was thunder storming both evenings at sunset, when the hayrides are scheduled. We even bought a bag of apples and a bag of carrots to feed the horses who you encounter on the hayride, but we ended up leaving them at the equestrian center as a parting gift. After the rain cleared, we did get to make our s’mores over the fire pit outside our cabin. We were having some trouble getting the fire going, so we walked down to where the only other family in the village was staying (definitely socially distant, several hundred yards away) and asked for their advice, since we could see their roaring fire from our cabin. They clued us in to the technique of squirting hand sanitizer on paper towels and using that as accelerant. It worked! Yet another use of hand sanitizer!

Because of Covid, the camp is not providing food for cabin rentals, but they offered several suggestions of local restaurants and stores, some of which deliver to camp. As much as I didn’t want to go off camp property (it’s so liberating to walk around with no keys or wallet or phone!) I enjoyed exploring a little of the area around camp. In the town of Palmyra we picked up dinner from Wahoo BBQ, which was delicious. We also spotted a rainbow on our way and admired stunning groves of enormous trees along the road. In the other direction, in Troy, we got dinner from Crescent Inn, which served up fantastic fried flounder for me, with a side of sweet and crumbly cornbread. And in case you forget anything important, or need extra snacks (we brought MANY snacks), there is a grocery store and a CVS in Palmyra and a Walmart Super Center in Gordonsville, which is a mile or two up from Troy. So you have options. The camp store is also open a couple hours each day so you can stock up on ice for your cooler or buy some local products or pick up some Camp Friendship t-shirts as souvenirs. You can also bring your own food to cook over the fire, but that is an advanced level that I have not yet achieved. There are plenty of picnic tables around all the villages. Zoe wanted us to stay in junior girls (also known as Cedar Grove) because that’s where she has stayed as a camper for five years, and also because there is a covered pavilion, where we ate our meals and played games. Oh, there’s also a ping pong table there! And we played ping pong!

Cabin 12, our home away from home

Camp staff told us they will be continuing to do cabin rentals through December this year, and that they still have plenty of room! While we were there, only two or three other groups overlapped with us, and we had plenty of room to spread out.

I am not a camping sort of person, although I kind of wish I were and I have a lot of friends who are, but I do like being outside and away from regularly scheduled life (and the internet*). I love this option of being able to get away without having to set up and stay in a tent. The cabins are simple but comfortable. Camp Friendship is just a couple hours from DC, and about 30 minutes from Charlottesville so you can stop and pick up some bagels from Bodo’s on your way there or home.

So if you’re looking to get out of the house where you’ve spent more time in the past six months than is ideal, I recommend a few days at Camp Friendship. They will be delighted to see you.

*Note that there is wifi in a couple locations at Camp Friendship, if you really need it. I did stop outside the hotspots a couple times to get directions to the restaurants where we got takeout.

Can’t sleep. Finished the book I was reading. Did the NYT crossword. Checked Facebook and Instagram and found no breaking news. Earlier tonight when I was lying in bed reading, Randy went into the closet and came out with a button down shirt and khakis on hangers and hung them on our linen press. This was the first time he’s done that since March. I had forgotten that his office is reopening in phases and his group is eligible to go in this week. He was actually allowed to go in on Tuesday but he was coughing a little so the app that his company instructed employees to use to monitor their health advised him to call a doctor and wait until he was free of any symptoms for three days. The cough had disappeared by Tuesday night and the doctor said if no other symptoms developed (they didn’t), he was fine.

We discussed his plan to go into the office a few weeks ago when his company announced the system and precautions they were implementing. Randy and I agreed it might be worthwhile for him to go in and check things out and if he felt it was unsafe in any way he could just come home. Theoretically this would enable me to work in our home office again and reduce the number of zoom meetings and google hangouts I have to do from our bed or in the family room or dining room with kids asking questions or the Xbox making noise. It’s been way too hot to work in the backyard tent. And perhaps being in the office would enable Randy to have his own quiet time away from the kids and the noise of me having my meetings in the next room and just break up the monotony of never leaving the house except to check the mail. And the mail is usually junk anyway.

But now I am worried about him going into the office with people I don’t know. People outside our bubble. In a building whose ventilation system may it may not be good. This afternoon and evening I participated in three consecutive online meetings. During the first one, related to one of my clients, someone announced that she had heard from someone who worked at the Pentagon that the whole country was going to shut down for two weeks except for hospitals. While I doubt this was anything but wishful thinking that our government was suddenly going to take the coronavirus seriously and do something to save lives, the idea kind of freaked me out, if only because I imagined it would spark some sort of insurrection by the people who believe wearing masks infringes on their individual liberty.

