Shelter-in-Place, the Good Stuff

kid drawing chalk art on sidewalkIt’s a learning experience.

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. 

  1. We do not actually need all the activities we had previously scheduled into our lives.
  2. We are all pretty good at entertaining ourselves (even the oldest, extrovert child) when we have ample opportunity.
  3. While I am fond of baking, given enough free time, I still don’t like to cook.
  4. The people in my neighborhood are awesomely supportive of each other in good times and bad.
  5. Having only each other to play with for quite some time, our kids are now emotionally closer to each other.
  6. I hadn’t lost interest in my hobbies before the pandemic; I’d just lost time and energy enough to want to pursue them.
  7. 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.
  8. 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?

A 2am Conversation with Jim Morrison

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Me, at Jim Morrison’s grave, Pére-Lachaise Cemetery, 1997

I am awake. Suddenly, two hours into a night’s sleep. I was sleeping soundly, and then I am just awake. And can’t go back to sleep. Perhaps it’s that subtle yet persistent ache in my right shoulder that comes and goes at random – the mark of being 40. Maybe it’s too much coffee or too little dinner.

My brain starts its usual buzz. It used to frustrate me the way it would tune up with all manner of thoughts at inopportune times like this. Now, I just let it do its thing and find myself amused and occasionally enlightened by its antics.

My brain is full of movie quotes and song lyrics, prompted by remembered bits of conversation or thoughts of my own. One train of thought leads me to think, “people are so strange…” which, in turn, leads into the old Doors song, which will now pop up in my head at random for the next 48 hours, peppered in with thoughts of grocery lists and Donald Trump. “You know, Jim, people are strange even when you’re not a stranger.”

I start to make up stories in my head – one about two people stranded on a deserted island. I imagine the perilous relationship they’ll have, how they’ll survive, what will happen between them. They’ll have a child, maybe two, but they don’t really like each other. In fact, there is hate. He is cruel. In the end, she kills him, but I can’t figure out how. Then, I realize this is a cobbled together idea based on Swiss Family Robinson, Big Little Lies, and Dolores Claiborne – not at all original. I sigh and scrap it.

A thought comes through, unbidden (as if any of these musings are bidden.) What are you distracting yourself from? I attempt to clear my head. I breathe in and out slowly, feeling my chest and abdomen expand, counting the breaths. There is an anxiety I feel in my heart and when I notice it, my heartbeat begin to quicken and intensify. I am worried. Life is so complex. There is money that needs to be made, health to be attended to, passions to respect, other people to consider. How does this all work together?

People are strange. I am strange. (Funny, I just accidentally typed “strange” as “strong.”) Why is this all so complicated? Maybe you are missing the big picture. What do you mean? With all your frustrations with how media and choices and other people make your life complicated, have you ever stopped to consider how YOU make your life complicated? Oh.

I read articles, I listen to other people, I take everything so seriously. What if I just decided not to? What if I just spent all day on the internet if I felt like it and lost the guilt that I’m ruining my eyes and my attention span? What if I spent all day walking the dog and not working or spent all day working and ignoring my children? What if I spent all day playing with my children and ignoring work and my phone? If I REALLY tapped into my intuition, not what everything else is telling me, would I actually end up doing any of those things all day?

So, I am sitting on the couch at 2am on a Wednesday morning. I am not frustrated, because I am supposed to get eight hours of sleep to be my most productive. I am grateful for this quiet time, when everyone else is asleep, to write and think. I am happy that I have time to nap later. I am chucking my silly schedules out the window, at least for now, until I feel I need them again, and I am going with my gut. Even though it scares me, makes that anxiety start my heart fluttering again. Not everything that scares you is worth doing, but this feels right. I’m going to post this most random and intimate of posts from the randomness that is my brain and not worry (too much) if people will like it. Yes, my heart is hammering at the thought.

Thanks, Jim. You’ve been a big help.

When They Were Young

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Baby Days, Crazy Days

When my children were babies and toddlers, people would often tell me, “Cherish these years. They go by too fast.” But, there were many times when I thought they couldn’t go by fast enough. From the day they were each born, I loved my kids unconditionally and with an intensity that overwhelmed me, as if my heart would explode with the hugeness of that love. But, I also struggled.

Not getting enough sleep was hard. Failing at breast feeding was devastating. Not having time to myself and being constantly “on” for my children, the first of whom never did nap regularly, was something I wrestled with constantly. I was, at times, bored with staring at an infant who’d yet to even make eye contact with me, bored with playing  trains for the eleventh hour, bored and defeated by the unimaginable loads of laundry small children produce. Ironically, in addition to needing more alone time, I also craved adult company, as evidenced by my constant chattering at Jason when he got home from work.

There were good times, though. There was the time I watched Jack run and laugh carefree through the wildflowers in the park and wished he’d stay that uninhibited forever. There was the first time he planted a big, wet, sloppy kiss on my cheek. There was toddler Gage, dressed in only a diaper, dancing to techno music in his bouncy way and the thrill of watching each of them take their first, unassisted steps. I’m smiling now, with the memory of these milestone events, but I am relieved children don’t stay toddlers forever.

Now Jack is nine and Gage is six. Time has started to speed up, as they both spend a good portion of their days away at school and then, afterwards, often at their friends’ houses. I promised myself when they were young, I would not tell people with babies to cherish the moment; enough people tell them that. My message to them is this: it is hard when they are little, but it gets easier.

As my kids have gotten more self-sufficient, and it’s no longer necessary for me to follow them around, making sure they don’t maim themselves on sharp corners or walk into traffic, it’s been easier to lose myself in my writing. They go off and play, and I have the time and energy to plot advances for my freelance business. This is good for me, but I have to be mindful not to swing too far the other way – get so caught up in work that I miss the kids’ ever-dwindling childhood. Jack only has two years left before we hit the dreaded middle school years, and I want to invest my time and energy into fostering a close relationship with both of them, so they’ll come to me when they need help. This is why, despite my overachieving, perfectionist brain, I have decided to be okay with taking freelance work as it comes, and not intentionally growing the business like I could. There will be time to grow business later, but I don’t get a second chance at being present for my kids in their formative years. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, would I regret not building a business? Maybe a little, but knowing the tradeoff was being there for Jack and Gage, my first, foremost and most important responsibility, I have no doubts my priorities are in the right place. And that makes every decision, business or otherwise, so much simpler.