1. Does teenage angst have an evolutionary purpose?
  2. Why don’t people understand that it’s rude to have a protracted cell phone conversation in a confined public space?
  3. Why is it so hard for siblings to be kind to each other?
  4. Why aren’t all restaurants required to publish allergen information for their menu items on their websites?
  5. Why do so many products have soy in them?
  6. How do you find the right balance between teaching your kids to be independent and showing them what’s right?
  7. Why are there so many choices for anything you would possibly want to buy, at least in this country?
  8. How did someone invent the practice of applying hot wax to skin and ripping off the wax to remove hair?
  9. Why do dust and lint collect in little clumps? What makes them adhere?
  10. Why are certain words considered curse words while their synonyms are not? What makes something a bad word?
  11. What is the appeal of watching violence on tv or in movies?
  12. If it’s possible to have systems of law enforcement and criminal justice that are not needlessly violent, brutal, or corrupt, where did our country go wrong? Or were our systems doomed to fail because of the inherently racist founding of our nation?
  13. Why do some people feel threatened by LGBTQIA+ individuals?
  14. How are there people who have no books in their homes (but who could afford books)?
  15. Why are some birds extraordinarily colorful while others are just brown?
  16. Does anyone ever feel like they’ve figured it all out?

Do you have any answers?

What is it called
when you’ve been
hiding inside
for so long
that when it’s safe
to emerge
you are reluctant
to embrace
your freedom
not quite
trusting
the invitation

What’s the word
for when you
can only
sit on a bench
watching people
who are probably
your friends
but whom you can’t
quite recognize
talk to each other
and laugh
you assume
they are smiling
too

What does it mean
when you’ve
forgotten
how to make
polite conversation
at a gathering of
more than
three people
when most
of the people
seem extraneous
and make you feel
awkward and
ill-equipped
for the world

How do you
follow the rules
when they are
constantly
being rewritten
how do you know
which ones to
obey and
which ones to
ignore

Where do you
find the strength
required
to survive
in the wild
when you’ve
become accustomed
to shuffling
back and forth
in your
designated
enclosure
littered with
all the evidence
of living

© Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
April 2021

I feel like my brain is producing a constant stream of reminders of everything I’m doing wrong or failing to do at all. Even if I take a walk or meditate or try breathing techniques, it all comes rushing back at me in waves as soon as I stop. I am neglecting all these things I’m supposed to do for my health, and I’m overwhelmed by them. 

My kids want my undivided attention all the time. Zeke cries when I try to get him to do schoolwork he doesn’t want to do. Every day is a battle over what he’s willing to do. He is upstairs right now sobbing because I asked him to write something about a tv show we just watched about otters, which he loved, and which he was telling me all about. I just asked him to write down what he told me, but he refused.

I forget so many things. I don’t respond to emails. I completely space out on tasks I’m supposed to do. I write things down and don’t do them, or I forget to write them down. I can’t concentrate at all. 

I can’t keep up with my text conversations with friends because they always seem to be texting when I am in the middle of both teaching Zeke and trying to do a work task.

My sleep is total chaos. The medicine I’m taking for my sleep disorder doesn’t always work. I often end up wiped out by evening and fall asleep at 5 or 6 for an hour or two. Sometimes I am awake until 2 or 3 or 4 because I can’t get my mind to calm down. 

I am so tired of missing everything that we can’t do because of COVID. I am tired of being disappointed, and my kids being disappointed, because something we used to do, or we want to do isn’t possible. I am tired of not knowing when things will get better, or when my kids will be back in school every day. 

I am tired of everyone being on top of each other all the time and having to relocate a million times a day to work. I am tired of battles about screen time and video games and social media. 

I am tired of feeling like this. I know I am depressed, but I’m not so depressed that I can’t get out of bed or function. So maybe I’m not really depressed? Randy is being extra nice to me because he can see I’m struggling, which I appreciate. But I’m tired of struggling. Some days things go well, and I think I’m better, but then something doesn’t go well and I’m back to feeling overwhelmed and hopeless. 

I feel like I can’t accomplish simple things anymore, like figuring out what to make for dinner. 

I feel like since I’m trying to do everything at once, I am not doing anything well. 

I’m tired of being worried about the potential health consequences of all of our actions.

I’m tired of grief. 

I don’t want people to try to solve my problems or pity me. I know everyone is struggling and suffering. I wish I were more resilient. I’m tired of feeling pathetic. 

One of the only things that brings me joy right now is making art. Now I have stacks of paper and canvases piling up around my house that I don’t know what to do with. 

I just keep feeling like everything is too hard. I know my life is relatively easy, compared with many people around the world. We have a house, and enough food, and we can buy the things we need. None of us are sick and we haven’t lost anyone close to us from COVID. So why can’t I make myself feel better, do better, be better? It’s just too hard. And then I feel pathetic. 

But…here’s some of my art.

