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It’s just me and John Denver and the Muppets in the family room this Christmas Eve afternoon. I am wrapping presents. Everyone else is in their bedrooms, asleep or otherwise occupied by a virus (not COVID, we checked) or depression or a device. I am hoping the quiet alone time will enable everyone to muster the energy and good cheer required by Christmas Day with the family tomorrow.

Spread out across the kitchen table and counters are ingredients for treats that will likely not be baked tonight. Maybe if everyone rallies we will throw a few things together. Or not. I have secured two excellent vegan pies and a variety of appetizers and my brother-in-law is preparing the rest of the feast. Neither of my children have eaten much in recent days. My younger child suddenly doesn’t like any of the food they used to like. My older child has been dealing with stomach stuff. But we have another whole week of vacation so maybe people will be inspired to bake. Or not.

What I am giving myself this Christmas is the gift of letting go of expectations. The past 21 months have been like some kind of demonic algebra problem in which there are many more variables than constants. And even non-demonic algebra made me cry when I took it in junior high school. The universe is filled with ever expanding unknowns.


The kids and I just came back from a lovely drive-thru Christmas Eve moment at church. UUCA decided to cancel in-person services tonight after they learned from the Arlington Department of Health that COVID cases in Arlington had doubled from December 21 to December 22. Determined to share joy with the congregation, the ministers and staff set up luminaria along the driveway, the music director was playing carols outside on the keyboard, the ministers were festively dressed and waving their glowing Christmas wands and greeting families, then some mystery person was operating a snow blower so we enjoyed a moment of white Christmas Eve, and then the intern minister was handing out little goody bags including a candle we can light at home during the service, and he collected the hat and mittens we brought for the mitten tree. It was all very sweet and touching and we drove through a second time just to say thank you.


I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Jenny Lawson’s Broken (in the best possible way) and I am addicted to her honesty. She is absolutely hilarious. And she narrates all her own books so you definitely feel like you’re laughing right there with her. She also struggles with a host of challenging physical and mental illnesses, including severe anxiety and depression, and she holds nothing back when discussing them. Coincidentally, I just finished reading The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun, which I received at my friend D’s Jolabokaflod (book exchange party). Apparently I love reading romance novels now–some of my favorite books this year have been by Casey McQuiston (who I had the pleasure of meeting!) and Emily Henry. I always thought the genre was limited to the ridiculous Harlequin Romance novels I used to get from the library when I was 13 and flip through with my friend Diane to find the sex scenes and laugh hysterically. Or books you see in airport gift shops with terrible titles and pictures on the cover that make you cringe. But I’ve come to realize that there’s a new kind of romance novel that’s actually just a regular novel–funny and smart and compelling–whose plots happen to center on a romance and that include surprisingly charming sex scenes. Anyway my point here was actually that The Charm Offensive was a much about mental health and gender identity and how we treat each other as it was about romance. The book includes realistic depictions of OCD and anxiety and depression and self-discovery and stigma in our society.

I’ve read so many articles in the past year about how the pandemic has affected our mental health. As you might guess, or know for yourself, it’s not good news. For kids and young people, it seems to be even worse, because they’re mired just as deep in the intermittent isolation, the uncertainty, the constant churn of disappointment from cancelled plans, but they have so much less control over their lives and their choices than adults do.

My kids have been so happy to be back in school in person this year. Over the past four months they’ve made new friends, cultivated relationships with new teachers, and–not insignificantly–been able to leave the house every day, follow a predictable routine, learn things, see people besides us, and practice being their own individuals. I know the school system is prepared for a return to virtual learning if COVID demands it, but I dread that decision if it comes. Several schools in DC have already reverted to virtual learning for at least a few weeks as we ride out Omicron. It just makes my heart hurt to think about all of us home all the time again and trying to do work and school all at the same time in our little house and eventually driving each other berserk.


I love my kids so much. And I think they’re really awesome people. Not that I haven’t always felt this way, but you know how it’s easier to get perspective on people when they’re not staring you in the face 24/7? They are each unique, but they are also both funny and kind and creative. They both still want hugs all the time. They both love music. During the pandemic the four of us bonded watching live streams by Brandi Carlile, and we’re all going to get to see her perform live in 2022 if some freaking future virus variant doesn’t get in our way. For the past few Christmases, I’ve taken the kids to Five Below to shop for each other. They bought excessively sequined stockings there and filled them with treats they knew each other would like, and they opened them first on Christmas morning (in part to buy us time before we had to wake up). This year Niki learned that they too could be Santa, so at Five Below the kids chose treats for each other and for Randy and me. Today we’ve taken turns filling all our stockings with thoughtful surprises. I love being Santa and sharing Santa with them.


