Social Covid

I share a lot about how I feel without necessarily sharing how I vote. All of this has changed now that I wear my vote on my face.

The past five years have been rough. Relationships are frayed, and once again emotions are high. The question of whether people chose vaccination or not drew a clear line in the sand that used to be hazier. We are making collective decisions on how to proceed. Which side are you on?

I mask to protect myself and my unvaccinated children but also to protect you, your children, your elders, your immunocompromised, and your front-line workers. I mask out of respect for those I am in close community with. I mask to stay in community with the people in my life who cannot get this virus.

I mask out of respect for people long-hauling with Covid. It’s been a year and my sister is becoming active again; but the light in her eyes is different from how it used to be. Wearing a mask after her experience is sort of like when my grandma got breast cancer and emphysema and I decided never to become a smoker.

My family is healthy and Covid might inflict nothing more than sniffles upon us. But one can never be sure how these things will go – especially in the long term. Plan B is to get the sniffles. Plan A is not to get sick at all.

I wear a mask because I hope not to be a part of the American machine that spreads this virus. If the Center for Disease Control thinks masking is the right course of action, then fine; I’m in.

I’m doing an experiment where I never oppose my daughter. In conflict we talk about boundaries, intentions, and requests; but I never pull my love and energy away or imply that she is wrong. Yes, she is my kid; but she’s also four. I do not subscribe to all of her ideas.

That practice helps me when I see your signs. Liberty, my body my choice, I want to see your smile, just a mask just a vax just your FREEDOM. People stand on corners with a message only when we feel strongly about something. I’m paying attention. I will try to imagine what this is like for you.

Masking and vaccinations are small things to me, but I have felt the sting of threat to my body and civil rights in other contexts. It’s a crux; a conflict between what is impractical now versus the possibility of future consequences. Choose your own adventure. In one version of the story, there are no consequences; but you must be lucky.

The Covid death toll in the United States is 650, 000 people with 4.55 million deaths worldwide. Perhaps those who passed were elderly or had pre-existing conditions; perhaps not. All of these people had families and worth. Everyone is affected by others’ actions right now and when I see your signs, I register that you value personal freedom over the lives of others. It’s too extreme a comparison, but at a different sort of protest I could imagine some of these signs held by perpetrators of violent crimes, rather than by survivors and allies.

For me, masking and vaccination come from a willingness to do my part. Certainly, the precautions are overblown at times, but it’s impossible to know when they’re warranted. As you assert your rights, please respect my boundaries. Take half a step back from my kids. Ask me before you hug me. Don’t offer your child a bite of my child’s popsicle.

Masks are hot, scratchy, and make breathing uncomfortable. It’s no big deal for me to cover my mouth and nose when I pop into a store for a few minutes though I might feel differently if I had to wear one all day. As a semi-introvert with a bunch of kids, I don’t feel the loss of staying out of social spaces but I am not comparing my experience with yours. Loneliness and isolation can be devastating. I have felt that too.

I would be devastated to bring coronavirus to work and spread it around; because some people in my town would get the sniffles and others would suffer long-term injury and possibly death. Maybe those harmed would’ve gotten it somewhere else. Maybe not.

If you are an unvaccinated, unmasked frontline worker, and this feels like too much to shoulder, that’s because it is. In a parallel universe the risk and responsibility Covid poses to you would come with a cape, superpowers, and a definite pay raise. Your potential as a vector is not fair but there it is.

If you hate wearing a mask I will be understanding in mask-optional spaces; but as you smile at me please recognize that one day your breath could threaten my safety. Your smile will look very nice on that day; just as it did on all of the other days.

Our daughter is homeschooling this semester because the school is mask-optional; but also because the school communicated to parents and teachers, in writing, that masks are NOT required by saying masks are “required/recommended”. Also, our Pre-K teacher is out to finish her student teaching and I can’t imagine Avery succeeding with a long-term substitute. Most importantly: We had an alternate option.

People are homeschooling this fall for a lot of different reasons. When the vote passed to make masking optional I thought it was a win for the other side; but some of those families chose homeschool as well and I’m not sure why. Who is winning here?