The second video call was a school board meeting during which members of the public were invited to voice their opinions about the proposed learning models for the fall. Last month the school system announced that the options would be 100% distance learning and a hybrid of distance learning and two days a week of in-person school. Parents were asked to choose a model for their children by July 20. Then Tuesday they announced that everyone would do 100% distance learning until at least October or November and then some magic formula would be used to transition to the original plan. Everyone is freaking out about all this. I get it. No one knows what will happen. People want their kids and families to be safe. People want their kids’ and their lives to go back to “normal.” But there is no normal anymore. Teachers are pleading for a plan that doesn’t require them to choose between their health and their jobs. At the meeting tonight, the vast majority of testimonies were in favor of distance learning or another community-created plan. Many of the callers were teachers. Only a few people were in favor of full-time in-person school, which is what the Trump administration would prefer, despite the continued surge in cases nationwide and mounting evidence that Covid-19 does affect kids. I was relieved, at least, that the callers were all respectful and reasoned in their statements. This was in sharp contrast to the Facebook comments during Tuesday’s briefing from the superintendent where most parents came across as self-centered and entitled, not to mention rude and disrespectful. I sure wouldn’t want the job of school administrator right now. Under the best of circumstances it is impossible to please everyone, but now when everyone is traumatized and panicked, there’s a whole new level of demands.

Friends have been asking me what I think and what we’ve chosen for our kids and I repeat my mantra that I’m trying not to get too invested in the discussion because the only things that seem clear to me are that we have no control over the global health situation right now and that whatever happens with the schools may change a million times between now and September 8. I know how lucky we are that I have a flexible job and can take care of my kids as needed. I recognize that privilege. I also wish people would calm down. There are a lot of type A parents in Arlington who need to realize their kids will not fall behind when everyone in the universe is in this same position. I wish more parents were willing to think creatively about how we can make education different or better or innovative in some way instead of trying to make it normal or squeeze it into this box that had just been upended.

The third zoom meeting was, happily, a trivia night hosted by our martial arts studio, just as a fun way to keep the community connected. We were winning after the first half but sank to fifth place by the end thanks to some tricky questions about the periodic table and the meaning of Simba’s name. (Lion) Also we didn’t trust our instincts about plasma or Aaron Burr. But we had fun. EvolveAll’s general manager, Brian, played great music (from my youth, so zoe complained it was all old) while we conferred on answers to the questions, and we laughed. It’s a relief to laugh. So many of these days are so tense. The bad news is relentless. And even a few days back from our vacation it feels like we’ve been stuck inside forever.

The other night zoe and I drove to CVS after midnight to buy bug bites remedies because she couldn’t sleep from the itching—a souvenir of our recent trip. Based on the advice of friends via Facebook, I bought Benadryl cream, calamine lotion, and another tube of something promising to alleviate pain from a variety of bites. I like to cover the bases. We wandered the aisles while we were there just in case there were other things we needed, taking advantage of the completely empty store. Cheap thrills.

It’s been four months now. I’ve stopped counting the days. I stopped blogging every day because I lost momentum. I remember back in March when I thought we’d still be able to go away for spring break, and back in April when we felt sure things would be back to normal by summer. Now the only thing I’m sure of is that we have to get used to this, even though no one wants to and it is still hard. Every other ad on my Facebook feed is for a different style or design of face mask. That’s the cool new thing to buy now.

Last night when swallowing a pill, something went awry and I spent an hour struggling to dispel the intense pain in my chest. I was crying and spitting and trying to burp. It was ridiculous and horrible. Twice before I have gone to urgent care with chest pain only to hear that it was probably indigestion. My heart, thankfully, is fine. And I’ve had the occasional panic attack as well. I think last night the tablet irritating my esophagus might also have triggered the panic, as the anxiety is always there under the surface, just waiting for an excuse to bubble up.

I should try again to sleep. I could write 1,000 more words about the other minutiae from my day but I won’t. This day has already lasted 40 hours at least. Tomorrow is Friday, but what does Friday even mean anymore? I should try again to sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We saw more crashes, more cars immobile on the side of the road, some with drivers investigating a problem and some abandoned, during our 500 miles yesterday than I’ve ever seen on one trip. Every wreck seemed like an omen. At once a reminder to be careful driving this car that isn’t mine and a mixed metaphor for our civilization right now–either broken into pieces or stuck.

I was driving my kids back home from South Carolina after visiting someone who I love very much whose heart is failing. We left my parents there to spend more time. Some cousins and their kids were there too, in two houses, and several dogs. Zeke bonded with one of the black labs in particular. Zoe rekindled the friendship she had with one of her second cousins when they were little. We dismantled ancient scrapbooks and photo albums filled with pictures of our relatives and the occasional stranger. We read news clippings and heard stories about who these people were and what they did and how they lived. We wondered why people put so many terrible photographs in albums and gave thanks for digital cameras and vastly improved quality of prints. We reminded ourselves to label the photos with names, because someday our descendants will be looking at our photo books and their contents won’t be as obvious then as they are to us now.

So much of the conversation revolved around food. What would you like to eat? What do we need from the store? Can I make you a plate of something? Thank you for preparing this delicious meal. Are there snacks? What can I have that’s sweet? If you’re not going to finish that, I’ll have it. Refrigerators crammed with whatever you might want, and if whatever you might want isn’t in there, we’ll run to the store and get some.

CNN provided 24-hour Coronavirus coverage. We interrupted it to introduce my cousin to Queer Eye, with the episode about Mama Tammye. We drove back and forth on 2nd Loop Road between air-conditioned houses, between branches of the family, between lives going in different directions.

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