“I love myself too much!”

CW: suicide

I have been thinking a lot about suicide (not like that — don’t worry!) since reading about Olympian Kelly Catlin. In college, I wrote many papers on suicide, mostly because I was trying to answer the questions I’d been wrestling with since my attempt:

Why?

Why me?

Why anybody?

Why then?

What drives a person to go to such extremes?

Nowhere in my studies did I see my personality mirrored back to me as I did reading about Kelly Catlin. Not that I’m capable of Olympic-level greatness in…well, anything. But the rest of it — the methodical planning, the ruthless self-imposed structure, the frustration with each small failure, the awkwardness around peers. The self-loathing. While my attempt was impulsive, I too had a notebook of plans, plans I had not realized because I kept getting stuck on logistics. I am glad I didn’t have access to the internet back then; with a bit more knowledge than I had available to me at the time, I may not be here.

Now, decades separated from the hopelessness that can and does often befall adolescents who cannot picture a future past age 18, I feel safe from The Bull, as Robert Fulghum described the desire to escape emotional anguish through death. But I have been increasingly concerned about Anya’s mental health. Not only has she begun puberty quite early, but thanks to the pandemic she’s dealing with a double whammy of homeschooling with dyslexia taught by an overworked, stressed-to-the-max mother plus social isolation at a point in her development when socialization is crucial. Anya is also extremely extroverted; her main complaint about our current situation is how very lonely she is. I’m working to set up as many social Zooms as I can, but online chats are not the same as in-person friends.

Adolescent hormones, check. Extreme emotional trauma, check. Academic struggles, check. Social isolation, check. It’s textbook.

The articles I read, day in and day out, for my journalism job haunt me. Children dying by suicide because they can’t see the other side. They believe that the terrible now will always be. They cannot picture a future beyond tomorrow, next week, next month.

I remember.

As this pandemic drags on, I have, odd as it may sound, derived a small measure of comfort from realizing that Anya decidedly does not fit the pattern of some people who have contemplated suicide, such as Kelly Catlin and I. But not only obsessive, self-isolated overachievers give in to despair and end their lives.

I’ve gone out of my way to work social-emotional learning into our daily schoolwork. We meditate. We do yoga. I check in with both kids throughout the day, asking about their emotions, accepting their feelings as valid (one of the most damaging things you can do to someone is tell them they are not entitled to feel however they feel) and offering suggestions to help get through rough moments. I speak openly about my own struggles, and acknowledge the cause when I am upset so they don’t think it’s them. If I am upset with one of them, which is pretty rare, I try to spell out why I am upset so we can perhaps resolve the issue together. I prioritize time each day just to cuddle them and tell them how loved they are. For Anya, coping with the maelstrom that is early puberty on top of all this, I set aside time for daily mother-daughter chats, private time away from the boys so I can give her my full attention. We talk about what she’s going through. I share my experiences as a tween, a teen, even a young adult — whatever she wants to know. But I have always stopped short of discussing depression and suicide. Out of fear.

It’s stupid, this fear. Superstitious thinking. If I don’t say it, they won’t know it exists. That never works — not with death, not with sex, not with drugs, or anything else parents try to shelter children from. Kids know. Often half-truths, because the adults in their lives tiptoe around the subject. I have always been a firm believer that honesty is best, always, and the younger the better. Dispel those rumors and half-truths before they can take hold. I have spoken openly to her about a host of topics, both in the abstract and my own specific experiences with them. Sex, drugs, depression, toxic relationships, loss, death.

But not suicide. That’s one of the few doors I have always hesitated to open. Not yet, I’d think. She’s so little. Maybe next year.

Finally, it came up. We were driving to the botanic garden. Kai was asleep; the car always knocks him out. Anya and I were discussing how kids are not simply short adults, how their brains are still developing, which is part of the reason why they act differently than adults would in the same situation. (Child psych, my first major, was not the field for me, but I find it endlessly fascinating — and it’s really informed my parenting.) The opening presented itself, and for once I dove in.

