We Are Still Here

I have not blogged in six months. I have not really posted anything on social media in all that time. I try to respond to messages and keep up with news, but I’ve fallen behind with most things.

Like many of you, I suspect, my orbit has been small in these strange times. Daily life has been revolving around the day job and the kids, managing risk from the virus while trying to serve as a support system.

Writing has taken a backseat to most things, and other relationships have not been given much attention at all—not for lack of caring, but for lack of energy and hours. And self-care? Self-care is not something I’m good at. I come from a line of self-sacrificing nurturers who don’t really do boundaries. Nothing like a pandemic to hold up a mirror.

Stephen has been a good partner through it all, and Mark has been a good co-parent. Ever since I had kids, I keep coming back to that adage, “It takes a village.” It really does. I am grateful for our little village. It has taken our team of three adults to parent our three teenagers in this pandemic. Each kid has unique academic, social, and emotional challenges exacerbated by remote learning and quarantine.

There are highlights: We have a lot of animated dinner conversations. They are often the high point of my day. We pay close attention to the spectacular sunsets outside our windows. Maya has applied to colleges for next year and has already been accepted to several. Liam is making beautiful music and came in second for Student Council president in his high school election. Lana creates rainbow sculptures that dot our house, and she is my steadfast kitchen helper. They don’t like remote learning. They miss their friends. They are worried about the future. Their emotions are all over the place. They are doing the best they can.

I have heard versions of this from other parents and caregivers, or from teachers  dealing with students. The kids living in this time are not really ok. The people who are trying to help them are not really ok.  None of us are really ok.

Yet as a society, we are not good at talking about mental health or the role of it during this pandemic. People are being asked to perform as close to “normal” as possible when so little about this is normal, especially for the children and teenagers.

So we do our best, and then we often feel woefully inadequate at the end of the day.

It’s a lot. For all of us.

The caregivers trying to fill other people’s “buckets” are drained. Those confined with (and grateful for) family and friends crave a little time and space for themselves. Those who are alone are starved for contact and touch (even the introverts).

There’s a song by Florence and the Machine that keeps running through my head. The refrain is: “We all have a hunger.”

Yep.

So many needs not being met. So many people hungry.

And tomorrow’s Thanksgiving. In a pandemic. In a country raw from disparity, unrest, and resistance.

Am I grateful? Every day. Does that mean that everything is ok? Nope. Our world is not ok. Is there hope? I think so. Are there moments of grace and joy and profound beauty in the middle of it all? Absolutely. Thank goodness. Is it easy to lose sight of that sometimes? Also yes. Is there a lot of work to be done to make things better for the future? Again, absolutely.

I wanted to write something today because people have sent messages recently asking me if I’m ok, concerned that they haven’t heard from me in a long time.

It’s mostly been that thing where you have five minutes free, and you want to call a friend or write a message, but you know that five minutes is just not enough time and there’s just so much to catch up on, but nothing at all so urgent or monumental.

How do you fit an honest response into five minutes, especially if brevity is not your strong point? (And if you know me, you know that brevity is NOT my strong point.) 😉

So instead of saying, “I’m fine,” or “I’m ok,” I tend to get quiet when there’s too much to say and not enough time. I’m sorry.

This time, I wrote this. Hopefully the next post will be sooner than six months.

I am looking forward to cooking dinner for tomorrow, but I am going to miss all our family who would usually gather together. I wish we could all be with the people we love. I look forward to the time when that’s possible.

Sending love and all the hugs.

Art in the Time of Quarantine

Time. Time is one of the threads that everyone seems to touch on these days in their tweets and posts. We have long been guided by schedules of work and school and other constructs, and then this virus hit and everything changed, slowed down, stopped, went out of sync. 

Each of us is going through this surreal shared moment in time, viewing the world through our own lenses, with our unique combinations of challenges and privileges, maybe sharing that view with the people we are living with or talking to. My experience is enmeshed with that of the kids. Most of the day we’re all doing our “work,” but then we have a lot of dinner-table conversations, and I cherish those, a chance to check in with one another after the day of work and school work—a time to ask about “How Things Are Going.” 

Some days the answer is: not great, frustrated, scared, lonely, restless, angry. Some days the answer is better, ok, not bad, better. So much depends on who we have (or have not)  interacted with, and how we have related with them during that day. So much depends on what we’ve heard of the news. So much depends on how the kids are doing.

When trauma typically happens at schools (and the current generation of elementary and high school students have had too much experience with this), we call in counselors. We have talking circles and support groups. We make allowances for ordinary responsibilities to allow some room for processing and healing. We try to help the kids because most of them don’t have the tools they need. Right now, those systems are not really in place to help them—even with teachers and parents trying the best they can. 

