The Unworn Blazer

This blazer has hung in my closet, never worn, for several months. Its only current purpose seems to be to remind me of how everything in the world went south. I bought it as a gift for myself early in the year, to celebrate having raised my children, having finally finished college, having at long last arrived at a point in my life where I could focus on my own personal aspirations.

Really, it had a dual purpose — one career-related, the other a political statement. On the career front, though I love a lot of things about my job, I decided I would keep my eyes open and possibly apply for other positions if I saw an opportunity I thought would be a good fit and pay me better. In that case, I would need something to wear to interviews. And even if I never applied for anything else, I developed a plan for my current place of employment, to try to make the job more what I wanted. Part of that would involve dressing more professionally. Dress for the job you want…blah, blah, blah. (I would have ironed it!)

Politically, I knew there were two local/primary elections this year, plus one presidential one. It may seem silly, and also late to the game, but I really wanted to wear a pantsuit to go to the polls. My own private statement, even if it only mattered to me.

You know what they say about making plans. The universe is having a big old belly laugh over this purchase. I don’t know if I’ll ever find a reason to wear it. Immediately after I bought it, COVID-19 shut down everything, including my workplace for a few weeks. And once we re-opened, the nature of the work had changed overnight. I’m at a public library, where suddenly a large, new part of our operating model includes curbside deliveries, carrying loads of books and other library materials out to cars in the hot sun, a task requiring a relaxing of the dress code to prevent heat exhaustion. For the first time, we were allowed to wear shorts at work.

My work wardrobe since May has consisted mostly of t-shirts and capris. I’m no longer teaching any classes, leading book discussions, or assisting with in-person programming, since we don’t have any and won’t for the foreseeable future. Thus no occasion to put on a blazer at the current job. And as few places are hiring right now, I’m unlikely to need it for an interview, either.

As for the idea of a pantsuit at the polls, COVID-19 has me casting absentee ballots for the first time in my life. Ah well, maybe I’ll put it on and wear it November 3 anyway. Why not? It’s here waiting.

Still Milestones to Celebrate

Photo by Tairon Fernandez on Pexels.com

I have so many younger coworkers with babies and toddlers, and some of my same-age friends now have small grandchildren. I adore seeing their pics and videos on social media, marking all the milestones. She rolled over! He took his first step! They started kindergarten! It brings back the feelings of excitement from when my own two were little and doing new things, which my heart tells me was only a couple of years ago, despite what the calendar says.

My kids might be in their twenties now, but there are still some developmental milestones to celebrate. My 25-year-old just publicly stated an opinion that parents should monitor what their teenagers are doing on the internet, which seems like a monumental piece of growth to me, considering the fights we had about it back in the day. I did not say “Told you so!” (He never reads my blog, so this doesn’t count.) Not only that, but he recently enrolled in a retirement savings plan through his workplace. I don’t have photos of him signing the forms, but I’m sure he was very cute doing it.

Those first steps are followed by so many more that are equally important.

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Yet Another Home “Improvement” Project

Oh, hey! Look what has been hiding under the carpet all these years.

That carpet is every bit as terrible and skanky as it looks. As I have mentioned repeatedly in this blog, our house was in not great condition when we bought it seventeen years ago. But we got a lot of space and a great location for raising our kids within our budget. Some people see problems. We saw character and opportunity. (Real example: a hole in the ceiling of the upstairs hallway where a light fixture used to be. We lived with it for two years before putting in our own light fixture.)

So anyway, this carpet was in my oldest child’s bedroom/soon to be my office. It was old and bad when we moved in. Then a kid who kept many little pets — rats, hedgehogs– grew up in there. I patched and repainted the walls, as well as replacing the curtains after the second time he moved out. Hoping the third launch is the charm, I’m taking over the space to be my office. I couldn’t stand the beyond-salvation carpet. Yet, we don’t have the money at the moment to have a new floor covering installed.

I started peeling it back from one corner of the room, just to see what the floor underneath might look like. Not bad, was the answer. My husband and I decided to go for it and rip out the whole roomful, hoping we didn’t uncover any terrible surprises in the process.

The good news is we found no rotting wood or warped planks. The interesting, character-revealing news is that paint crimes were committed in there at some point during the house’s history. Someone painted without a drop cloth. Maybe multiple someones. So there are splotches of white paint here and there. And there and there. I am honest about my limitations in the current moment, which means I’m not taking on sanding and refinishing. I can live with some character marks and cover up others with clearance sale area rugs.