“Some kids have felt really hopeless during this pandemic,” I told her. “And when you’re a kid, it feels like whatever you’re feeling is how you will always feel. So it’s been even harder on them than it has been on us adults. Some kids have even killed themselves.”

“Oh, how awful!” she replied. “I would never! I love myself too much!”

It was all I could do not to collapse in a sobbing heap over the steering wheel. To say I was relieved does not begin to cover it. Though it had nothing to do with me, hearing her say those words will remain one of the greatest gifts of my life.

Once more, I stopped short of telling her about my own experiences. Not that I think she’s too young; I just can’t bring myself to relive those feelings right now. But I will, eventually. I have to. Just in case she ever does begin to lose hope. One thing that further isolates people in these feelings is the realization that others don’t feel that desperately alone. For some, death begins to look like the answer. I have walked that road so many times, I can navigate it with my eyes closed. I’m proof that there is indeed life on the other side. That’s not something I can keep to myself.

For now, it’s enough that the subject is out in the open. To have the comfort of her response. On more than one occasion, she has shocked me with her beautifully simple strength. How she asks for help when she needs it. How confident she in every situation. How she has never once doubted her place in this world. It all goes back to those five beautiful words: I love myself too much!

I don’t feel like I can take credit for her loving herself; that’s just how she is. But I feel that it is my duty to ensure that she continues to love herself through the rocky years to come.

In the meantime, I’m going to try like hell to figure out how to become more like her.

Reading lessons

Remember how I swore up and down that I didn’t want to teach? Turns out I was wrong.

Your first assignment, without which this post will still be understandable (and hopefully enjoyable) but won’t be as clear:

  1. Watch The Willoughbys on Netflix.
  2. Read The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry.

We love the movie. It’s a bit dark, but it’s colorfully animated, quirky, and features an adorable baby, Maya Rudolph (I love that woman), and Ricky Gervais as a snarky blue cat. When I learned that it started life as a chapter book by the author of some of my favorite childhood books, I had to pick up a copy. The kids are really getting into chapter books as of late, and I’d rather read children’s books than no books. (Books, I miss you. I’m coming back, I swear.)

The book is almost entirely different from the movie. The basic premise is still there — bad parents, mistreated kids, orphaned baby, eccentric candy-making millionaire, lovable nanny, cat. But it’s very much like what they’ve been doing with Stephen King adaptations as of late: Putting plot elements on scraps of paper, dumping the paper into a wind machine, and stringing together a plot based on the order in which the scraps fly out. Okay, I know that’s not what they’re doing. (Maybe a raffle tumbler, though.) And the Willoughby movie isn’t as drastically different from the source material as, say, The Stand reboot (about which I Have Opinions); it’s more streamlined and simplified, with the major plot deviations serving mostly to reinforce the black-and-white depiction of several moral issues. The book is just a huge gray moral gradient, and the kids had loads of questions along the way about differences between the two. Much as I have questions about the way TS2020 treated Mother Abigail and Nick Andros.

So, so many questions.

Anyway. We finished the book last night, and today I asked Anya what she thought about it. I explained some of the connections and differences to her and we talked about why they made those choices. It hit me, as we were talking, that this is a wonderful way for her to dip her toes into the lit crit waters without struggling with words on a page: Listen to an audiobook (either on Audible or AudiMama), watch the movie, and compare. Ideas for assignments flooded in, and I had to zip it lest I overwhelm her at 7:30 in the morning. It hit me then: I am a teacher. I may not have the credentials, or the classroom, or the paycheck, or even a shred of respect as an educator in the eyes of the profession, but I am a teacher. I love to teach. Maybe not as a job — dealing with a room full of people who for the most part could care less about what I’m saying, navigating the pitfalls of academia. But teaching this child, finding ways to bring learning to her, is endlessly fascinating to me.

I don’t know about horses and water, but I will find a way to bring the wonders of language to my baby girl. No matter what it takes.