So we are moving slowly right now. And that is absolutely ok. We haven’t written any Christmas letters. Even my mom, who is the driving force behind this tradition, suggested that there’s not much to write this year because she doesn’t like to write about only negative things. Of course there have been silver linings. But there’s also been a lot of %*&(*^#@ (insert your favorite curses here). And when you’re surrounded by it, writing a cheerful missive seems just a little bit out of reach. We haven’t sent presents to our family members who live far away. You know who you are. I promise you’re still on our list, and we are grateful for the gifts you’ve sent that are currently under our tree. (At least we decorated our tree!) I have yet to send e-gift cards to any of my kids’ teachers. A few weeks ago I did remember to put out a box of snacks and drinks in front of our house for the delivery people. There are always a lot of delivery people and they are working their tushes off. I know they’ll still be busy after Christmas delivering the various things we ordered that are still sitting in Groveport, Ohio or Tucson, Arizona on Christmas Eve.

We’re doing the best we can. And I’ve learned this year that my best varies from day to day. Maybe even from hour to hour. Life is a lot. So many people I love have faced crises and losses this year. But we keep going. We provide shoulders for each other to cry on. We check on each other. And tonight we light candles to shine through the darkness. We hold onto hope. Neither the grinch nor omicron can keep Christmas from coming.

Merry Christmas to all. And to all a good night. Sending you all love, peace, and health.

“Give back to the universe that which is not ours to carry.”

Lately this sage advice, included in the centering meditation that my spiritual director offers before every session, has become a necessary mantra.

Because there is so much that people throw at me, so much around me that my heart consumes, that I cling to, that I clutch tightly to prove to myself and the world that I am, in fact, a good person, it is easy to feel myself sinking under the weight of it all.

And so I examine each piece, peel it off my spirit (it makes that squelchy sound like pulling apart velcro) and metaphorically fling it into the sky. And then I feel peaceful and at ease and live happily ever after.

Kidding!

My overactive brain and “of course it’s my job to save the world!” nature don’t give up that easily. Still, I try. Still, I am frustrated when there’s nothing I can do. I love having something I can do. I have to remind myself, every day, many times a day, that sometimes all I can do is be.


In years past during November, inspired by friends who modeled the practice, I posted something every day on Facebook that I was grateful for. Other Novembers I’ve participated in challenges to blog every day, or write something every day, or create something every day. This year in November, I’ve gone back to the basics: make sure your kids get to school every day, fill out the COVID symptoms questionnaire from the school system every day, drink water every day, get dressed before 4pm every day, remember to take your meds every day. And. to be honest I know there have been some days when I have definitely not accomplished all these.

We’re living in a sort of reality purgatory right now. We’re not quarantined or isolated like we were last winter. Most things are open. We’re allowed to roam freely, but there is a constant lingering question of whether we should hanging over our heads. The new questions du jour whenever you see someone you know are, “Did you get your booster?” [no, but I’ve scheduled it for when I can afford to feel horrible the next day] “Which kind are you getting?” [not sure, whatever they give me, I guess?] “Where are you going to get it?” [through the county health department, where I got my previous shots] Sometimes the conversation turns to wondering why so many people refuse to get vaccinated, even when it costs them their jobs or various freedoms. This is a question for which I have no good answer. Another question is why is the newest threatening variant named omicron? What happened to the other 10 Greek letters after delta? Were those variants not important enough? And more substantively, are we going to have to live with COVID for the rest of our lives? Will they eventually have to start naming the variants after people, like hurricanes? Are we ever going to get to see the lower half of strangers’ faces again?


When my thoughts start spiraling out of control like this, I remind myself to give this business back to the universe. I definitely cannot carry the weight of a global pandemic, or even a neighborhood microdemic (a word I just made up), on my back. There is nothing I can do except make sure my family and I are vaccinated and wear masks and be aware of risks while trying to enjoy life as best we can.

Which leads me back to gratitude. Even when–or especially when–we are existing in this state of emergency that has lasted way too long to be an emergency anymore but it’s definitely not normal (note the accelerating approach to spiraling thoughts)–I return to gratitude. Even when conventions of punctuation and syntax fall away, I can be thankful. And it makes me feel better to share.

