Counting the Days

In the beginning, I counted everything. 

Days of pandemic. Days of working from home. Days of virtual schooling.

Now it is late May and the boys are counting days until summer vacation.

“I can’t wait,” Theo says, heading into his bedroom to log into his 9am science zoom. “It’s going to be so much less stressful.”

In my hallway office upstairs, I open emails letting me know that summer camps are cancelled, summer plays are cancelled, summer festivals are cancelled. 

I hear, faintly, the doorbell ringing downstairs. George has a close friend in the neighborhood and we have continued to let the boys play together, as long as they follow certain rules. Outside only. Six feet apart. No shared equipment.

I think they mostly follow them. Read more

Pandemic lists

Things I am not doing: Writing a novel, organizing the garage, telling others to choose joy, sharing memes about wine.

People I can hug: Tobin, Theo, George.

Morning routines I am clinging to: Rising early, showering, drinking coffee, writing, walking through Hoyt Park.

People I love who have gone into the hospital with COVID-19 and come home to recover: Deborah.

Online meeting platforms I can now host in: Zoom, Skype, Teams, WebEx.

Plants in bloom now: hyacinth, forsythia, magnolia, rhododendron, virginia bluebell, shooting star, dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, daffodil, swamp buttercup.

Books I have re-read in the past month: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Pride and Prejudice.

Places in my body where I am storing stress: shoulders, neck, back, jaw. Read more

What is an appropriate response to a pandemic?

What is an appropriate response to a pandemic?

In this neighborhood, in this small midwestern city, we are trading tips on which grocery stores have the best curbside delivery. We are waving at neighbors, porch to porch. 

We are attending online Torah study, online book group, online exercise class, online college reunions. We are skipping one or all of those events, because we cannot take one more online meeting after an entire day of online meetings.

We are wearing face masks, some of us, sometimes. We are wearing gloves, some of us, sometimes. We are texting memes about chewable lysol tablets. 

Some of us have friends and relatives who have died from this pandemic or are sick. Many of us have lost jobs or taken a pay cut or been furloughed. 

Illness and death unrelated to the pandemic continue. Read more

Courage & wisdom in the age of coronavirus

I had theater tickets with my mom that needed to be rescheduled because she was flying to Spain. Then she cancelled her vacation.

“Coronavirus,” she explained.

“I’m sorry about your trip,” I told her. “But honestly, I’m a little relieved.”

And then, a few days later, she texted to tell me she wasn’t going to be able to attend the play because she was avoiding crowded places altogether. 

Really? I thought for a moment. We live in a small midwestern city. There has been only one confirmed case in our whole state.

But my mother takes medicine that closes down parts of her immune system. And the truth is that I’m grateful she’s being cautious.

So I texted back. “I understand,” I said. 

Sometimes it’s hard to know the right amount of careful.   Read more

Happily ever after

“Want to find out what your love language is?” Lydia asked Tobin.

He was making dinner. She was on college break, sitting in one of the two armchairs beside the kitchen that are nearly always occupied.

“I think it’s Italian,” Tobin said.

“Can we do my love language?” George asked. He was kicking a soccer ball, feinting in one direction and then another, eyeing his sister’s slippered feet like they were a tricky opponent.

“It’s not a language language,” Lydia said. “It’s things like, Do you feel more loved when one of us brings you a present or when we give you a hug?” Read more

Midnight Octopus

A headache wakes me at 1 am. 

I am in the overlap between two jobs — having accepted a new one but still wrapping up the old one — and I lie awake, adjusting and re-adjusting the pillow and the covers, tender-headed, filled with the tasks and emotions of closing one thing and opening another.

When I am still awake at 2am, I rise, take medicine, slip into a hot bath, and read about octopuses

The minutes slide by. 

The author scuba dives to be underwater with the octopuses: braves the tight suit, the pain in her ears, the downward plummet or float to another world.

I don’t know why immersion in hot water works for me, but it works every time. 

It does not make the pain disappear, but it puts it aside — makes it small, irrelevant, something that is only present if I look at it directly. 

I have lived with these headaches for years. Some come with sharp pain; some come with sensitivity to light; some come without hurt or distortion — only a sense that the world is about to slip incrementally sidewise: the colors of the landscape gently loosing themselves from their outlines.

I remember driving the interstate with one of these auras before I knew what it was, knew how to name it. 

The dark pavement and green trees and yellow and white lines curved indefinitely before me. I felt one moment sliding into the next and with it, it seemed possible — even likely — that I might forget how to drive, or might lose my will to do so. I gripped the steering wheel, sang songs from summer camp, made it home.