Then I will have my very own office, with an octagon of tower windows for my desk area. And my writing productivity will soar. Of course it will. Stop laughing. I’m really going to get more writing done and not get distracted by other projects around the place, like putting in more pollinator plants or seeing what the floors are like in other rooms under the carpet, or repainting the living room, or fixing our front porch steps, or…

Special thanks to the spouse for cutting and installing the quarter round.

The Era of the Minivan Has Passed

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Poor thing!

After nineteen years as a minivan driver, my identity has changed. I am a minivan mom no longer. I had hoped my 2004 Chevy Venture would last a couple more years, but that dream was dashed nine days ago when I was rear-ended pretty hard while attempting to make a left turn into my own driveway.

I live on a two-lane street, so I had stopped briefly to let oncoming traffic clear, then just begun my turn when — WHAM! My vehicle ended up jumping the curb and stopping across the sidewalk, nose-first into the slope of my front yard. I wasn’t injured, I assume because I didn’t realize it was about to happen, so none of my muscles were tensed. But things sure flew around inside the van. Remind me never again to drive with my purse unzipped. Its contents ended up all over the place, including in a pool of water where a gallon jug exploded. It took me two or three minutes to find my cell phone.

The driver who hit me was young, still in high school I think. She was using her mom’s minivan, which in turn was also struck from behind by a third vehicle. It was a bad day in the neighborhood for vans. But I found a silver lining in the behavior of all involved. The first thing everyone asked of each other: Are you okay? Do you need any help?

No injuries to anyone. Phew!

I saw some excellent parenting, too, when her parents appeared on the scene. She took full responsibility, stating that she didn’t notice I was stopped until the last second, and then panicked. When she tried to hit the brakes, she accidentally hit the gas again. Her mom and dad praised her for telling the truth, did not yell, did not appear angry, just concerned for the safety of all.

If you’ve followed my blog since the beginning and have a feeling of deja vu, it’s because this is the third time in eight years my family has lost a vehicle in this manner. We don’t even drive that much! But we seem to be on a four-year cycle of getting our cars hit and totaled. It happened in 2012 with my husband driving and again in 2016 with my younger son at the wheel. Maybe we should all stay off the road in 2024.

The spouse and I got our insurance settlement and did emergency car shopping this past week. I can’t remember the last time I drove carpool. Usually it’s me alone going somewhere. So we downsized and moved to a new phase of life, finding a pretty good deal on a used Honda CR-V EX. It will be my first all wheel drive experience. I hope we get snow this winter!

You say goodbye:

 

And I say hello:

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I have named her Ruthie, after Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in the hopes that she will be tough and hang in there a long time.

Speaking With My (Adult) White Kids About Race

Black Lives Matter Sign
Attribution: Andy Witchger

I haven’t been blogging much, partly because I’m back to work at my physical workplace, and it’s honestly kicking my butt. I wrote a funny post about returning to regular employment, but with current events, it seemed not the appropriate time to post it.

I’ve seen a lot of articles recently about speaking with your kids about race and racism. Good! These, of course, are aimed at parents who are still raising their kids. What I want to add is, don’t stop the conversation with them once they’re grown. You might learn as much as you teach.

I’m in my fifties, and both of my kids are in their twenties now. I come from a large family, where there’s a significant age spread among siblings. I think we all strive to overcome our racism, but I had an advantage over the older ones in feeling more comfortable around people of other races, since I attended pretty well-integrated schools throughout my childhood.   It also put it in my face regularly that some kids got harsher punishments than others for the same behaviors, and there was a pattern to it.

I, however, didn’t learn a whole lot of Black history, or much about how systems perpetuate privilege and racism. I didn’t become aware of those things much until I was an adult. I still have more to learn. My kids also attended pretty integrated schools and learned more than I did about cultures and history other than their own. But probably not enough. Well, remove the probably. I talked to them some about race, but probably not enough. Okay, remove the probably, I see in hindsight.

But they’re both educating themselves as adults, too. Much of our conversation these days is about race. And I’ve discovered they have outpaced me in doing research about things like community policing, and good resources, and how to be a better ally. They’re far ahead of where I was at the same age. In my twenties, my goal around race was just not to do or say racist things personally as I went about my life. Very passive. My offspring are much more about being actively anti-racist, and they have helped to bring me along.

