Here are a few lessons I’ve learned over this Pandemic Thanksgiving + start of Covid Christmastime: On the Wednesday before your it’s-just-us-this-year Thanksgiving, it’s really nice to cook the big meal with your kids while also not stressing about cleaning the house for company. …
You guys, my kids are climbing the walls. They’re threatening to dig a hole in the backyard and fill it with tap water from the hose and call it a pool. They’re saying it’s too hot to play outside when it’s only 78 degrees. They’re …
It’s the Tuesday after what has probably been a quiet Memorial Day weekend for many of us (if you, though, are reading this not from your living room couch but from a crowded beach, please know a] I’m mad at you because SOCIAL DISTANCING, and b] I’m jealous of you because BEACH).
- I noticed this weekend that I managed to mess up Cian’s buzz cut last week (shocked, are you?): there’s a strip of hair above the nape of his neck that’s noticeably longer than any of the hair above it. Which means that as it grows he’s going to get a mullet. Which means that I am never, ever, ever touching the hair on that boy’s head with clippers ever again. He’ll just have to learn how to braid.
- I made Mom’s deviled eggs again yesterday. They tasted more like how she used to make them, and that made me happy. (My sister-in-law made key lime pie. That, too = happy.)
- I’m reading Emma Straub’s All Adults Here. I love her books, and this one is no exception–Straub works magic when it comes to making her characters real–but one of the main characters is a mom just a little younger than my own, and when she appears, the reading gets tough. It’s a strange feeling, to have a fictional character make you miss the everyday stuff, but there you have it. The book and I have been spending a lot of time on the front porch, and it wasn’t long ago at all that Mom and I would share a drink out here some evenings in the nice weather (and not-so nice weather: one of her favorite nights was Halloween watching the kids trick-or-treat here, which meant the two of us sitting together chatting with blankets over our laps, sipping from mugs of spiked mulled cider). David and I got new Adirondack chairs for the porch this spring. She’d love them.
- Paul and Sarah are spending their last full day with Mom before they head back to Wisconsin early tomorrow. They’ve been here since late Thursday night. Paul worries about arriving back home only to have to get on a plane to come right back, but we don’t know. No one knows.
- Speaking of Mom (something new!), a friend texted yesterday to ask after her. I didn’t know how to respond, so I said the truth: “It’s not the same anymore, but she’s holding on.” She spends a lot of time with her eyes closed now, is what I wanted to say. But I didn’t.
- We had a cookout yesterday at her house–me on high tension alert from outside in the yard, yelping “Social distancing! SIX FEET APART!” at the tiny group of family members there, because I’ve always been one to let my people enjoy themselves–and Mom was able to be in her wheelchair in her sunroom for about an hour. The grown-ups ran barefoot races with the kids and talked about Choppy and Schitt’s Creek and baking and books. It was good.
- Paul and Sarah rented a truck–a beautiful red F150–for their trip here. I think it’s a trial run for Paul’s next car. The kids were gleeful (“We can have BATTLES in the BACK!”) and begged Paul to take them for a ride. My dad had always wanted a truck like that. He would’ve gotten a kick out of seeing my brother drive it.
- The kids are finished with school for the year–how anticlimactic is that? It’s unofficially summer and we have no plans and no goals and we’re trying to figure out how to navigate this stretch of time ahead of us. Last year, when we spent most days with Mom, when the kids were asking when we could ever go on vacation, I’d think about this year, this summer, of how we could make it fun and magical and make up, in a way–I know that’s not real or possible or even healthy–for the sadness and weirdness of last summer. My poor mom. She’s been here for so much and has missed out on all of it.
- Quinlan turns ten this week. She’s not getting the sleepover she wanted (me: “Social distancing! SIX FEET APART!”), but has asked for noodles and ice cream cake and her own horse and some blue basketball socks, please.
- The sun is shining! It’s 9:38 a.m. and humid and warm and the kids want to play with their new enormous water guns later. I have paperwork to go through, and fresh strawberries to eat. Nothing is the same, but everything’s the same.
Happy unofficial start to summer, friends. I miss seeing your faces, and I would much like to go swimming in a large body of salt water again sometime soon. Life is weird and short, but at least there are still red pick-up trucks and glasses of wine and new books to enjoy.
I’ll save you the seat on the front porch.