I give myself unlimited chances

and infinite wishes

That I can choose to grant

I cultivate curiosity

exchange skepticism for wonder

I create simply for creation’s sake

Offering the same opportunity to others

I draw with a thick black marker (chisel tip) the delineation between me and you

And I will shimmer and shine in my own space while you do as you wish in yours

I had another night of so many dreams it felt like I had never slept. And in one of the dreams even, I had been wandering around my church, although it looked utterly unfamiliar and was as large and labyrinthine as an IKEA. I couldn’t find any friends. I was looking for a chair to sleep in and suddenly it was 9am and people came along to tell me it was time to go on the work trip we were there for. A long line of little girls with freshly washed hair, all wearing soccer uniforms, was in the hall beside me and I wondered what work trip they were going on. Or if I was supposed to be participating in a soccer game instead.

This dream was yet another in a series of church dreams in which things are not right. Most of them in recent months have featured our former minister having reinserted himself into the congregation and operating a shadow ministry–oblivious to or unmoved by the fact that we have a new minister now. In every dream I am furious that he is there but powerless to do anything about it, as he doesn’t seem to recognize me or acknowledge my existence. It’s like I’m a ghost. There’s no worse feeling for me.


Of course there are moments–and sometimes even days–of lightness and joy. But more often than not when I wake up in the morning I am reminded of everything we are not allowed to do anymore, or whatever it is I want to do that my children will refuse to do, or the things I know I should do but don’t have the energy to attempt. I am often crushed by the avalanche of things I do not know and cannot figure out.

Zeke is deep into Minecraft and building worlds teeming with ordinary and fantastical creatures. He’s creating universes where he can do whatever he wants, and exert control. Worlds where he doesn’t have to fight with me about doing his writing assignments. So far he’s winning. I downloaded a new curriculum yesterday which I will employ on Monday to try to turn things around.

Zoe’s imaginary worlds are slightly more realistic, but filled with exchanges with friends and strangers and altered by filters. She lives in the universes of TikTok and Snapchat and Instagram. Both of my kids have gained access to places where they are in charge, where they are creative, where they construct their own identities. Places where I could kind of follow, but I would get lost pretty quickly.

So I play Words with Friends and do New York Times crosswords on my phone. I can finish most of the puzzles on my own. I have the feeling that I hear some people feel about math, that it’s satisfying because there’s one right answer and if you follow the steps, you will find it. Of course for me that only happens with words. With Words with Friends, there are a million possible answers, but it’s pretty easy to find a decent one. Since the pandemic started I have lost many more games than I have won. I don’t care. I don’t spend ages trying to find the words with the highest point value. Maybe a few minutes at most. The action of playing is enough for me right now–the discovery of a word. Long ago I realized that my scores in Words with Friends are closely correlated with my mental health and mood. I know a lot of people only play to win–not just in silly apps, but in life. I don’t believe in that.

And I read. And read. And read. Last night I read a middle grade book–Roll with It–by Jamie Sumner. When I finished the book I thought it was thoughtful and charming and an interesting perspective on what it’s like to use a wheelchair and have cerebral palsy when you move to a small Oklahoma town. I opened the Goodreads app on my phone to mark that I’d read it and give it some stars, when I noticed some one-star reviews. I don’t usually read other people’s reviews, but I was surprised by the critique that popped up and I read many of them. Apparently a lot of readers who are people with disabilities found Roll with It ableist and deeply problematic, citing numerous examples of how the author depicted both people with CP and in wheelchairs, and people on the autism spectrum (represented by another character) using inappropriate language and stereotypes. While I was reading the book I kept thinking that the voice of the narrator was honest and realistic, but clearly I don’t know. The author of the book is the parent of a child with cerebral palsy, and presumably based some of the story on those experiences. One of the criticisms of the book was how often the narrator noticed her mom’s tired eyes, which centers the mom’s experience more than the child’s. While I was reading the book, I appreciated those observations because I, too, am a tired mom. But I get it now that the story of the girl shouldn’t have to dwell on the effects of her disability on her mom. That is not her fault. So after reading the reviews I felt like a jerk for blithely enjoying the book and not thinking too hard about how it might seem to a person with a disability. I realized I was demonstrating able-bodied privilege all over the place. I understand that it’s not fair of me to escape into someone else’s trauma. I am holding my breath while I walk the line between wanting to learn about and from other people’s experiences and wallowing in my privilege. Even the forgiving net beneath me is a product of my privilege.

There is so much to learn. So much.

The truth is, I don’t want to have Thanksgiving without FG.

It’s not as if we would have physically been together this year, especially with COVID rampaging across the country, but we would have talked and texted and I would’ve sent her pictures of the food I made after consulting her about the right proportions of ingredients. Some of our family recipes are vague. For the stuffing, if it’s too dry you add more broth. If it’s too wet you add more dry ingredients. Every batch of stuffing is unique and special. I don’t usually make deviled eggs, but she made them perfectly. I was thinking about making some for tomorrow but I can’t call her for a reminder about whether or not she adds a little mustard in with the mayonnaise.

