In my family, love doesn’t often come in the form of flowers or frilly cards. Here’s what it looks like:
It’s me, already tired, double masking and wading into the fray at the packed grocery store after I get off work on a Saturday so I can make sure we’re stocked up before the next day’s predicted (now occurring) snow.
It’s my husband dragging himself out of a warm bed earlier than he wanted to on Sunday morning and working his way into the weird, cold, uncomfortable corner in the basement to set up a space heater and wrap a heating pad around a frozen water pipe. (Water is running in our bathroom again. Yay!)
It’s my older son, born and bred in the Midwest but now a resident of the Pacific Northwest, going out in bad weather to rescue his stranded friends who don’t know how to drive in the snow. (Always keep a Midwesterner around.)
It’s my younger son spending time compiling a list of resources and advice for a young person he barely even knows because they’d expressed an interest in learning game development but didn’t know where to start.
However you celebrate and express love for those in your life, Happy Valentine’s Day!
My mother left us five years ago today, an anniversary that’s hitting me harder this year than it has the past couple. The five-year mark seems to be driving home the truth that she’s gone permanently. It’s one of those things you know in your mind, but don’t really know in your bones when the loss is fresh. Last night, I kept thinking, “I didn’t understand she was going to be dead for this long.”
When my mom took me for my first day of kindergarten, an eon ago, I was puzzled by the children in the class who were crying, distraught over their mothers leaving without them. I thought to myself, “Don’t they know they’re going to come back?”
Now I’m dropped off, the day has grown long, and I see she’s not returning for me. I’m on my own here. But she didn’t toss me upon the world with no provisions or comforts at all. She had a fascination with bells, and collected all sorts. I experience a lot of joy from this tangible item she left with me — a good part of her bell collection. I rang them all for her this morning.
“Ring the bells that still can ring.” — Leonard Cohen
Note: I originally started writing this on the evening of January 6, but I discovered I was too unsettled by events to gather my thoughts. So I’m starting over now, while holding my breath and crossing my fingers for a peaceful Inauguration Day this coming Wednesday. **
I have little patience for anyone over the age of 50 making statements or jokes insinuating young people today are somehow soft or entitled or not quite up to snuff compared to older generations. My kids are just at the age to really be laying the foundations of their adult lives. I have a number of friends with kids in the same age range. And what I see is not so much foundation laying as young adults treading troubled waters, trying not to drown. There’s no there there upon which to build.
I’ve read a few posts recently from historians putting the present day into context, and they verify what I suspected. The youngest Millennials and oldest members of Generation Z are coming of age in one of the most difficult periods of American life.
Would I have made the decision to have children if I had known how things would shake out? What if someone had given me a crystal ball that told me the terrible things that would happen by the time they were grown? Would anyone ever choose to have children if they knew what disasters lay in the future?
On April 19, 1995, I was eight months pregnant with my firstborn and shaken to the core by the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I saw the photo of a lifeless baby carried from the rubble and wondered if I’d made a grave error in choosing to bring a child into a world where such a thing could occur. But the delight and wonder of motherhood eclipsed all, prompting me to have a second child three years later.
Then followed the Columbine school shooting, 9/11, the economic crash of 2008, Sandy Hook, the Fukushima nuclear accident, the election of an unhinged narcissist to the U.S. presidency, and a mishandled pandemic leading to widespread unemployment. And now January 6, which it seems is going to be referred to by its date, just like 9/11, with no further explanation necessary.
You make the choice to have kids when the world is one way, with no idea what lies ahead. How different everything is from the 1990s. Everything. I mourn that my children don’t remember the pre-9/11 world, one where you could hang out at an airport and watch the planes taking off and landing as cheap entertainment, one without security checkpoints and searched bags at every venue from airports to amusement parks. One in which we weren’t at perpetual war. A few times, I have feebly opined to them that I’m sorry for how the world turned out, that I had no idea it would get this bad.