I am doing all of these cautious things but you could easily find me a hypocrite. I don’t hang around unvaccinated people except when I want to; then I make exceptions. Like if you mask and social distance then maybe it’s okay. Or if you’ve had Covid already and speak openly about that. Or if I love you and cannot bear to be apart from you any longer. Maybe we can do something outside?

Last spring, after our vaccinations, Covid concerns dwindled and I got sort of lax. I got used to being unmasked and we attended birthday parties. It was nice to stop reporting on where I’d been and with whom at every social encounter. Now, with the Delta variant, I am reigning myself in. So far in this process I have developed a double standard of being easy breezy with vaccinated people who mask and social distance; and maintaining a wide arc around those who don’t. Nothing is clear.

When I am around people who are Covid careful, I tighten up. The opposite is also true. In the past six months our family has both traveled to grandparents and accepted grandparents as visitors. Multiple times, my boundaries ended up compromised by the way other people moved through the world, and I felt stupid for having made the choices that got me there. But it was wonderful to see family, and I can’t say I wouldn’t do it again. It depends how long this drags on.

My best hope for Covid conversations is to find a shared future vision; even if we agree on nothing about how to get there. It’s hard to talk about Covid because conflicting in conversation seals the loss of community in a way that not talking leaves sort of open or unresolved. Not talking feels like it holds possibility; but the only real possibility is to first speak and let everything get a lot worse so that eventually we can hope for better.

Lament

So far my twins have been easy. Not cake walk easy but at least walking with two cakes easy. I will definitely pay for putting that in print.

First the oven, then the world!

I thought my first baby was hard as an infant, but I had never had a toddler. Toddlers should be illegal. Yesterday Toren dropped his poopy diaper under the dining room table and ran away laughing. His canines are irrupting and all shall suffer. Eirik is a buckle Houdini. He crawls like an army tank and climbs even unclimbable things.

My mom hustle has become a 15-hour day that includes cooking dinner with a crying baby standing up against each of my legs. What’s the pay? No pay.

I don’t mean to imply that things aren’t going well. This morning I picked blueberries with Toren on my back, Eirik asleep in the car, and my daughter by my side. On the bumpy car ride home the brothers played with their lips and voices, and Avery asked, “What is fart, mama?”

“Fart is an adult word for toot,” I said.

“Do trees fart, mama?”

“No. Trees don’t fart because they don’t have bottoms.”

“Maybe we could get a marker and draw on all these trees,” she suggested. “Eyes, ears, mouths, and bottoms, bottoms everywhere.”

Who could ask for more? Awesome is mine for thirty minutes a day. Maybe twice a day. In the afternoon we also read a library book called “Unicorn Diary.”Avery called it, “Unicorn Diarrhea,” and I teared up with laughter. The rest of the day, however, was about kindly extracting pulling fingers from hair, scrubbing old food off of walls, and wearing sick babies who wouldn’t nap. If I am a happy person it’s because I am stubbornly optimistic, and not because of any unicorns prancing through my house with rainbows shooting out of their butts.

Nobody knows.

Before I had kids people told me that parenting is the best. Amazing. Not to be missed. Reflecting on this cultural norm fills me with questions. Have you people never had fun? Are my kids crazier than other kids? Did my mother go through this? (I really don’t think she did.)

My husband gets it. “Your job is hard because it’s emotional,” he says. Ahem. My job is emotional, physical, and involves withstanding chaos and fatigue that at times qualify as torture. I’m honing a strategic and tactical skill set that might qualify me for a future career in the special forces. Until then, need a lasagna made in a burning building? I’m your gal.

I had a goodish day but let’s be clear about the score. My only objective is to teach three little kids how to be great humans. What I get out of this is not happiness, nor joy, but an endless opportunity for personal growth.