Finite resources

My daughter, as I’ve mentioned, has been in speech therapy off and on since the age of 3. She is not in speech therapy now because her school insists homeschoolers attend in person. In a group. If I’m not sending her to in-person class, why in the world would I send her to in-person group speech therapy? And because her dyslexia diagnosis came in too late to be included in her IEP, no services for that this year. Sorry.

I’m not mad about the dyslexia services. She has a wonderful language therapist, and as a homeschool teacher, I can modify exercises as needed around her challenge areas. Her language therapist suggested that I press the school for speech therapy, though. So did her doctor.

Google gave me page upon page of links to even longer documents telling me how to advocate for myself, for my child. Documents I don’t have time to read, detailing steps I don’t have time to take. One of the links I found is to an organization that safeguards the rights of people like my daughter. I messaged back and forth with them for a few days. They told me they don’t have the resources to help me. Instead, they sent me those same PDF documents I found on Google.

Any other year, I would double down and learn the ins and outs of disability law and pester the heck out of anyone and everyone until my daughter got what she needs. But this…this is not that year.

From another angle, it looks like this: My child is handling her education almost entirely on her own. Yes, I am here to answer questions. Her father helps her on his days off. I scour the internet for books and videos and printables to supplement her online curriculum when she needs a little extra help. I modify the exercises and limit her workload, but she is still essentially attending a full school day every day. Plus two 45-minute language therapy sessions a week. Two hour-long social Zooms each week. Also, while I haven’t settled on a source yet, she desperately needs math tutoring. Speech therapy would add at least another hour to her week, if not two or three. She’s 9. Her calendar should not look like mine.

So I asked her what she thought we should do. She said she didn’t feel that she needs speech therapy right now. She’s tired. Burning out. So I’m letting it go at that. Personally, I think her time would be better spent meditating, or drawing, or playing. Something that refills her soul.

I’m flowing back to a state of calm since the beginning of last month. Paring down what I can pare down. Setting my sights on things that will recharge my batteries instead of things that will check off my to-do list. I’m drying my hair instead of wearing it curly so I don’t have to wash and style it every day. I bought 5 of my new favorite hoodie to make deciding what to wear easier. I’m meal prepping and going to bed earlier and reducing the amount of time I spend on social media. We’re eating meals together at the table — no electronics allowed. I have scheduled, and am honoring, a monthly at-home spa day with the kids; next I’m going to work on scheduling and enforcing a family game night and family movie night. On weekends, I’m focusing on the things that actually will make my weeks easier, rather than the things I feel I need to do. Yes, this means that my floors are gross and my office is covered in dusty piles of paper. But after the loads we carry all week, I feel like the kids and I need a little time to just…be.

We have finite resources, too.

Yesterday

Yesterday, Joe Biden was sworn into office. I voted for him. I believe in him. I use him as an example when my daughter loses faith in herself, because I suspect they have similar learning issues and look at how far he’s come. But yesterday I was unable to share in the joy. I did not watch the inauguration. I did not participate in the celebration on social media. Mostly I cried all day.

Yes, there is hope. Yes, things will change. But my reality is still 16-hour days. My reality is still spending weekends/holidays/days off compiling homeschooling materials, reward systems, science experiments, and other learning activities, only to have my kids fight learning at every turn. Anya does try, but her dyslexia gets in the way and I don’t know how to help her. She gets frustrated and gives up, and I don’t know what to do about it. Kai just doesn’t care, and I can’t make him care. Yes — I suck so bad, I can’t teach kindergarten. The last fun year of school he has. He hates anything that he even suspects might be educational. I did this to him.

My morning job is K-12 education journalism. I’ve read alllll the articles. How I’m ruining my children’s lives by keeping them out of school. How some kids are contemplating or committing suicide from the strain. How my daughter will most likely be made to repeat the 3rd grade if I send her back (just one of the many reasons I despise our governor), and the large percentage of kids who are held back that end up dropping out of school. How these learning losses are going to affect them the rest of their lives.