Going back to my earlier question — if I had known, would I have chosen to remain childless? Maybe. Do I regret having them? Never. I regret much about the world as it is. I wouldn’t have them disappear from it. My love for them makes it both bearable and unbearable. It’s a paradox.
I suppose every generation could make its own list similar to mine. Would you want to become a parent if you knew the Black Plague was just around the corner? The Dust Bowl? A World War? My mom was carrying me when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, after she’d already lived through the Great Depression, WWII, a polio epidemic, etc. Individually, it feels like we have so little control over world events. We as humans are always working to survive and make our own happiness, create our own hope. I guess that’s consistently true, from the hunter/gatherers of ancient times thinking about the year’s berry crop to those of us today worrying about who has access to the nuclear codes.
Babies are still coming along, in the middle of this big old mess we have right now. Multiple friends of mine have welcomed grandchildren to the world over the past year, vibrating with a happiness that is more contagious than the coronavirus. I hear the news on a Zoom call or see it on Facebook, and a glow comes over me. I feel so much joy for them.
As humans, we keep choosing to go on, to try our best to survive. I would never dream of offering an opinion to anyone about the right time for them to birth or adopt a baby, or about whether they even should. But every arrival of a new baby says to me that collectively, we haven’t all given up all hope. That thought also makes things bearable.
I wouldn’t want to know the future, even if I could. It’s best that we don’t. Things could get even worse. They could also get a whole lot better. So much is possible. Nothing is certain.
A counselor I’ve been seeing told me to notice the times I’m okay, “even if it’s only 15 seconds. Pay attention and remember it. You can build on that.” Maybe that’s the foundation we all can lay.
I’m not even sure where I’m going with this. Just pondering on the unpredictability of life and how we cope during bad times. I want to do whatever I can, with whatever little power I have to make this a better place for those joy-bringers who are arriving right now. And for the joy-bringers who have already been here a while.
Take care of yourselves, my friends. And let’s take care of each other. Let’s create those moments of okayness and build on them.
My winter holidays this year have been very on-brand for 2020. We started with the world’s skinniest Christmas tree, one of about half a dozen we could find still for sale in the entire town three weeks back. That was followed with the common affliction of some of our gifts and mail not arriving by the expected date. (I’m still waiting on one item I ordered in November!) Then on Christmas day, about three o’clock in the afternoon, I received a phone call from my manager informing me that a colleague with whom I had worked three days earlier had tested positive for COVID. We’re on top of our mask game there, but I was advised to start quarantine immediately. Good thing we’d already opened presents!
I informed my husband and son that game night was cancelled, then moved into my office/guest bedroom. I’ve mostly lived there since, wearing a mask when I emerge into the common areas of the house. I’ve had no symptoms and had my own COVID test done this past Tuesday, with a negative result. Yay! But my referring physician and our local health department say to quarantine for 14 days from exposure even with a negative test.
It hasn’t been all that bad, to be honest. I have a lot of advantages. I’m not sick, is the main one. We have a spare room, which is where my desk is anyway. My husband has done curbside pickup of groceries for us. I got an extra week off of work. I’ve been sleeping and sleeping and sleeping, finally catching up after a quarter century of sleep deprivation. I’ve also done a lot of creative writing, read a couple of books, kept up with my Spanish lessons on Duolingo, and even done a little work from home for my job so that I won’t be impossibly far behind when I return. Oh, and Kakuro to keep my mind sharp, thanks to a timely Christmas gift.
Still, I have felt a little claustrophobic. Thank goodness solo outdoors activities are allowed. I’ve been walking three miles a day, wearing a mask and avoiding trails that might be crowded. It’s kept me sane.
I hear the year 2020 has one last “gift” to drop off for us on its way out the door. We’re supposed to receive a massive ice storm starting around an hour before midnight tonight, New Year’s Eve. Oh 2020, you’re staying true to yourself to the very end.
