When my oldest was asked, as a kindergartener, “What’s something your mom always says?” that was his response. He could’ve said any number of things:
What’s that smell?
Why is this wet?
I JUST cleaned this.
Not ’til I finish my coffee.
Get down. That wasn’t meant to hold your weight.
Or the ubiquitous, Why is there always crap all over the living room?
But my lovely firstborn chose something that makes me sound insightful. I would deliver this “learning experience” adage when he was down on himself for making a mistake, trying to point out that mistakes are how we learn to do something different the next time. I was not born with this wisdom. I, just like my kid, expected perfection of myself the first and every time. It was only later in life I began to tell myself to learn from my screwups and move on.
While all of this sheltering in place isn’t a mistake I’ve made, instead of lamenting what we can’t do, what’s not available, I can look at what I’ve learned from it.
We do not actually need all the activities we had previously scheduled into our lives.
We are all pretty good at entertaining ourselves (even the oldest, extrovert child) when we have ample opportunity.
While I am fond of baking, given enough free time, I still don’t like to cook.
The people in my neighborhood are awesomely supportive of each other in good times and bad.
Having only each other to play with for quite some time, our kids are now emotionally closer to each other.
I hadn’t lost interest in my hobbies before the pandemic; I’d just lost time and energy enough to want to pursue them.
Jason and I can still do projects together, and even if they are a pain in the ass, we don’t take it out on each other.
Trading books, puzzles and plant cuttings with friends may not be the same as dishing in a bar together, but it’s fun and bonding in a whole different way.
These are the things I want to hang onto longterm. Most of them have to do with protecting free time so that everyone in our family has the opportunity to get bored and think, “what next?”
Some people take “what next?” time and invent things to solve the world’s problems or start new, innovative companies or side hustles. That’s not what I’m after here. I want to maintain the leisure we’ve found during this time of everything shut down — books, movies, gardening, playing. That, to me, is the stuff that makes life worth living. And coronavirus has made me realize, I missed it. What have you learned from the pandemic fallout that you’d like to keep, longterm?
I didn’t realize how apt the name of this blog was when I came up with it. At the onset, it just described how moody I am — how I can be in love with the world one minute and convinced it’s utterly doomed the next. I can even hold both of those feelings at the same moment. The “riding” part refers to my attempt to gently navigate these mood swings instead of trying to beat them into submission.
But wave riding is not just for my personal emotional ambiance; it has applied, very much, to weathering this forced shelter-in-place, quarantine, socially-distant experiment to which we’ve all, necessarily, been subjected. People are sick, and essential employees are out there doing their jobs in the face of immense challenge and fear. I salute them. This post is for the rest of us.
Telling It Like It Is, Part 1
I could tell you that, since we’ve all been sequestered here in our house, I’ve been cooking more. The kids have been helping around the house, and Jason has ramped up his woodworking. I could wax philosophical about how we’ve learned to appreciate the little things — stocked grocery shelves, a walk around the block, our own good health. Our kids are visibly excited about toilet paper, for godsakes. I could tell you we’ve hiked and done crafts and that in a way, we feel closer as a family than ever. I could mention that this time has caused me to reflect on what is truly important and in what direction I’d like to take my career. I love the simplicity this situation has brought us. All of this would be true.
Telling It Like It Is, Part 2
I could also tell you that Jason and I had a loud, emotional argument right before bed one night last week that took us days to recover from. I could tell you how I cry into my hands in front of my computer screen at least once a week, the job sites staring back at me with offers from companies I will never hear back from — a recurring non-event that chips away at my self-worth. I could reveal that my kids, though they don’t complain anymore about isolation, long for their friends. I could mention how, introvert though I may be, I have recently started fantasizing about going OUT to dinner, about seeing a movie or having drinks at a bar with friends, about drinking a coffee IN the shop. All of these things are true, too.
Just Like Oz
Things are great and terrible. It is the best of times and the worst of times. Isolation is blissfully relaxing, centering even, and yet also distressing and identity crisis inducing. Part of being human (at least I hope so because if not, it’s just my weird, overly-complicated bullshit emotions) is the ability to hold these seemingly conflicting feelings simultaneously. So if you are also having your waves — peaks where you feel like self-distancing has changed your life for the better, troughs in which you want to run away from home and never come back — know that some of us, hell probably most of us, are going through the same thing. And it is possible to feel it all at once, too.
Comparison, Thief of Joy
When you scroll through your social media feeds and see all the crafts and baked goods and post-workout sweat shots, don’t compare yourself to that. Remember, those people have their troughs too. We all do. Don’t be too hard on yourself (she says to remind herself the same thing.)