The kids have been doing the best they can, and I’m of the philosophy that we need to temper our expectations right now. If many of us, the adults, are not ok, how can we expect the kids to be? 

So they do their homework and they miss their friends; they try to connect online and on the phone, watch movies and read, and have their own creative ways of dealing with it all. 

My son, Liam, is a musician and composer, and he decided when the shelter-in-place started that he would write a new song approximately every other day. 

I’m reminded of a quote from Neil Gaiman’s keynote address for the May 17, 2012 commencement ceremony at The University of the Arts. He said: 

“Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do.

“Make good art.”

This is something I often quote to my kids. Creativity is a tool we have when we need it, when we can use it. It’s not always possible. Sometimes we have to wait for life to give us a window. Sometimes we have to make that window. Sometimes we make good art.

Liam has made some good art. His EP was released today and is available on Spotify, YouTube, Soundcloud, iTunes, and Amazon music. I’m really proud of him. His piano compositions are like soundtracks to our life right nowthey are complex and sad with surprising moments of joy. I’ve been working while listening to them in the background, and I’m excited to share them with you right now. 

His professional name is Hyrix, and the EP is titled Insomnia. I think you’ll be moved by its beauty.  

You can listen to the EP on Spotify:

Or on Soundcloud:

Everyone is wondering when things will go back to “normal.” Will they ever?

I don’t think we can know what normal is going to look like. I do believe that this time will irrevocably transform our children and what they do to shape their future in ways that we cannot even imagine. I feel like Liam’s music and the other things people are doing right now to express themselves, to connect creatively with one another, to be as present for one another as possible—these will be the touchstones we have to remind us of this time and why we reshaped the future accordingly, hopefully for the the better. 

Week 2: Shared

TGIF. I’m tired. I know many of us are so, so tired, trying to keep it all together with anxious teenagers and attention-seeking toddlers and hurting bodies and frantic brain weasels and stressed partners and nervous students and struggling friends and hurting communities and ailing parents and compromised immune systems and the list goes on and on. 

This week felt like a month, every long day rolling into the next: nudge kids about homework, do the dayjob, laundry, clean, cook, make sure kids are getting enough sleep, dayjob, feed the cats, homework, feed the rats, check in on friends, make time to talk to the kids about their feelings, clean, cook, break-up teenage bickering, check in on family, laundry, dayjob, homework, exercise, watch the news, clean, sleep, check social media, watch a movie, laundry, dayjob, cook, break-up teenage bickering, try to make time to be a good partner, read a blog, read the news, read a story, laundry, check in on friends, clean, dayjob, homework. 

Rinse, repeat.

This pandemic means new routines in our jobs, our parenting, our relationships, our support systems—an evolving “new normal,” and through it all so many thoughts and feelings, so many fears and concerns. Last week felt saturated in fear, this week was a little different. It felt like a reshuffling. Less panic and more…planning?

Fear is what we don’t know. What do we know and what can we do? Are we more grounded? Is this a calm before the bigger storm? Maybe?

I’m trying to keep hold of the positive in these moments, and it’s not easy because of work and hormones and homework and anxiety and cabin-fever and news and numbers and so many emotions.

Tread carefully, make coffee, hug often, love, listen, laugh, be present, be patient, be forgiving, be kind, be generous, be grateful for everyone who is working to keep us safe and healthy.

Rinse, repeat.

There are moments of beauty I am grateful for: conversations catching up with friends and family, time for a family movie, the gift of time with the kids when they are quite literally forced to be in the house with us.

There are joyful moments in the midst of all this, silly laughing moments or quiet happy moments or shared thoughtful moments. 

That’s the word I keep coming back to…shared. This is an something that a large number of us are sharing all around the world, this experience of having our lives turned upside down, of being confined to our homes for the greater good of our communities large and small, of facing illness and uncertainty and inevitable loss. Certainly other communities and countries are dealing with atrocities and continue to face challenges that are compounded by this virus. Still, this pandemic goes beyond borders, beyond our neighborhoods and cities, states and countries—shared.

Related to that is the ability many of us have to connect with one another within this global experience…to share online what we are sharing in life. By no means is it equal or fair or all encompassing. But if we think about the number of people who can connect even in this quarantined time—it’s extraordinary. The ability to see what’s happening in China, to be inspired by neighborhoods in Italy, to learn from scientists in France—shared. 

That word is what I’m holding onto, and all that is contained in that word: shared. Of course we want to avoid sharing the deadly contagion. But we do want to learn from and help one another, by sharing resources and information, experiences and assistance. 

What a strange, surreal time this is. Shared.

I’m going to finish my chamomile tea and go to sleep, having finally jotted down a few of the thoughts thrashing about in my brain.

I hope that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. xxo