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.

Mom slave

I can’t believe how trashed my house is lately. Before I had kids I remember visiting homes with a lot of children and being surprised that no one cleaned for my arrival. Now I know, they did.

My mom is an exemplary housekeeper. Her house is not clutter-free but it’s always clean. She takes ownership over the problem; takes charge. Not because the mess is hers, but because the home is hers.

It seems an important detail to me, though to no one else, that all that shit on the floor is on a relatively brief rotation. Those empty spaces were occupied only moments before. Toys. Clothes. Yesterday’s waffles. This is how we live.

Weekends are particularly nuts around here. Comically nuts. Tonight, I push the breakfast dishes towards the middle of the table to serve dinner.

Avery looks around the room and says, “You know grandma’s house? Grandma’s house is really clean, isn’t it?”

Child. I’m trying.

*

Hopefully you’ve got a good woman who keeps the home front chaos down to a reasonable roar. Cleaning is optional for men, but the state of a woman’s home reflects her value as a wife, mother, and human being. If a guy is a complete slob you can look the other way or make excuses for him. “Helluva guy,” you might say. “His wife could use a little help around the house though.”

I’ll be damned if I don’t do anything with my day but tidy up. I maintain a house that is only reasonably messy as a feminist ideal but I am my own worst critic. It’s not my mess; but somehow it is my mess. Expect me to be defensive.

My mind is wired in a relational way. I spend a lot of time helping kids work through needs and conflicts. When they are copacetic, I try very hard to stop cleaning so that play, adventure, and creativity happen. This is the scale I wish to be measured by.

I want my family to be involved with the housework. Avery and I made a chart of 10 chores that need to be done every day. Dishes. Laundry. Prepare food. Clear table. Feed dog. Tidy books. Shelve shoes. Make beds. Sweep. Pick up toys. In reality I do some of these things multiple times a day but once is enough to avoid a house of “sloven filth,” as my husband calls it.

Sloven filth reflects upon a woman’s character; never a man’s. It remains an unwritten rule that house cleaning must come first. You can teach the babies to speak Swahili, but if the kitchen floor remains unswept then nobody cares. I rail against this reality like a rebellious teen.

My husband does not understand. “If you would clean the kitchen,” he says, “things would be a lot less chaotic for you.” Every Saturday morning he makes the kitchen his project. He cleans (zero babies under foot) faster and better than I ever do. Then he lays down on the couch as if to say, “Did that. I’m done.”

My cleaning style is a tireless dance of shifting objects. Collect cups, place next to sink. Gather perishable food, place next to fridge. Remove dirty socks, toss toward hamper. Each time I step out onto the floor I aim to restore spaces to a more sane situation if never quite to sanity. I never lie on the couch. I am never done.

When a husband or grandma out-cleans me, I get depressed. Here I am trying to be a parenting slouch (ie. maintain boundaries or eat breakfast) only to have other well-meaning adults pick up the slack. It’s embarrassing. In your presence I have no choice but to rally or cease to function.

In my husband’s most recent tirade through the cabinets, he paused, seeing that I stacked some glass bowls and lids. “Tupperware looks good,” he said.

It was meant as a compliment. But I do not want to be celebrated for my victories over Tupperware. How about, “Really? Avery has stopped biting the brothers?” Or, “Wow! The babies are falling asleep on their own?” Or, “Everyone is still alive?!” Bravo!”

Yeah. I did that.

*

Can the kids help? If only my children would stop destroying the house while I clean; that would be a good start. I’ve been trying to teach the brothers not to pull books off the shelves. They persist, but now Eirik says, “stopstopstop” while he does it. Maybe that’s an improvement?

In cultures where kids do chores willingly, parents include toddlers in house work as they become interested. Toren is constantly in the dust pile or grabbing for the broom while I sweep. He climbs into the dishwasher but he also helps me to close it. I will encourage him.

Sometimes Avery gets invested in our chore chart, but she is more interested in doing laundry than anything else. Mistakes have been made, and I may have to play hardball.

In serious chore face-offs I tell my daughter , “I can’t help you until you help me.” This is extreme, but also effective. She will learn to pick up or wipe her own bottom. Either way, it’s a win for me.

This morning, Avery cuts a scrap of paper into smitherines. “You’re making a mess,” I say. “Stop and clean up, please.”

“No,” she says, confidently. “You can pick that up later when I’m at school.”

Right. But did you have to say it out loud?

*

Clean is ephemeral; mess is forever. Eternal tidiness models a reality where mom has nothing better to do than clean up after other people. The need is real, but the expectation is unreasonable.

Last night I dreamed that I had completed “warrior training” and was being driven somewhere for my final test. Imagine my surprise when we pulled up to… my own home. Inside, an army of people waited to capture me and “make me their slave”. I did not escape; but neither did I lose hope.

As a kid I had a friend with a lot of siblings and blessedly little supervision. The yard was a child’s fantasy world where a hose ran 365 days a year. All of the neighborhood kids hung out there. In summer we dug and filled swimming pools. In winter we used 5-gallon buckets to make ice blocks for igloos. We built a treehouse with real boards, nails, and hammers and never an adult anywhere.