No one touting the “joy of parenthood” should be trusted unless they are currently in it. Even then, check references. People must stand firmly by irrevocable devisions, and under stress we cease to create memories. Parents can’t remember what happened yesterday much less a decade ago. I know because I wanted to capture a time lapse of an actual evening for this post and I could barely do it. Here is what happened:

Bath night. Toren is crying to be let out of the tub before I even turn the water on. Avery gets into the bath voluntarily; a real miracle. Eirik pooped in his diaper so I wipe him. The “waterfall” (shower) fills the tub. Toren is crying. I get in and wash my hair quickly while the kids splash among the tub toys at my feet. Then I hop out and towel off, needing to dress before they all want out. Everyone is copasetic so I dart into my bedroom to pull fresh sheets on the bed while listening through the open bathroom door for emergencies cued either by screaming or silence. I put the crib mattress on the floor to change the sheet. Toren wants out. Avery cannot tolerate Eirik who is dumping water out of her Duplo’s; so I get him out of the tub with my left arm while holding slippery Toren under my right arm so he can’t escape and splash in the toilet. I nurse the brothers on my half-made bed. Toren thrashes and head-butts me in the mouth. Eirik is feeling playful and his teeth come down hard on top of Toren’s head. He starts bleeding from his gums and Toren is crying again. Avery gets out of the tubby and runs through the house dripping water everywhere. She comes back in a pink party dress and is spinning and spinning around my room. Toren is still crying. Eirik is bleeding; so I wet a washcloth for him to suck on and carry him while I drag a towel through the house with my foot to dry the floor. Avery jumps up and down on the crib mattress, and the brothers join in. Someone is about to get hurt so I tell Avery to go brush your teeth. I put the mattress, with fresh sheet, back in the crib. The babies go into their cribs and I put on some pants. Avery returns with her water bottle, climbs into my bed for books and cuddling, and head-butts me in the mouth. Eirik bounces on his mattress and knocks his teeth against the wooden crib railing. He’s bleeding again. I read to Avery as fast as I can over both babies crying. Her water spills and soaks my bedsheets; I proceed with the books as if nothing happened. When three books are read, I pick up a baby under each arm and off we go to tuck in big sister.

Motherhood is the one job you cannot walk away from and maintain status as a decent person. I recently heard self-care defined as “taking enough care of yourself that you don’t need to run away from your life”. I get that. I like my gig but I still need an hour to myself every day; a morning once a week; a week’s vacation once a year. I have no idea how to get this kind of time; but if I don’t I may well want to run away from my life, and that motivates me to figure it out.

I wish previous generations of women had told us what we were getting ourselves into; not that it would have made any difference. No prospective mother is going to opt out because someone tells her it’s hard. We are all the more intrigued.

If I didn’t have my kids I would have been sad forever. It is amazing to watch them grow and become who they are. But more often than not, parenting is also, as one mom puts it, “like bleeding from your eyeballs”. Just this once I would like to send a different message out into the world, and say: If you wanted kids and didn’t end up with them, you might be doing all right.

Life offers a fine line between have to and get to. Responsibilities bring joy. Hard work is fun. I am so pleased to raise my children, and sometimes I would like to do something else. Because satisfaction lives just over the horizon, and this shit is only fun if there’s nowhere else you would rather be.

Everything as it should be

Everything is as it should be.

Everything is as it should be.

Everything is as it should be.

Avery is shredding the house faster than I clean it. Eirik just pooped on the carpet. Toren is shrieking at an eardrum-blowing decibel. Why expect anything less?

My mom just left. She came to visit for the week and she played with my kids, put in my garden, and did all my chores. For the first two days I barely got off the couch. I didn’t realize I was so tired until I had an opportunity to stop and sit down. Then I struggled to get back up.

Everything is as it should be.

It’s time to discover how summer works with all three of my littles. Since I found out I was carrying twins there have been so many things I feared that never came to pass. Like I imagined I would never survive that first night before the milk comes in with two babies; but then Toren was in NICU and I was only responsible for the one.

Worry, often enough, has been useless enough, that I rarely bother with it. I don’t look at weather forecasts either – same reason. Because, sure, maybe the future will be terrible, but maybe not. Maybe it will be fine. Maybe it will be great. Better to wait and see.