(in no particular order) I am thankful that…

  • My church has reopened for (fully masked) in-person services and a few other activities. Going back to church every Sunday gives me an anchor and a steadiness that I crave. The (absolutely essential) safety protocols kinda get me down, but I’d rather be in the sanctuary following the rules than not be there at all. I am glad that online services have been meaningful for so many people, but after a while they just weren’t doing it for me.
  • Independent bookstores are thriving, and I am able to support my local women-owned and Black-owned and queer-owned book shops. Last week I walked into One More Page to pick up some books I had ordered online, and asked a bookseller what books she recommended for middle-grade readers that feature non-binary characters (per the request of my non-binary child). She practically leapt out from behind the counter and said “YES! Middle grade books featuring non-binary characters!” as if this were a request she had been waiting for and she was finally getting the chance to fulfill it. I always love going into this store and chatting with the booksellers and reading the post-it notes that offer each bookseller’s concise personal reviews.
  • I had a highly amusing visit with my primary care doctor last week, who I finally made an appointment with to have him look in my ears. Back in August I had an inner part of each ear pierced, which I’ve finally acknowledged was a mistake. The piercings have been bothering me for several weeks but I can’t actually see them because of where they are, although I could feel that something was wrong. Anyway my doctor took a look and confirmed that something was wrong. I asked him if he could take out the piercings and he said, “I could … but I really don’t think you want me to.” Apparently he’d never had a patient come to him with problematic piercings, so I was proud of that. He sent me on my way with a prescription for antibiotic ointment and instructions to see my ENT next week.
  • My book club is meeting in person again and there are now two babies who are involved! Two of my friends had babies over the past year! And I get to play with the babies while we talk about books (and other things). Did I mention BABIES?
  • After 16 years of running my own business, I am going to start a new full-time job in January! I will be Senior Writer for DC Action, which I’ve been working with as a consultant for the past two years, and I am so excited to be joining the staff. I launched my own business before I had kids, in part because of an insensitive remark that my previous boss made to a colleague who arrived a few minutes late to a staff meeting because she had to take care of the unexpected needs of one of her kids. I decided at that moment that I didn’t want to work anywhere that didn’t understand that my (future) kids were my priority. So working for myself all this time has been wonderful and liberating and fun and also challenging and frustrating. But I’ve always been able to put my kids first. Now that they’re closing in on 15 and 9, they still need me, but not in such immediate ways. Since I’ve been working for myself, people have often asked me if I would ever go back to a regular job. I always said only if the perfect opportunity presented itself. There’s no such thing as perfect, but this job is pretty close. I’ve known and loved the executive director for many years, and one of her mantras is family first, so I know that if my kids need me, I can be there. One of the COVID silver linings is that we all know now that many jobs sure can be done from home. So I will not be expected to go to the office every day, but I will still get to have colleagues and work on a team! I’ll get a regular paycheck and not have to beg clients to pay me! When I do go to my office it’s in a cool neighborhood with lots of places to get lunch, and I love going out to lunch!
  • I was back on the field this fall with my soccer team Ice & Ibuprofen. I’ve been playing on this team since 2016 and it brings me such joy, although my soccer skills are rudimentary at best. COVID canceled a couple seasons, then this spring and summer the league sponsored loosely organized pick-up games for anyone who was interested. I played all spring and summer and was happy to be moving again, although I didn’t love playing with strangers as much. A lot of the women I played with (and against) in the pick-up games were in their 60s, a few in their 70s, most of them way better than me, and quite a few of them on the bossy side. I did get to know a few folks who I have seen again this fall since the teams have reassembled, but it’s great to play with my team of encouraging and laid-back ladies again. AND I recruited my sister to join us this fall. Despite her concerns that her soccer skills would be rusty since she last wore cleats in 8th grade, she was fantastic and an excellent addition to the squad. It was fun to do a grown-up activity with her.

There’s plenty more, of course. But that’s enough for now. To balance out all that I’ve returned to the universe to carry, I extend my gratitude to and for the cosmos. And Thanksgiving leftovers. And pie.

What I’ve just finished doing at 3am: ordering more masks for my son. Fortunately, there are lots of masks on sale now. Perhaps some companies are slowing down their production or getting rid of their stock? I feel certain that Zeke will have to start third grade wearing a mask every day at school. I had been hoping and praying and wishing hard that he would be vaccinated by September, but from what I’ve been reading, that’s not going to happen.