“Tell me good things to think about while I fall asleep.” For years, this was the near nightly request of my firstborn, a sensitive and anxious child.
I’d prop myself up with Firstborn’s head against me, my hand resting on their back, as I murmured a recitation of everything good in the world that my brain could conjure at that moment. I would talk about puppies and kittens, individual varieties of colorful flowers, the interesting shapes of clouds, fun games and toys, whatever books and movies my kid was interested in at the time, their friends, comfortable clothes, lightning bugs. The list would go on and on. I’d keep talking, my voice soft, until I heard the rhythm of breathing that announced the arrival of sleep. The prime years for this were between the ages of four and eight, though the request still came at less frequent intervals right up to about age fourteen.
Being un-churched, I suppose this was the form of our evening devotion. It started as a way to help an anxious child calm enough to sleep. But it also became a comforting ritual for me.
I know the advice to count your blessings seems hackneyed. But if I really do it, it helps with my own anxiety and depression (my offspring come by this trait honestly.) The key is, though, I can’t just think of one or two things and flip a switch inside. For me, for it to be effective, I have to keep thinking and adding to the list, literally for as long as I can until I run out of ideas or fall asleep. Usually, it’s fall asleep. Because this is how I’m now soothing myself at night when the problems of the world loom. I tell myself good things to think about while I fall asleep.
In helping someone else, I inadvertently created a gratitude practice of benefit to myself. Funny how that works.
I almost decided to do nothing for Halloween this year, with the pandemic and whatnot. My frequent walks around the neighborhood changed my mind. I have enjoyed seeing others’ decorations and jack-o-lanterns so much, I wanted to join in. My husband and son-in-residence were game. The spider is mine. I found a design on the internet and modified it a little; I’m not really that artistic. The 8-bit face is my son’s, and the goofy Jack is my husband’s freehand design.
Currently, these are by our front steps. This evening, I’ll move them out near the sidewalk (we have a deep yard) and put out a small table with Halloween treats and a sign for trick-or-treaters to help themselves. That way, there’s no bunching up on the porch. Ghosts and goblins will have more space to spread out and be safe.
Thirteen days ago, my family said goodbye to Luna, the cat I had convinced myself would live forever. But forever finally ended after 18 1/2 years. I was hesitant to post about this because I know many people are experiencing devastating losses right now — jobs, homes, family members falling to COVID. How can I talk about the loss of a cat when so many are going through so much? But then I figured, this blog has always been about my day-to-day life in the bigger picture. And since I’ve frequently mentioned my pets, I decided to share the news.
Luna came to us as an eight-week-old fluff that could fit in one hand, back when my two children were little, the younger one still in preschool. I chose her name based on the small white circle on her chest that looked like a full moon in the night sky. She never was a large cat, weighing between seven and eight pounds for most of her adult life. But she was the boss of our younger, ginger tom, who was twice her weight. She stuck around and helped us raise our two kids, seeing them through to adulthood. Through all of our ups and downs, flux and change, Luna was a mainstay.
She and my younger son bonded strongly and immediately. He lived away from us for a while, and then moved back in. After his return, Luna didn’t want to let him out of her sight, and spent a lot of time in his room. In the last weeks, he placed her bed right by his desk, so she could be next to him while he worked on development projects.
I was off work from my day job last week, something I had planned long in advance as a time to catch up on projects around the house and kind of decompress from stress. As it turned out, being home every day put it right in my face that she wasn’t there. It wasn’t very decompressing.
But an interesting thing happened last Saturday. If I believe in messages from the universe, which I do on some days, this might have been one. I went on a long walk — nearly three miles — because that’s my best therapy. At one point, a black cat appeared out of a wooded area and literally chased me down, running full speed to catch up with me in order to rub against my legs and get pets from me. It was like the universe knew I needed a bit of black cat in my life, or as if this cat was channeling the one I lost. My rational mind knows it was a random happening, but I’m not listening to my rational mind on this one.
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.
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.
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…