With young children, you get difficult questions about why people are doing bad things. With grown kids, we might still discuss things that perplex us, but it’s more of a sharing of ideas and resources, of brainstorming what we can do in our lives.

So, here are some of my intended actions, partly stemming from discussions with my kids. I have found a community bail fund and made a donation. I’m intend to make it a monthly habit. On social media, I will share writings and art by people of color. In my work at a public library, I already have been striving to make sure I present diversity in book displays and blog posts. But sometimes, when I’m in a time crunch, or overwhelmed, I get lazy. And getting lazy when the publishing industry is still overwhelmingly white means the materials I’m promoting are going to skew toward overrepresentation of white voices. I will contact elected officials urging for better laws and policies.

Most of all, I will try to keep listening and learning and doing better. I know my kids will help me out there.

New Vistas and the Streets I Used to Walk

My firstborn has flown again. What was originally planned to be a one-week visit with us turned into a six-week stay, thanks to the timing of the pandemic. But he left Sunday to drive halfway across the country to his new life in the Pacific Northwest, arriving at his destination on Tuesday night. I have so much admiration for his courage in pursuing his dreams. I think he’s in a place where he’ll thrive. At least I hope so.

He was a good son and messaged his mother at every stop to let me know he was still alive. Here’s part of our exchange from Monday. Caveat to readers in states mentioned: he and I both know there are a lot of positive things about those states. This is more about the experience of grueling interstate travel.

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Meanwhile, I’m still, until next week, on a very flexible work from home status. Which means I get to go out for a walk every day. Yesterday, with the knowledge I would likely not see my oldest child for several months at least, I suffered a fit of nostalgia and walked around to see every house we lived in with our kids previous to our current residence. We’ve stayed in the same part of town, so my entire journey was accomplished in under an hour.

I didn’t take any photos of the homes because I didn’t want to seem creepy. But it was enough to see them and mull over my memories. First I went past the bitty little rental house where we had our first baby, the house where my self-identity changed forever. It had originally been a garage, later being converted to a home. The 8 x 8 bedroom we’d designated as the nursery was never used as such while we live there, as I discovered we all three got more sleep when the baby was in the room with us. We stayed there for two years, moving on to a different rental house with more space as we discussed expanding the family.

Rental house number two where we had child number two was a small, but not tiny, brick ranch house with an unfortunate tendency for the pipes to freeze in the winter. But it had a yard for outdoor play and was on a quiet, dead-end street with great neighbors, including two different retired couples who loved to fuss over the children the block. We liked living on that street so much that we bought a place only a few doors down a year later, the house I think of as our first true family home. We moved in when our kids were ages three years and three months respectively, and stayed until they were eight and five years old.

It not only had a lovely yard, but the back yard was fenced, something that had never meant much to me before I had children whom I sent out to play. There were two bedrooms downstairs and a big finished attic that we turned into a playroom/office. It was where my husband used duct tape and boxes to construct a playhouse within the playroom — a structure that kept the kids entertained for hours on end. It was where we lived when my oldest started kindergarten. Where we spent many hours drawing on the cement driveway with chalk, blowing bubbles while sitting on the front steps, seeing how high we could stack the spiky balls from the sweetgum tree before they started to tumble. It did my heart good yesterday to see that whoever lives there now is taking care of the place. The roof looks brand new.

And then the walk back to our current home, scene of many birthday parties, gatherings of friends after Halloween trick-or-treating, games of hide and seek, enthusiastic science experiments, homework battles, teenaged drama. There’s a parking area in back where the training wheels first came off my younger son’s bike, and where later, both kids would practice parallel parking between camp chairs with vertical poles attached. This is the house where we had a wheelchair ramp constructed so I could bring my mother to visit, where we’ve chased out bats and raccoons, where we’ve repeatedly fought city hall over proposals to make the street more like a highway, and where we are now problem solving how to set-up dual home offices for my husband and myself.

Life changes slowly and all at once.

Meal Planning is a Whole Big Thing Now

I’m genuinely afraid my family is going to get used to me cooking dinner. This is temporary, people — a temporary situation!