The end of the school year, however, with my husband working out of town, is so far proving to be as hard as I thought it would be. The things I’ve found that help are a dinner rotation limited to spaghetti and tacos, and these words:

Everything is as it should be.

Mothering a bunch of kids at once is no laughing matter. When I ask advice from women who mother twins plus other kids they mostly shrug. Good luck with that. One twins-plus mom tells me she was so stressed raising her kids that she lived in fight or flight for twenty years. “Find a way not to do what I did,” she says.

If I get through the day in my usual way (sympathetic nervous system kicked into high gear) then everything gets done. We have a good time. The children don’t know I’m strapped. And isn’t that the point? To knock yourself out without anyone realizing how hard you’re working?

Everything is as it should be.

“What helps” changes too fast for moms to take mental note (the amygdala isn’t known for its glittering memory). The best advice on how to keep up with my flock comes from the big sisters of twins.

Everyone waits their turn,” says L. She is a photographer who helped me select photos from our twin sitting last summer. Because of her advice I flash a W to any child who starts crying. “Wait,” I say. “You’re next.” Unless someone is bleeding I finish what I am doing; there is no way I will get back to it. And when I’m nursing and Avery freaks out with jealousy, I invite her to flip a sand timer. “Five more minutes for the brothers,” I say. “Then it’s your turn.”

Another twin big-sis sends me flatrate boxes. Inside are 10 books recently outgrown by her child and individually wrapped in newspaper. “Use them any way you like,” she says. “I wouldn’t have made it through the preschool years without books as incentives.” Avery earns them whenever she has the opportunity to wake up the brothers, but doesn’t.

Everything is as it should be.

The idea of self care is an inside joke I keep with myself. Sometimes, I say (to nobody), I like to poop. I’m never alone, I don’t have much time, and it’s never when I actually feel the need to go, but sometimes I do it anyway. If you’re going to eat then you might as well poop.

Whenever I get a moment to feel and experience what is going on in my body I learn things I didn’t want to know: That my lower jaw hums with tiredness. That the freedom-loving part of me waits for these precious early years to pass into something more manageable. That what I sacrificed in becoming a mother is so much more than any childless person can understand. I can’t unlearn these things and whether or not it’s helpful for me to know them is debatable. So, unless I’m very careful, all of the laundry gets thoroughly put away and I don’t take any time for myself at all.

Everything is as it should be.

My actual self-care system is a matter of mindset more than a function of time. I do what pleases me and turn away from unreasonable demands. Every day I get outside, cook something I want to eat, and write a little. My needs ride the revolving carousel along with everyone else’s (mama gotta eat). I nap the brothers exclusively in their cart to keep us mobile and avoid conflict with my big kid during nap time and I will continue to do so even if you think it’s weird. When everyone is sleeping (praise Jesus) I write instead of scroll. I am currently reclaiming 30-minutes a day for yoga and I have a kitty tattoo for anyone who lets me get through it without interruption.

Everything is as it should be.

*

Permanent presence

When I get around to ordering myself a T-shirt with my kid’s face on it, the word’s will say, “I’m with coo-coo.”

Two nights ago we bribed A into eating dinner by telling her that if she took a bite then daddy would bounce his legs on the yoga ball in a silly way. Last night she only ate if she could moonwalk while she chewed. Tonight I let her eat while we watched Monkey Planet on BBC.

Dinner moonwalk

Catching up on some old issues of The Sun, I recently read an interview of Jennifer Senior on modern parenting. This passage caught my attention:

When children are small, their prefrontal cortexes are barely developed. The prefrontal cortex regulates impulses and is in charge of planning. So, as the parent of a toddler, you’re interacting with a small creature who has no self-control, can’t imagine a future, and lives in the permanent present.”

The article goes on to explain how you’ll often disappoint your young Buddha as the adult world has places to go and people to see and you are expected to be on time. I’m not worried about any of that. I’m thinking:

This explains why A works a spoon through cottage cheese like she is trying to solve it, rather than eat it.

We have all attended enough yoga classes, watched enough Oprah, or read enough Eckhart Tolle in this decade to know that the present moment is a good place to be.