Today we had a wonderful surprise visit from two alpacas and a baby goat for my brother-in-law’s birthday. I would have loved to FaceTime FG during this encounter to see her reaction, which I know would have been expressive. I would print extra copies of the photos to send her at Christmas.

Every year I would choose one of my favorite novels that I’d read that year and I’d send her a copy for Christmas. Every February I would send her a valentine.

There is a picture of my parents and my kids and me with FG the last time we all visited, in early summer. It’s on my bulletin board above my desk and I look at it every day. It’s not the best photo of FG. Near the end of her life she had lost weight and her face changed shape. She seemed to be caving in on herself. I don’t think she was putting her teeth in most of the time. In the last few months she seemed to have aged 10 years. But I look at this picture anyway and look in everyone’s eyes and imagine what they were thinking and feeling at that moment.

I think FG was in some amount of pain then, even though she wouldn’t have said so to all of us. But she’s smiling as if she was happy we were there. That day when the photo was taken, she said something to me about when she would be able to come up to Virginia to visit again. I don’t know if she really thought that would happen or she was just talking. I would give anything to pick her up at the train station one more time.

I am thankful for so many people and so many things, but I am also broken-hearted this Thanksgiving. Not only because I miss FG, and I know other people I love are also desperately wishing she were here. But also for the family and friends of the nearly one and a half million people who have died from COVID. It’s hard to even comprehend. And I am heartbroken for the people I know who have lost a parent this year—whether from the coronavirus or another cause. Bethany, Bean, Melissa, Lee, Mark, Paige, Dave and Jim. And for the children and parents taken away from each other by our government at the US-Mexico border. And for the friends and family of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and all the innocent people who were killed by police this year and over the centuries.

There are many more disasters and tragedies I could name, but I won’t. And of course there are just as many blessings and opportunities and fragments of goodness we’ve managed to cling to during these crushing circumstances. I will list some of those another time. For now I will just be thankful that I had FG in my life for 46 years. I hope she will be whispering in my ear when I make the stuffing to let me know when it looks just right.

At one point today I was lying in Zeke’s bottom bunk, still in my pajamas, reading sections of his graphic novel about plagues so I could help him sketch out the script for the video I asked him to make to demonstrate what he’d learned. When this book was written in 2017 the author and publisher probably had no idea we would actually be LIVING THROUGH A PLAGUE just a few years in the future.

I realized at the time that lying in bed was probably not the best place to be to teach, but I couldn’t seem to get myself together to get up. It was also pouring down rain and seemed to be just another day living in COVID world and waiting to find out if the current president would be staging a coup to stay in power or would admit that he’d lost the election.

So I was in a pretty bad mood for most of the day.

Then I stormed out of the house.

To go to T-Mobile.

It wasn’t particularly exciting or dramatic but I needed to get some paperwork sorted out and it was an excuse to leave the house.

Even though it’s been an oddly 75-degree November so far, I keep thinking about what we’re going to do over the winter when the weather is terrible and we are cooped up in the house and we can’t go to any indoor play spaces or movies or, um, ANYWHERE INSIDE THAT’S FUN AND DIVERTING AND WHERE KIDS CAN BLOW OFF STEAM.

But we’re not there yet, and perhaps thanks to climate change it will be 75 degrees all winter long!


Things got better this evening. I signed up for Home Chef–a new meal kit delivery service and the first box arrived today. Tonight I made Teriyaki Chicken Thigh Tacos and they were delicious and both of my children ate two tacos! It is so hard to find meals that I can cook and everyone can eat and that my kids actually like. So far two thumbs up for Home Chef.

After dinner Zoe asked to go on a walk with me. The rain had more or less stopped and we walked two and a half miles and had a good conversation. Teenagers aren’t always forthcoming with their time or talk.

I felt so energized by our walk and so frustrated by the lethargy and anxiety that have characterized the past nine months that I decided to start Noom, a wellness app that uses behavioral therapy to help you eat healthier and take better care of your body. I subscribed to EvolveAll.tv so I’ll have some workouts to do at home. Man, I really miss playing soccer. But that’s not an option right now.

I will be the first to admit that I am not always good with follow through. But I am hopeful that Noom will stick and some people will do the EvolveAll workouts in solidarity with me and maybe I won’t fall into the abyss this winter. None of this will make teaching homeschool while working any easier. But maybe I’ll have something to hold onto so I’m less tempted to stay in bed while I ride out the plague.

I have heard that the cracks are where the light comes in

And in the places we were broken we are stronger

That’s what the poets say

But someone has to sweep up the pieces, to find every last one, and set to work with toothpicks and superglue

Because we the people are shattered, scattered, smashed to bits

According to the sages

our scars make us who we are

But to have a scar we must stop the bleeding and heal the wound.

For now the blood still flows

the wounds are open

the battle continues

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