I also read the articles about climbing infection rates from the coronavirus. I read about the long haulers, who have sustained possibly lifelong damage from a virus that the idiots around me are comparing to a cold. I read about loved ones having to say goodbye by phone. I think about my babies dying. Me dying. Not being able to kiss them goodbye.

This is an impossible fucking decision, okay?

I’m drowning. I’m working two jobs and teaching two grades and maintaining a house and a family, and I’m doing it all so very badly. Our outdoor Christmas decorations are still up. And our Halloween pumpkin. I haven’t dusted or vacuumed my office in 6 months, and the bathroom is disgusting. My kids are subsisting on snack food and juice pouches. You can’t see any carpet in either of their rooms, and the playroom’s worse. I have hundreds of emails, texts, and messages hanging over my head. Half-finished projects all over the house. My to-do list goes back to before the holidays, and includes stuff like trying to get paid for some freelance work I did over Thanksgiving. Most days I don’t set foot outside the house at all, not even to the mailbox. Yesterday, all I ate was almonds and marshmallows, and I went to bed at 6:30 p.m. I say I’ll catch up over the weekend, but by the time the weekend rolls around, I’m exhausted.

I told myself it’s just one year, but the longer this goes on, the more I think it’s not just going to be one year. And of course I will do a second year if I have to, but how? How can I do this for another year?

So yes. There is hope. It is a new day, a new year, and things are going to get better. But not for us, not right now, not fast enough. I’m tired of being told I’m amazing, that this is so hard, that it’s okay to stumble. I’m tired of being told to be grateful for what I have. I AM grateful. So, so grateful. Things could be so much worse, and are for so many people. But that doesn’t mean this doesn’t suck. That doesn’t mean that I don’t need help. And it doesn’t mean I’m getting help anytime soon.

Start as you mean to go on

Recently, it’s come to my attention that I’m a workaholic.

Not in a jokey “oh, look at me, so busy and important” way, but in a quite serious, “I can’t stop” way.

It’s one thing for someone to tell you that you are addicted to something, and another to realize that you are. The distinction has made me re-examine everything I ever thought about addiction.

Here’s the thing: I don’t love my job(s). I like what I do. I am good at it. But if I had enough money to never work again, odds are slim that I’d still be doing what I’m doing. There are aspects of my work that I’d do for fun, sure. But there are parts I’d happily walk away from without a backward glance.

Therein lies the root of my confusion, and the reason why I had such a hard time realizing that there is even a problem with my behavior. I smoked for 20 years. I struggled for 10 with caffeine (and anyone who thinks caffeine is not a serious addiction has never awakened after 2 hours of sleep each night for months on end). My understanding of addiction was that you really like to do something harmful, or at the very least your body really likes to do it, and you have to struggle to stop doing that thing. It never dawned on me — and it should have, because addiction runs in my family — that you could be addicted to something for other reasons.

But here I am, terrified to turn down work, to drop a job. Thanksgiving week I worked more hours than the weeks preceding or following, and that’s with taking two days off. Partly because I’m afraid of not having a backup job. Partly because I want to achieve a certain degree of financial freedom. But mostly because I don’t have a sense of self-worth outside of my job. My value in my own eyes is and has always been equivalent to what I can accomplish and produce, and the destructive behaviors that go along with this belief go back to my college days.

Recently, someone in an editing group I’m in posted this image:

I’ve gotten better about the first one because of my kids; modeling for them that it is more important to know where to find an answer than to know all the answers taught me the same. But the other four are constant battles. And it all comes down to me not having anything in myself that I value outside what I am able to accomplish.

So many of my current issues stem back to this one problem. My inability to take care of myself for the sake of taking care of myself is chief among them.