When I was thinking through the ramifications of stay-at-home orders and social distancing, the one thing I didn’t realize at first was how much of my time and energy would be consumed by meal planning. I had become quite laissez faire about meals around here over the last few years, cooking real dinner only two to three times a week. I was working odd hours, and we’re all adults in this house now. I kept the kitchen stocked with stuff that was easy for my husband and son to fix for themselves and figured they were also capable of running to the store if we didn’t have something they wanted. My husband usually picked up lunch out somewhere, a slice of pizza or such like.

Now we have four in the house instead of three, every one of us eating every last meal at home. Meanwhile, casually popping over the grocery store for a forgotten item is no longer a thing. We are plowing through supplies on hand at a pretty good clip. Food acquisition and use are logistical puzzles, taxing the executive function center of my brain. I have switched from in-person grocery shopping to ordering online for pick-up, but the available time slots have to be scheduled several days in advance. By the time I went to pick up my groceries on Wednesday, I had forgotten what I ordered the Friday before. I tried to look at it as a fun surprise. And, oh, hey! I inadvertently ended up with the world’s largest oranges!

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Quarter for size comparison

One thing that makes me say, “Yay me!” is the fact that on the very early edge of all this mess, I subscribed to a local CSA program, with a box of fresh produce scheduled for our household once every two weeks. Here’s our first delivery:

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Delish

Each member of the family forages for their own breakfast and lunch. So I’m only preparing one meal a day. That’s not too much, really, even for someone who isn’t overly fond of cooking. Having consumed my share of rice and chicken neck dinners as a kid, I try to remember to be grateful for the ability to buy this food.

Another bright spot is that I never touch the dirty dishes, of which we are producing many stacks. The other three members of the household keep them cycling through the dishwasher and back into the cabinets.

And the other morning, I woke up to discover the cookie fairy had come during the night.

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I suspect the Cookie Fairy is really my oldest son

We’re figuring this thing out.

Moving in the Time of Corona

There’s been a plan in place for a long time. But a global pandemic doesn’t care. Nothing has happened how it was supposed to.

Packed moving boxes.
Everything must go! One way or another.

My 24-year-old firstborn has been living alone for about a month, since his roommate left to pursue opportunities in California. Meanwhile, my son’s lease on the Iowa apartment (250 miles from us) was coming due at the end of the month, and he has his own dreams waiting for him in Bellingham, Washington — a job transfer and friends who were ready to welcome him. The plan was for me to help him move to our house next week, where he would just sort of bounce, heading out to drive halfway across the country after staying here for a week or two.

He’s moved a few times in a few years, and each time has felt stressful and rushed. This was supposed the move where we would have time to plan and pace ourselves. Maybe even do a few fun things together before he built a life so far away from us.

Instead, my workplace shut down as of last Tuesday and one of his two jobs came to an abrupt early end. As COVID-19 spread and more places shut down, we both worried about potential travel restrictions. Neither of us wanted him to get trapped alone where he was, not even knowing if they’d let him remain in the apartment past his lease end date. This move became the most stressful and urgent of them all, a harried flight from disaster instead of an embarkation on the adventure he had envisioned.

I drove up last Wednesday (in rain all the way, natch) with the goal of getting him out the next day, a countdown timer ticking loudly in my psyche. Once I arrived, I saw we’d need more than a day. He’d already gotten rid of a lot of stuff and packed many boxes, but had thought he’d have more time. My husband had removed the last two rows of seats from our old Chevy Venture, and strapped our large retro car-top carrier on the roof. My son doesn’t own a huge amount of things, but when we were limited to what we could fit in his Toyota Corolla and my van, it meant a fair amount of triage and winnowing, while racing the clock in case travel restrictions went into place. The new departure goal became Friday morning. 

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Somehow, we got it all packed.

It’s a real struggle to execute a move in two days time with limited carrying capacity when no thrift stores are accepting donations and even the city landfills are closed. We did things I’m not proud of, including solving the dilemma of how to wedge a mattress into an apartment complex dumpster. It was a thin, cheap mattress, and our solution to making it fit involved the use of enormous zip ties. I have seldom done anything in my life that felt more sketchy. My son said that if we were in “The Good Place” our scores would definitely go into the negative over it. I told him I felt like we were only a few short steps away from burying a drifter in the desert.

We ended up filling trash bags with items I normally never would send to a landfill, seeing no alternative at the moment. Cheap but usable bowls and plates from Target, gone. A stack of three-ring binders, gone. Bathmat, gone. On and on. To mitigate our guilt a tiny bit, though, we did at least sort out the recycling, and we left the apartment sparkling clean. I scrubbed and vacuumed before we drove away.