There are things I’ve done that I regret in this life. That 8 a.m. math class my freshman year in college is a big one (or, rather, the fact that I rarely showed up to it). That pixie cut (“But Cameron Diaz looks so cute …
Well, that Mother’s Day kind of sucked, didn’t it? My sweet family tried so hard this year. They made me stay in bed an hour and a half after I’d already been awake so they could bring me breakfast. The kids made “fancy juice.” David …
Okay, at this point of quarantine, you’re in one of two camps:
#1: You are a person who’s settled into this “new normal,” and are content and calm. You’ve weeded the flower beds, laid down fresh mulch, and are considering a fresh coat of paint inside your house. You’ve set yourself and your family on a flexible-but-calming schedule, and have a routine for sharing the laptops for work and school. You’re the parent who organizes the Zoom playdates for your kids.
#2: You’re the person who’s finally realized that this could go on forever and the kids eat all the food and the carpets are so dirty and who can freshen up their landscapes when they’re too worried about catching coronavirus if they leave the house for the garden center and you miss restaurant margaritas and your friends and you really should be decluttering the closets/finishing the book/organizing the family finances/making sourdough starter but you can’t, you just can’t, because you are tired of it all. You are a desperate for a routine but also for someone to tell you how to make one. You are the parent who checks in late to the Zoom meetings.
It’s real, friends. It’s real now that we’re in Spring in the northeast and about to face a summer of steaming days and no pools and the kids inside because outside is too hot and there’s nothing to doooooo and how come we can’t get a pool?
It’s real, friends. Mom is declining rather rapidly now and sitting with her is strange and sad because it’s not the same (she’s not the same, nothing’s the same). When we left her house the other day, Cian said, “I miss Grammy.” He looked back at the house. “I mean, she’s there. But I miss her. I don’t know.”
It’s real, friends. I hate hearing people chew and somebody got sparkly nail polish on the couch and I haven’t kept any of my first grader’s completed papers organized. I have to-do lists that I lose so I make new to-do lists but then I shut down upon viewing the to-do lists and sit down to eat cookies instead. No one’s allowed to have bubble gum in the house because if anybody smacks their lips together so help me I will lose it. I stay up too late at night because it’s the only time of the day I don’t have to hear my beautiful family members asking for–or, Lord help me, eating–snacks or help with Google Classroom or can you please help us paint our nails again, Mom, because somehow the glittery polish smudged on this finger and I’m not sure where it went? I love these people so very much, and this gift of time with them is the absolute best but sometimes I wonder how I became the captain of a ship stuck out in the middle of an ocean when I don’t know my stern from my aft.
It’s real, friends. Netflix has replaced exercise, wine has replaced water, and frozen pizza has replaced fresh salad and grilled chicken.
We are in a quarantine slump.
BUT. My mom still calls me “Sweetie.” The kids are making plays and writing “books” and reading books before getting out of bed in the morning. My mom still craves her morning coffee and lights up at the first sip. The kids are walking the dog and doing the dishes and their laundry. My mom still asks me about the children and tells me she loves them. The kids are learning how to cook and bake and mop floors…and they actually like it.
It’s real, friends. And if you’re in Camp #1, I respect you and admire you but don’t think I can be friends with you anymore. (I doubt the #1s are watching Schitt’s Creek at night with a stack of Oreos on their laps?) I’m still firmly in Camp #2, as you guessed about 500 words ago.
BUT. I began writing again, like somebody flipped on a beautiful dusty switch in my brain. I’m almost fifty pages into the rough draft of a new novel. After a solid year and a half of apoplectic overwhelm, I’ve begun to be able to start sifting through the thoughts bouncing around this nervous head of mine and put them to use. David’s work is very busy, for which I am very grateful. But we aren’t redoing the landscaping or painting the house or making sourdough starter at the moment. We aren’t hiking or knitting sherpas or Instagramming homemade masks, but we are walking nature trails and making Nutella crepes and dancing in the car on the half-hour drive to my mom’s. As comfortable members of Camp #2, family is the priority, the work is the outlet, and my mom is the hinge on which our schedule and attention rests.
And now you know the only way I’m showing up for any Zoom get-together is if somebody else schedules it first.
I’ll bring the cookies.
I was talking with my brother, Paul, sister-in-law Sarah, and David this week, when Sarah and I got to chatting about writing. She’s diligent, writing 500 words every morning at her computer before starting her work day, and it impresses me. (She also walks miles …
Quinlan had to write a letter Monday for her language arts class, in which she described to an imaginary other student her first month under stay-at-home orders. “MOM. Mommy. MOM.” Quinn said this as she walked from the dining room, where she’d set up her …