Tomorrow I return to work after two solid weeks off. I had big plans for how to spend this break — baking, watching movies with the kids, doing all the arts and crafts projects I was too busy to do with them while I worked, reorganizing the pantry and the playroom, meditating/exercising daily, crocheting covers for the couch pillows, helping the kids clean their rooms, creating a menu plan for January, putting together a list of celebrations and fun activities for the kids, reading books to them and to myself, cleaning up my office, setting up a homeschooling curriculum for the coming semester, planning this year’s garden, washing the walls.

See what I mean? I don’t even know how to take a vacation.

My body does, though. I utterly crashed. I did some of the things on that list, sure — I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t. But I spent most of my vacation sitting on the couch, barely able to pry myself up to get a cup of tea. My sleep schedule went off the rails; I’ve been staying up later and rising later every day. I subsisted on cookies and party mix for the first week. Each day I arose with the intention of knocking things off my to-do list, and each night I went to bed exhausted though I accomplished little.

I don’t resent this crash. I did watch a lot of movies with the kids, and logged lots of snuggle time. I also did a lot of thinking. I see now the vicious cycle I’ve been putting myself in starts with me not taking care of myself. When I don’t take care of myself, I am more apt to fall into an anxiety spiral, and that anxiety is what lies at the heart of my work obsession.

So today, I’m starting as I mean to go on. I am up early, though I stayed up too late (again), in hopes of resetting my sleep schedule. I’m taking some time at the beginning of the day to blog, to meditate, to stretch. I’m not looking at email, social media, or games in this space; this is a time for me. It is my intention to start every day this year in peaceful, quiet reflection.

Instead of my usual lofty list of goals and resolutions, I’ve put together a list of intentions for the coming year, which all fall under the umbrella of taking better care of me. Not so I can do more work, or so I can be a better wife/mother/daughter/friend, but because I deserve it.

It feels incredibly weird to type that. Which is the point.

Hope

I saw recently that the Bishop of Paisley said imposing quarantine restrictions on Christmas would destroy people’s hope.

Mister, you wanna talk about hope?

When I gave birth to my daughter 9 years ago, my mother was strong and healthy, and looked the same as she had pretty much my whole life. (I mean that literally. The woman defied time.) She worked a job that would bring younger people (definitely me!) to their knees, yet still had enough energy to stay on the go in her down time.

The first time she was hospitalized, she thought she had a cold. Maybe a sinus infection. But she had an important out-of-town meeting to attend, and a lot of people were counting on her. So she went, despite feeling ill — and almost didn’t come home.

She doesn’t work anymore, of course. She retired shortly after that trip. But she’s sick now; she has rheumatoid arthritis, lung issues resulting from a MAC infection (a severe lung infection that people with immune issues are susceptible to), thyroid and blood pressure issues, heart disease, and COPD. She’s on oxygen most of the time, and takes more medications than I can count. She weighs less than I did when people accused me of being anorexic. Her once toast-colored skin is now comparable to my Irish pallor. I’ve lost count of the times she’s been close to death since that trip. She would not, her doctor has asserted, survive the coronavirus.

I have lived these past 5 years with the knowledge that every holiday, every birthday, every Saturday morning and Tuesday afternoon may be the last I get to spend with my mom. I was policing the kids with a thermometer and a symptom checklist long before any of us knew what a coronavirus was. And now I walk a tightrope between wanting to stay away so she can live and spending what time I can with her before she dies. So many opportunities have already passed us by for good, and I’m watching what may be the last of them slip through my fingers.

We’re planning a Zoomsgiving this year. Each of us eating in our homes, connected through video calls. I haven’t thought ahead to Christmas much yet. It’s too hard to make plans these days, I tell the children. But in reality, I am paralyzed by indecision. Should we pass on the in-person visit, to keep her safe? Or should we have a brief, masked get-together, in case it’s the last Christmas we ever spend together?

I have been assuring my children that the current circumstances aren’t forever. That one day, we’ll resume our normal lives. That we’ll shop in stores again, go to school, visit street fairs, participate in classes and camps, play with friends, have family dinners. I’m just hoping my mom lives to see that day.