Inside, gloppy peanut butter and jelly goobers covered the oak table and a blue macaw scattered sunflower seeds across the living room carpet. I wondered why their mom didn’t clean it up. I never thought that she did, or that maybe we kids, or her husband, should do some cleaning. You might as well have suggested that the parrot pick up after himself.

Mom jobs are often invisible. Patriarchal culture implies that they are also easy. When we can’t keep up, we are left to wonder what is wrong with us. Moms are shamed into accepting the never-ending chore vortex as our lot in life. We work harder, have less to show for it, and say nothing.

I have few memories of that neighbor mom when she wasn’t carrying a laundry basket. But once, I saw her on the couch reading a novel. I remember because I’d never seen a mom read before. She was up against an impossible task; but I hope that messy house was in part the result of a high-quality no on her part.

I will not be your mom slave.

If we want better for our daughters, we have to want better for ourselves. Don’t mother away your personhood. Resist. It’s hard to let the dishes sit and do a thing, but this poem by Tess Gallagher helps:

I Stop Writing the Poem

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I’m still a woman.
I’ll always have plenty to do.
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I’ll get back
to the poem. I’ll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there’s a shirt, a giant shirt
in my hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it’s done.

*

Gift love

Sometimes love is easy; other times… not so easy. When love is easy it bubbles to the surface of our skin, comes out in words, touch, and little notes. We don’t have to think about it. When love does not come easily it can still be given consciously and with effort. This, is gift love.

This post has been in my drafts folder since A was small enough to nap on her dad’s body. The picture is out of date but I kept it anyway because I like the palpable familial love so visible in it. I like to see M’s eyes sparkle; and baby A in that purple dress with her one-year-old mowhawk before the sides of her hair had grown in. I love the moment when this picture was taken.

Gift love started as my way of thinking about how to reconcile daily grievances, make-up when the unthinkable just happened, and forgive when apologies have not necessarily been given. Anyone with a spouse will relate, but also anyone with any valued long-term relationship; be it with a parent, sibling, lover, child, or friend.

The first few years of parenting are hard on a marriage, and I’m not sure it gets any easier. Why are relationships so hard? Why is it that the people we love most have this endless potential to cause harm; to take the most tender parts of ourselves, twist them into something ugly, and fling it back into our faces?

Gift love, put simply, is empathy. It is meeting a person where they are and saying,”I see you.” In loving a person at their worst we invest in the parts of them that are soft, vulnerable, fragile, and help those parts to grow. To love a child is somehow easier than loving an adult, but it is the same. Each of us was once a child. Each of us started out as precious.

Gift love is the love we give even when we don’t feel like it. It is courage mustered in small moments when we want to roll away and offer our back, but instead roll to and bravely talk about how we feel. It is a love given humbly, in remembrance of the big picture, and to the people without whom we would be lost. When it all falls apart, someone has to start somewhere.

I wish there existed some rote method of reconciliation that everyone was trained in: Then we could just move through the process and get on with it. You speak, and I will listen. I speak, and you listen. We each apologize and take responsibility for harms caused. Forgiveness is complete. Once again, we feel safe and loved in each other’s presence and the relationship is whole. We part ways feeling right with the world.

What holds us back? Part of gift love for me is that I will only take your words 100% seriously when you are clear-headed, centered, and speaking from the most authentic core of your being. I picture a circle of emotions that each of us works with. All of the places we reach for in difficult moments are along the edge: ego, pride, anger, control, defense, greed. The center is where the heart is; the authentic place we speak from when we are feeling vulnerable but brave and can be proud of our words and actions. When we speak from this place it is easy to love ourselves and each other; and when the conversation is over we rest in the knowledge that we did our best.

What do we do with nasty things said in a heated moment? The things we can’t rescind or un-hear hold kernels of truth. Take them seriously and reflect; but at the end if the day, understand that my harsh words are more a reflection of how I am doing on this difficult journey than of how you are doing. Know that I will want a chance to make things right.

Relational stress is the worst for me; it hurts for years. On the receiving end of an ear-full I take your words pretty hard. Maybe I should see that you aren’t centered in your emotional circle and try not to take you so literally. Maybe, if I stay centered, I can resolve some piece of your suffering rather than adding to it.

I am trying out this idea of asking people to apologize. It’s awkward but if you need something, ask for it. If I didn’t believe in you, if I didn’t value our relationship and want it to continue, I wouldn’t bother. I would write you off as a lousy human and move on. Revealing my hurt, is me loving you. This too, is gift love.

As a person who messes up frequently, I have had lots of practice apologizing. I have no shame in righting my past wrongs. If I caused you harm then I was oblivious to your needs in that moment or not centered in my circle. I don’t feel a need to justify my past poor behaviors; so please, just ask. I will hear your words as a gift.

I want to be a refuge for my people; a place where you can come to be heard and understood. I look at myself and my husband in this picture and I see how our lives have become more stressful than they used to be. I see how needs now go unmet; his and mine. Still, on a good day, we make each other lunch. We hold hands and kiss before dinner every night. We prioritize time together on weekends during nap time. I see how these small efforts, made with great love, accumulative into the days of our life. Love given freely always comes back in some form.

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