The Buddha said, “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” Certainly, being present is the main thing I know about how to live happily and be a good parent.

But I have not been doing a good job of this lately.

A is having fun and I am not because I am operating under the expectation that I will accomplish something adult with my day – something saner, more appreciated, and with better pay. But most likely, I wont, and so I feel unhappy.

For example, I am good at the work of parenting (a lot of my time is spent preparing food and cleaning up) but I do not play with my daughter as often as I could.

I don’t play because I don’t recognize what A is doing as play. She opens drawers to fish for objects. She flicks light switches on and off. She tears things off shelves. She asks for snacks and then throws them on the floor. She pulls the dog’s tail. She grabs whatever she can reach off of the counter.

I never wanted to be that parent constantly saying no! And don’t do that! And stop stop stop! But baby A spends a lot of the day doing the wrong thing. It is also true that these naughty behaviors are her trying to get my attention. For better or worse, the good times come when I do almost nothing except watch her unfold.

The same spontaneous, daring, curious qualities that make raising this child difficult are the same things that make it fun. The other day a box store’s background music caught her fancy so she threw up her arms and started pulsing like Katy Perry. One moment you’re pushing a cart and looking for a shower caddy and the next moment you’re raising the roof. Thats my baby.

Why does her present moment look like so much fun while mine feels like such a struggle? Why am I feeling bonkers while she is on a spiritual quest? Oh, right. We are both on a spiritual quest.

Some of my chore-ing needs to be done. Actually it all needs to get done, and with our slow progress there is good reason for me to keep working. But in part my busy-ness is about my wanting to finish something today – even if it is just a pile of dishes.

The unwritten part of presence, is that it involves a lot of not doing what I want to do. Or what I thought I was going to do. And it is very often uncomfortable. Nothing pushes a person toward spiritual growth so extremely as adversity.

As long as I’m trapped in a permanent present, I might as well have a little more of what she’s having.

Tonight we are ready for bed a little early so I pull out these wind-up cars. You know the type – roll them back and forth a few times and they’ll race forward under their own power. I am doing this because I don’t want to fight a not-quite-tired kid to sleep. I run them; A retrieves them. Back and forth, back and forth.

But then the purple pick-up really takes off. It zips across the kitchen and runs smack into the wall on the other side of the house. I laugh out loud. A hoots and claps her hands.

For a moment I am not responsible-mommy-ing anymore: I am up past bedtime and having fun.

Her need for love does not shame her

I started this blog in early 2018 when my daughter was already eight months old. Lately I’ve been trying to write a little bit about who she and I were together in those first blissed-out, mama-fog, fourth trimester months before she went mobile and my happy stay-home parenthood got served up with a daily side of bonkers.

I thought I remembered it all – the first smiles, the endless nursing, the sweetness of getting to know M as a father – until today when I met my new niece Baby S (!). It’s hard for me to remember that Baby A was ever so tiny and helpless.

The best part about holding S is remembering that a baby’s nature is that of a fierce pink glow with skin. She can’t focus her eyes all of the time (a girl gets tired), but she loves like nobody’s business. Babies are such awesome little battery packs.

Sifting through my sparse notes from the early days with A, I find this line – Her need to love and be loved does not shame her. No matter what anyone else says, this is the best part of being a parent. You’re just rambling along through your own life, trying to do your best and often falling short, then bam, there’s a new precious human to remind you, and everyone in a two-relationships-removed radius, that each of us in our original state is an embodiment of love.

If I dig deep, I can remember being love. I sit on my mom’s lap, snuggled to her chest in a calm, warm moment. Her skin is so soft. There are no pinging text messages to interrupt us, nobody is taking our picture, she is not scrolling through social media or wishing to be. It is just me and my mom with her fleshy arms wrapped tight around me.

Mom would never break that spell so I must have done it. And that’s ok–little minds should not know that love is rare and fleeting. Kids should be free to bounce toward whatever catches their fancy, assuming that love is always just a few steps and an upward glance away.