UPDATE: I wrote this two weeks ago at the beginning of our school-from-home experience. Since then, the school district has upped their game, mostly subverting my role to tech support for my children. This means we spend a lot of time arguing about usernames and passwords.
Also, I wrote this on one of the days I felt like I had my shit together. Right now, I feel like my shit is very far apart, strewn across the galaxy and into the dark side of the multiverse. (We rewatched Doctor Strange last night, as Marvel movies are the only ones we can all agree on.)
So you can use the ideas I wrote about here, or you can totally hide in your home office and allow your family to assume you’re working when you’re really having virtual brunch with friends and venting.
This morning, for the edification of my lovely young children, we went on a penny hike. This is a simple concept from my own childhood in which you flip a coin every time you get to an intersection: heads, go right, tails go left.
It was a multidisciplinary hike in which we observed bees and ants in their natural habitats (science), discussed the virtues of exercise (physical education), and practiced converting measurements from the metric system to the imperial system* (math). We also discussed probability with each coin flip and practiced our geographical skills with the recognition of landmarks.
Another Way to Describe What We Did
The 9-year-old said, “Let’s go on a penny hike.” We happened across some ants, which we watched until someone stepped in their pile. The kids freaked out when I stopped to take a closeup picture of the bees, and I explained for the billionth time that the bees are not plotting a stinging onslaught upon anyone who gets within 25 feet of them.
When the kids started whining about being tired because leaving all decisions up to chance kept us walking in circles, we abandoned coin flipping and headed home. We discussed how the 9-year-old’s inconsistent flipping habits (sometimes playing it where it lay, sometimes slapping it onto his arm, depending on his preferred coin side) were biasing our results.
As for geographical landmarks, one of them pointed to a house along the way and said, “I think that’s Aiden’s house.” The 12-year-old checked his Pokemon Go app to see how far we walked, and as an afterthought, I asked him to convert the kilometers to miles.
Take it Easy
It doesn’t have to be as hard as it sounds. You don’t even have to plan that much; just look for opportunities in everything you do to ask your kids some questions. You probably already do it without realizing it.
In the classroom, things are uber structured because there is a gaggle of kids and one adult. If you want to plan things down to the minute at home, cool. But if maintaining a rigid school schedule while also trying to get your own work done stresses you out, know you don’t have to.
One night at dinner, we brainstormed activities we could do during this time of social distancing. They ran the gamut: read a book, rake leaves, hike, practice soccer in the backyard, watch something new on TV. Each day, we can pick several things from the list, and all the math, science, language arts, and not-so-social studies will happen naturally. This leaves plenty of time for me to work and for the kids to still have much more free time than they’re used to.
And read. Don’t forget to tell them to read.
*I had to look up what we call our antiquated, arbitrary system of measuring things that I still, stupidly, can’t let go of.
“I feel like crap,” I said matter-of-factly. I was sitting on the edge of the bed, talking with Jason, who was lying in it. We were discussing logistics. He had just gotten off the phone with his parents and was planning an impromptu trip to Houston. His father was having surgery.
It was Tuesday, February 18th, and we had just returned from a whirlwind trip to New York the day before — stayed with my sister, saw a Lumineers concert at Barclay Center, went to The Met, saw The Book of Mormon on Broadway in a tightly-packed theater. Flew in and out of JFK. Opened a lot of doors, touched a lot of stuff.
Jason traveled to Houston, where he stayed with his sister and her husband and daughter. He went to MD Anderson for his father’s surgery, walked the halls, was there to support his mom. I stayed in Austin and drove the soccer carpool with our oldest and four of his buddies. The youngest and I ate pasta at an Italian restaurant while we waited for practice to be over. Wednesday morning, Jason texted me and asked how I felt.
“Not great,” I said. A full-blooming oak season in Central Texas was upon us, and I had worse congestion than most years.
“I don’t feel good, either,” he texted. I’m coming home.”
He didn’t go to the hospital that morning, because he was starting to feel really sick. He didn’t want to expose anyone at MD Anderson to his illness. He sped back to Austin down the highway, through Katy, La Grange, and Bastrop. He may have stopped at a gas station or two. He got home before he started feeling really terrible.
“It’s so weird,” he said. “My body aches all over.”
“You have the flu,” I said. He’d never had the flu.
“If you go to the doctor now,” I said, “You can get Tamiflu, and it might help.”
He glared at me and did not go. Our insurance isn’t great, and it would have cost a small fortune.
Over the next ten days, he ran a fever. He stayed in bed. He developed a bad cough. At the end, his ears were stopped up and painful, and we thought they might be infected.
