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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.

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.

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