The drive home was almost surreal in its normalcy. Due to road closures, I ended up on some rural state highways, which meant going right through the heart of a few towns, where everything seemed to be proceeding as usual. Small town Missouri felt like a whole different universe than the one I’d been living in. Around noon, I stopped for a bathroom break at a convenience store with a restaurant attached to it. I was all business, walking straight in, touching nothing I didn’t have to, doing my business, washing my hands for the amount of time it takes to say the Star Trek opening monologue (silently to myself,) and then straight back out. Meanwhile, the restaurant had tables full of people eating lunch. Other convenience store customers were browsing the aisle for snacks, filling up on fountain drinks. You’d never know there was a pandemic on. It was so very disquietingly normal.

Now the whole family is back in our home again, sitting in limbo. I’m off work until some uncertain future date. My husband, who is essential to keep networks going so that others can work and learn from home, is ensconced at his desk in our living room, doing his work remotely. My younger son recently interviewed for a job that seems unlikely to exist now. My newly returned older son is impatient to get on with his new life, but we have no idea when that will be possible. Like everyone else, we wait to see what tomorrow will bring.

Addendum: As I was writing this post, my city’s mayor announced a shelter in place order beginning tomorrow morning, running through April 24. So now I know one thing. I will not be returning to work until at least April 25.

On Not Eating the Burned Grilled Cheese

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I did not martyr myself to this sandwich.

Last Wednesday was a crappy day on many fronts. Work stress, bills to pay, minor but annoying health issues, feeling overwhelmed about my to-do list growing faster than my ability to do, a deep despair over the dawning realization that I’m probably never going to see a woman president in my lifetime. I was torn between the desire to smash things and the desire to go to bed forever. But dinner needed made.

I stood dithering in my kitchen for a long time, trying to settle on what I could muster the energy to cook. My top go-to comfort food is a grilled cheese sandwich. So I decided to go easy on myself. There are only three of us in the household now, and three grilled cheeses are quickly made with little effort. I would put apple slices and strawberries on the side. Good enough.

Wouldn’t you know, I let myself get distracted when the first sandwich was in the skillet. It burned while I was washing and slicing fruit. When I took it out and saw the charred surface, my automatic first thought was, “I guess that one’s mine.”

It’s been my default setting for years. The other members of the family get the good ones of whatever thing is being distributed. I get the pancake that was put in before the griddle was hot enough and isn’t quite right, the egg with the broken yolk, you get the idea. This isn’t done with resentment, but as a programmed response, like a factory setting for moms and wives. The thing is, nobody in family would ever ask me to do this. It’s all on me, usually done with little thought.

But not this time. I had the thought. I even took one bite of the sandwich. Then I took myself in hand and lectured me, “You deserve a decent sandwich. You were making this as comfort food because you’re sad and angry about misogyny, for pity’s sake! And here you’re willing to cheat yourself because you’ve internalized messages saying you’re always the one who has to sacrifice.”

There have been times in my life when I couldn’t afford to throw out a sandwich, no matter how scorched. But at present, we have achieved a financial level where I can use two extra pieces of bread and a couple more slices of cheese without facing penury and ruin.

It might look like a tiny thing, but fighting my own thoughts about how little I’m allowed to need or want is a big step for me. I threw out the burned sandwich and made a different one for myself, perfectly toasted. It was delicious. And liberating.

Shingles Vaccines, How Romantic!

heart shape multicolored stand
Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

No matter that we’ve been married for decades now, my husband and I must still be romantics at heart. For an early Valentine’s Day date, we went out this afternoon and got matching his ‘n hers shingles vaccinations. Hubba hubba!

A few months back, I posted about my quest to find any place that had the vaccine in stock. A shortage at that time meant long waiting lists. It’s a two-shot deal, and I’m happy to report I acquired my first round in late September. As the second one is supposed to be given two to six months later, I decided this week I should get on the stick, so to speak.

Good news! No more waiting lists. I called the pharmacy and they said, come in any time we’re open. I had time today, so I skedaddled on down, to use an old timey expression befitting the experience. And I managed to bring the spousal unit (see — total romantic) along with me for his first dose. Bonded in sickness and in health, but we’ll take health if given the choice.