During that time, I went to a PTA board meeting and took notes. I attended a school STEAM night, noting conversationally how bad my allergies were to the principal who commiserated with me. At the event, I helped my youngest kid create circuits, handing him the plastic and metal pieces that were configured and reconfigured all evening by many sets of hands, big and small. A day or two later, I sat in a coffee shop with friends and noticed my back hurt in a weird way that suggested something other than muscular issues. I hugged both of them before we parted ways.
I began to suspect it was not allergies. I developed a cough that kept me awake at night, one that could only be quelled by falling asleep with a cough drop in my mouth. I suspect I had a mild fever. I felt weepy. I wrote and edited things from my couch, alternating between working and napping. I was so very tired.
It seemed to take forever, for two people who are rarely sick, for Jason and me to feel better — not days but weeks. My energy slowly came back, but the sleep-disrupting cough lingered. Jason became hard to live with when he was well enough to be irritable about not feeling well. His ears still haven’t completely recovered.
“It’s funny,” he said. “I keep thinking I feel better, then it hits me all over again, and I have to go lie down.”
A woman I met with for work on Wednesday, February 26, said she had been sick and was having ear problems identical to Jason’s. She was concerned it would be problematic on her impending flight to Colorado.
One of the friends I had coffee with subsequently got sick, mistaking her symptoms at first, as I did, for allergies.
Two days ago, our youngest child said he didn’t feel well. His eyes were red and irritated, so I gave him some allergy medicine. Then, his right eye got really goopy. I thought, pink-eye. But when I took his temperature because he was lying on the couch listlessly and felt hot, the kid who never has a fever was running 100.3. I wondered where he could’ve gotten whatever he had since we’ve hardly been around anyone but each other for the past two weeks. Now, his fever his gone, but he’s got a snotty nose, a cough and a sore throat. And he says everything tastes weird.
I’ve been on the internet a lot lately, and here’s what I have learned:
I’m not an infectious disease specialist, but even if I were, I couldn’t tell you without a test, for sure, whether or not all these sick family and friends had Covid-19. Whether the mild virus that swept through some of my sons’ friends the week before spring break was novel coronavirus before we thought it was here or something else. But it’s not at all far-fetched to think that it could have been. I’d even venture a “probably” in some instances.
This virus has likely been insidiously working its way through our communities for longer than we’ve been aware, with people mistaking milder cases for colds, allergies, flu. People who, like me, went about their daily lives, traveling, going to the store, attending social events, before Covid-19 was on anybody’s radar in the United States.
I’m betting MANY more people are currently infected or recovered from it than our official reported “confirmed cases” numbers. Don’t assume you don’t have it just because you are asymptomatic or because you haven’t been around anyone “confirmed” to have had it. Preventing the spread of the disease to protect our vulnerable populations and keep our medical facilities from being overwhelmed is not just the responsibility of healthcare workers or those who are elderly or immune-compromised. It is ALL of our jobs to do what we can, and for most of us, that simply means staying home. No matter who you are or where you have or haven’t been lately, this is the time to keep your cooties to yourself.
I quit social media again today. Okay, so “quit” may be a strong word since I’m posting this, but I am definitely dialing back. I do this periodically when it starts making me feel like a failure in my own life. And since the response to Covid-19 has ramped up, I definitely feel like I’m falling short.
The internet is saturated with ideas for those of us fortunate enough to be healthy but also stuck at home.
Make a schedule!
Go for a walk!
Have a family game night!
Read these 18 self-care tips to stay happy and healthy at home!
Do these 47 education crafts!
Here are some video links to free yoga! Free online classes! Free footage of California Condors doing the congo!
Here’s what happens to me as I scroll through all of those helpful posts (sooo much help): I start to feel pressured. I begin to feel like I am falling short, like I am not enough. I haven’t hand-sewn any face masks for healthcare workers, I haven’t made my kids do any school work yet, I have availed myself of zero free YouTube workout videos. We are basically acting like it’s summer vacation around here, sans day camps.
We’ve been on some hikes and some walks. We are making the kids do housework, and we are discovering some new shows to watch. I am enjoying our lax schedule and the idea of distance learning as a fun social experiment. It will be interesting to see what we learn as a society from all this, what will change permanently. <— See! Positive attitude!
I have also learned that even when you do chores, go running, read a book, play a board game and make everyone rake leaves, there is still a LOT of time left in the day to binge-play video games.