This morning I learned that a friend of mine–not only vaccinated, but hyper aware of vaccination and COVID protocols as a volunteer for the county health departments vaccination clinics–got COVID anyway. Apparently from his son, who is not yet 12 and thus ineligible for the shot. And he thinks his son contracted the virus during an outdoor fishing camp. This news scares the crap out of me. I had heard about vaccinated people getting infected and I know that the vaccination makes it less likely that their case would be severe or fatal, but I don’t know who those other people were or how carefully or carelessly they behaved. But I do know my friend, who is a science teacher, takes the virus seriously. And I know we have all heard for a while now that it’s ok to be outside without a mask. Until, of course, it’s not.

We have a big basket of masks on the table beside our front door. And a bucket on the floor where we deposit the masks we’ve worn so they can be washed. But a lot has happened since the early days of the pandemic when masks were in short supply and we wore whatever we could get our hands on. So probably 75% of our masks are ones that we don’t wear. They don’t fit right, they’re made of uncomfortable material, they’re too hot, etc. Early in the mask wearing days we did what we had to do, but when you realize you’ll have to keep the mask on for hours at a time, you want one that doesn’t drive you crazy.

Beyond the immediate issue of making sure all of us have the masks we need to be safe, I am starting to wonder when we’ll be able to trust the CDC, the health departments, or whatever other medical authorities are telling us what to do. I believe in science and I absolutely know all these people know more than I do about COVID. But I also know there are politics involved and pressure from the public and doubtless mysterious forces unknown to me that influence these decisions. So how do we know the right thing to do? First we didn’t have to wear masks. And then we did. And now we don’t, sometimes, except when we do, but that seems to be highly variable right now. Meanwhile, cases are rising. Sure, they are worse in areas where fewer people are vaccinated. But now that there aren’t many mask rules, anyone can walk around breathing the air that everyone else breathes and there’s no telling whether they could be carrying COVID or not.

I hate wearing masks. Often my glasses get fogged up, no matter how I position or pinch the mask to avoid it. My face gets sweaty. When I try to take off my mask, it gets tangled in my glasses and I take them off by accident. I have been so relieved over the past several weeks to not worry about always wearing a mask, enjoying the freedom of my vaccinated status. But now I’m wearing them again to the store. So is my vaccinated teenager. I really don’t want to start wearing them outside again, but of course I will if I have to. But how will I know? Is there some ultimate COVID sage who I should listen to above all others? Do I rely on my own judgment, despite the fact that I have no expertise whatsoever in epidemiology?

Sure, life is better than it was a year ago. I am thankful that most of our family is vaccinated. But this thing is clearly not over, and I wonder if it ever really will be.

Someday they’re going to publish scientific studies showing that living through the COVID-19 pandemic actually destroyed our brain cells, ravaged our mental health, and smashed our attention spans to bits. For example, I literally could not finish writing the previous sentence without pausing to play a turn in a word game, responding to a text, and checking the weather forecast.

I know a lot of people who have been clinically diagnosed with ADHD, but I feel right now like almost everyone I know is extraordinarily distracted. Is it because we’ve had enough of sitting inside our houses and our brains are yearning for something else to focus on besides what’s in front of us? Maybe it’s because we spend all day on various devices for work and for socializing and for shopping and for entertainment and we are conditioned to attend to the pings and the pop-ups? Perhaps it’s because we are so desperate for a change–for good news and for a definite end to this pandemic that we welcome that little burst of dopamine that comes from a potentially exciting distraction. Maybe this next ping or ding or buzz will be the one that turns everything around.

When this research comes out, those of us who have lived through the pandemic will roll our eyes and make snarky comments, like we do now when we see headlines like, “Excessive consumption of alcohol shown to contribute to bad decision making.” Because someone needed to study that to prove it was true?

I keep wondering how long we’ll be able to use the pandemic as an excuse for everything that is wrong with us. Because 14+ months of intermittent isolation from friends combined with constant interaction with family and unending uncertainty about the future is a legit excuse. But it’s getting so old.

Zeke commented recently that he feels like he can hardly remember life before the pandemic. He just turned eight, so more than one-eighth of his life has been lived in this bonkers environment. When he goes back to school in the fall for third grade, will it all be weird or will he have forgotten what the old normal was like? We keep hearing about how there’s no going back to normal, there’s just creating a new normal. But right now it seems impossible to build anything more elaborate or lasting than dinner for my family, which is hard enough.

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.

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