If I pay attention, life is full of these grace notes, some harmonious, some dissonant: the solitary, untallied moments between moments.  Read more

Feeding the raccoons

The first time we saw the raccoons on our side deck was this summer: a night cool enough that the air conditioning was off and the windows were open. In the space between waking and sleep, I heard a steady pattern of noise: metal on metal. It was coming from outside. 

I sat up. Tobin was sleeping beside me.

I pulled the blind on the window behind our headboard, looked out. I could see a dark mass moving along the railing of the side deck, and something in the air above it swinging, glittering.

Tobin woke up. “What is it?” he asked.

“On the deck,” I said.

After a minute, the mass resolved into a raccoon. It climbed up to the top corner of the deck post and reached out for the bird feeder, which was swinging repeatedly into the downspout running along the deck post. 

It was the metal perches of the feeder against the downspout that had made the noise; the plastic tube of the feeder that had glittered in the light from the nearby street lamp.

We watched as the raccoon tried different approaches. The bird feeder hangs from the end of a long metal arm and has spring-loaded perches. The raccoon tried extending its body along the metal arm, tried reaching for the feeder from the deck railing, tried reaching for it half-way up the post.

“Is that another one on the deck?” Tobin asked. 

I looked. It was. “Maybe it’s the mother raccoon and one of her babies that we saw in the trees this summer.”

We decided, with no evidence, that it was.

After several tries, the raccoon hooked a spring-loaded perch with one paw and pulled the feeder toward her. Then, standing upright on the deck railing, she began eating out of the feeder.

“Wow,” I said.

“I’m going to go scare her away,” Tobin said. “She’s eating all the bird food.”

He got up and the dog went with him. The raccoon looked large in the street light, maybe 30 pounds, the size of a small child.

After a minute, light flooded onto the raccoons from inside the house and from the overhead light on the deck. The raccoon on the deck skittered away and disappeared in the space between the bottom of the railing and the deck. 

The raccoon standing on top of the railing turned to look at the house where she saw perhaps my husband or perhaps just a reflection in the glass. She did not move. I could see the dark mask across her face, her ringed tail, her clever dark paw on the feeder. Read more

When your mom is an apex predator

My spirit animal is a bear.

I learned this from an online quiz, administered to me by my husband and children last night at bedtime while I was brushing my teeth and they were all lying on our bed with the dog.

“That sounds right,” my husband said. 

Theo’s is an owl.

Tobin and George did theirs twice.

The first time, Tobin got a snake.

George got a shiba-inu. 

“A what?” I asked.

“Look,” George said. He showed me a picture. Shiba-inus are fluffy dogs, originally bred for hunting, described as small, strong, charming, fearless, and loyal — as well as difficult to train.

I nodded.

George walked back into the bedroom. “Why does Mom get to be a bear?” he asked Tobin. Read more

First day. Second week. Middle school.

Theo started middle school this year.

The first day, he got off the bus at the high school instead of the middle school. A teacher there helped him catch the next bus to his school. He boarded to find a neighbor friend in her seat.

The second day, he saw a bus pulling away when he arrived at the stop, and called Tobin, who picked him up and drove in the direction of school. They passed a school friend and her family at their bus stop — and stopped to catch the bus with her.

The third day, he walked a little further to the bus to ride the route with the two neighbors.

“School is great,” Theo said, when people asked. He came home cheerful, planned out the homework routine he would adopt when the homework began in week two, snapped his planner into his three-inch school binder, packed the gym outfit he would wear when gym began in week two.

Last Monday was the first day of week two.

He came home from school, dropped into a chair, complained of being bored to death, stared out the window.

“What’s going on?” I asked. 

He didn’t answer. He has grown an inch in the past month, it seems, and his legs hung long over the side of the armchair. He is almost as tall as I am. He rolled his eyes. Read more

Hippos with light sabers

“Mom, can I take the patronus quiz?” George asks. 

This is an online quiz, the kind where you answer a dozen questions and the algorithm tells you who you are. A patronus is the smoky animal spell from the Harry Potter books, the one that repels dementors and carries messages. It takes one form for each person, usually a form that represents that person: a stag, a doe, a phoenix.

“Not now,” I say.  It is 10:30 at night and the boys and I are in a hotel in Pennsylvania, traveling from Wisconsin to New York. We’re in our beds and the lights are out.

“What do you think my patronus would be?” George asks. “Do you think it would be an otter?”

“Hermione’s patronus is an otter,” Theo says.

“What’s an animal that’s cute and soft?” George says. “Maybe I would be a lion.”

“Are lions nocturnal?” I ask. Read more