The Not So Great
Here’s what else has happened in our house since social distancing began: Jason yelled and threw things because (not really because) he lost at a video game. The kids have gotten in fights. I have cried in my morning coffee because I don’t have a job. Ou dog is driving us all nuts with her constant scratching because her foot thumps on the floor, and when she does it upstairs, it’s like a seventy-pound Thumper from Bambi is sounding the alarm for approaching doom. Our very own pandemic herald.
It’s Okay if You’re Not Okay
You can do all the “right” things. You can meditate, make schedules and mentally list everything you have to be grateful for, and still have a hard time. This IS a hard time. Whether your stress is derived from health issues, financial worries, being cooped up in the house with your family or a combination thereof, it is okay if you’re not totally okay.
We all feel better when we take good care of ourselves and our families. I’m not suggesting everyone spend the next several weeks wallowing alone in dark bedrooms with nothing but Netflix for company. Not the entirety of it, anyway. But there’s nothing wrong with you if all those helpful suggestions don’t make the anger, worry or fear disappear.
The big stressors are there in the background, so if you still grind your teeth, get irritable and yell at someone or close your bedroom door and cry, congratulations! You’re having a normal human reaction to things that are stressing out the entire damned globe. No amount of family game night is going to fix the downward-sliding economy, make a sick loved one well or get us back to our normal lives any faster. It just might make it a bit more tolerable, that’s all. Those big things will take time; we can’t repair them with essential oils or apple cider vinegar.
“These Uncertain Times”
I have a hard time answering when people ask me how we’re doing in these “uncertain times” as the media like to put it. We’re doing pretty good. We’re not too stir crazy or bored, and we all still like each other. With more free time, we’ve been getting outside a lot and spending some actual quality family time together. And also, Jason and I are worried about our finances and the medical vulnerability of some of our relatives. Sometimes that leaks out as irritation and anger. But at least we’re talking about it.
I’ve only got one suggestion to go with the mountains of advice you’ve read lately: If you are scrolling through your newsfeed, and you start to feel bad about the way you’re handling the Covid-19 crisis, close the app and social distance yourself from social media, just a little. Hell, you don’t even have to put your phone down; go play Words with Friends or something. Call a real-live friend and vent to them everything that’s pissing you off lately.
Bottom line, at our house, we’re okay, but we’re not totally okay, and as I remind myself daily, eventually, all of this will be okay. If you’re not totally okay, either, that’s okay. Don’t make not being okay even less okay by feeling not okay about feeling not okay. Okay?
I quit my job with Neighbors of Four Points magazine several weeks ago. I was just ramping up the search for a new position when the coronavirus smashed everyone’s plans on the whole planet to bits and caused the cancellation of pretty much everything but healthcare.
On the one hand, I don’t have to deal with trying to work from home while the kids are not in school for what is currently going to be three weeks. My freelance client has even put projects on hold. As an introvert, nothing pleases me more than being on my own, whimsical schedule. And we are all healthy and not immune-compromised at our house. There’s a lot to appreciate, not the least of which is Texas Governor Abbott giving the okay for restaurants to deliver alcohol during this time of crisis.
On the other hand, as a person who needs a job, the current situation doesn’t bode well. Hiring copywriters isn’t a priority right now. A lot of people assume that because my husband has a fulltime job, I don’t need to work; I just do it for personal edification or shits and giggles and to keep from being bored. These people don’t know me very well; I am perfectly capable of entertaining myself with a stack of books, puzzles and some wine without anyone paying me. We need my income. And while we can keep ourselves in food, clothing and shelter for now, my being unemployed for who-knows-how-long is stressful.
It’s a weird time. My kids are happy the state testing they dread every year has been canceled, and I am enjoying the change in routine, but I know it’s going to be challenging after three weeks. Despite the fact that I taught school for ten years prior to having my own children (or perhaps because of it) I know I’m not cut out for homeschooling. And I know I need to get a job. And I know there are immune-compromised people suffering from coronavirus or from anxiety about contracting it and a bunch of other people irrationally hoarding things and making it harder on everyone. My 68-year-old mom is still going to work in the lab at the hospital every day, and my sister is still stalking the streets of New York City providing necessary health care to those who live there. There is a lot going on and virtually nothing going on all at the same time.
This is going to be the thing our kids remember. Like we remember where we were when the Challenger exploded or when the World Trade Center was hit. Like our parents recall their exact location when John F. Kennedy was shot. But this one is global; it’s an experience youth around the world share. Twenty years from now, my kids might run into someone from Italy, Australia or China, and they’ll ask each other, “What happened where you were during the coronavirus pandemic?” Since this is not an acute event but a lengthy pandemic virus, they will have a lot to talk about. And what will they remember about how the adults in their lives handled this challenge?