Lately I have been consumed with a fear that I am disappearing – that my need for work, stimulation, and relief will never rise to the priority slot of our family’s needs; at least not in a satisfying way. Millions of mothers over countless generations have lost their I: Nobody else is going to remember my dreams if I don’t. Somedays are not mama days’ but I am not going anywhere. My need for a public voice is too strong to let my passions quietly wither into a cool undertone of defensive anger. There must be a better way.

I remember all of the different forms of love that came after my mom. I think back to early experiences of romantic love, when I was near to someone and consumed, wanting the moment never to end. But no other person has ever been so willing to stay there, locked in, as she was. At some point, I became the one who was unable to just be.

I lie nursing my daughter and wishing for precious time. Like pain, love is intense, and these thoughts pretend to serve me by pulling me away. Held inside of my being, love is safe, but shared love is vulnerable. Love is ephemeral and busyness is a constant. We learn to go with the sure bet.

As much as I hate to admit it, the root of my desire to write, meditate, eat chocolate, or do something else is my need to love warped into a new form like a shirt put on backwards: Love isn’t waiting to be created when we get back to doing something real–love is there all along. We only need to remember how to give and receive it.

Over and over with baby A I remind myself of where I am, that the full force of my love is appropriate and matters here, that her turning away is still a long way off.

I allow myself to stay and bask in her steady, pulsing presence. She gives me everything she has, asking only that I do the same. I put in the effort and glow my pink light back to her. My darling, I have nowhere else to be.

I have this (mobile) baby

I’ve had this baby for nine months. Generally it’s been dreamy; we think she’s great. But until now I mostly did what I wanted to do. The secret of being a stay-at-home, I’ve been known to say, is that you get to do whatever you want as long as you bring the cub. All of that changed around the New Year when she went mobile.

Suddenly (a slow, diaper-changing, banana-eating, dog-climbing kind of suddenly) I have to redefine my self-worth by something other than productivity.  All day I’m flooded with ideas: Become a great cook! Cultivate the most productive garden EVER! Write a book or two! Prepare some singer-songwriter sets! Sleep-train the baby!  My mind makes wild, ambitious leaps like it always did. But time moves differently with a baby in the house, and none of these projects are at all realistic.

The truth is, I wasn’t some uber-productive success story before I had A either. I’ve been writing for years now, but all of those words are still tucked safely away on my computer. It’s not that I’m afraid of putting myself out there (says my inner excuse maker), I’m just not done yet. I used to at least work (a lot) on my impossible goals, but lately my ego has started to freak out.

My actual accomplishments this morning include that I have washed at least several dishes, ate eggs, fed A, made and drank (yeah!) a cup of decaf, and continued to unpack the duffles from last week’s trip (day 3 of this project). All this while A pushed the furniture around the house. But I also started this blog, which I’ve been meaning to do for a decade.

Right now, in order to finish this post, I’m allowing A to tear all of my books off of the shelf again, and I’ll intervene only to keep her from eating my favorite ones (not Barry Lopez! not David Sedaris! Here, have a DVD!). This is not the only place where my theoretical parenting deviates wildly from my actual parenting (i.e. sleep).

My only explanation for my unprecedented burst of exposition, is that while before I thought about starting an online presence, maybe even wanted to, it wasn’t until today that I needed to. Because today, amidst the squirrel games, the need to dump my brain took precedence over the safety of privately and endlessly preparing my thoughts. For better or worse, allowing my words out into the world is one small but important goal that I can actually get somewhere on right now – even though nap time never lasts as long as I wish it did.

My kid needs love and care, but so much more. I want to be the first of many to teach her that effort makes a difference. I want her to grow up knowing that each of us has the power to make our community more whole and beautiful through conversations that matter, and that what we do is not half as important as who we are. I can’t raise her to be more than I am.

This essay will post at the end of the week, whatever state it is in. I no longer have time, or the necessary brain power (mom brain, it’s real), to agonize much over the details. I have just enough time to say what I have to say and move on. I still imagine that I will come back and agonize over every word, but I probably wont.

That’s all for now; she’s awake.