What would give me hope is declining numbers. What would give me hope is if people would stay the hell home, and take the proper precautions when they must go out.

When I started this post, I was in a dark place. I usually stay out of the dim corners — keeping busy is a great way to keep your mind from what-ifing you to death. But every so often, usually when I’m tired and not feeling well, the corners find me. I’m feeling a lot better now, though, partly because those feelings pass, but mostly because of the election. This election restored my crumbling faith in my country and my fellow citizens.

Biden gives me hope.

There’s no magic wand that will banish the coronavirus, but I believe that Biden will lead us out of the pandemic as best he can: with facts, with science, with an emphasis on human life over financial gain. Biden knows loss. He knows what’s at stake — moms and dads, brothers and sisters, grandparents, friends. And he knows that the only way we’ll ever move past this virus is if we contain it.

If we contain it, maybe I’ll get to spend next Thanksgiving with my mom by my side.

I can hope.

I have hope.

It’s the Great Pumpkin (Week)

We finally did it — withdrew Anya from school and registered as an independent homeschool. It was a big decision, much bigger than pausing Kai’s kindergarten a year. I wanted to think about it over fall break, but Anya was growing more and more teary and bitter as the week after her test results came in and we had her IEP meeting. We were exhausted, and frustrated, and there didn’t appear to be an end in sight. Finally, I relented.

Honestly, I don’t think there’s any damage I could do homeschooling her that’s worse than her struggling for 12 hours per day, 5-6 days per week and still making mostly Ds and Fs. She has loved school up until this year, but she’d gotten to the point where the sight of her homework packet made her alternately surly and weepy — and who could blame her? If I can restore her joy of learning, even if she’s “behind” after the end of this school year, I’ll call it a win.

I signed her up for a mostly online curriculum that other moms of kids with dyslexia gave high marks, and I’m rounding out the lessons using a variety of resources. (I do mean variety. She’s studying Vikings this week for social studies, and I told her to watch How To Train Your Dragon afterwards and tell me what the movie got right.) I’m also working to catch Kai up on the things he’ll need to know for kindergarten, and also trying to get him excited about learning again. It sounds like a lot of work, but honestly this is a cake walk compared to what we were doing. And at least this way, I get to have a little fun with it.

That’s right: Theme weeks are back.

One of the things Anya asked when we were initially talking about homeschool was whether she could still do spirit week. Her school has themes for each day of the week of Halloween: Wear Red Day, Tacky Day, etc. Sure, we can do that, I told her. Why not? And then I realized that, with a little creativity, I could probably come up with other weekly themes that offer a bit more in the way of educational opportunities. Thus Pumpkin Week was born.

I culled activities from a few sites and board and compiled a Pumpkin Journal. Inside are prompts to help them ask critical questions about a pumpkin’s structure (Are there more creases on a big pumpkin or a small pumpkin? Are pumpkins mostly full or mostly empty? Can you tell which side of the pumpkin was resting on the ground?), practice math concepts (estimating versus counting the number of seeds in the pumpkin), and explore the pumpkin using all five senses (apparently the inside of the pumpkin looks, feels, smells, tastes, and sounds disgusting). Once they were finished examining the pumpkin, they carved them. We talked about the story behind jack o’lanterns. We’re planting some of the seeds to track the pumpkin life cycle. We made pumpkin spice play dough. Snack time brought us pumpkin cookies and roasted pumpkin seeds.

The pumpkin fun continued with story time; the kids, particularly Anya, have always been partial to Halloween, so we have no shortage of pumpkin-themed books. I printed out pumpkin math worksheets and pumpkin letter matching worksheets and pumpkin coloring book pages and pumpkin-shaped sight word bingo cards. I created a pumpkin-centric booklet that teaches prepositions and location words.

I put all this together in a couple of hours. I used to spend that much time each day just sorting out what work they had to do when they were in school. Add in the sheer amount of work they were assigned, and we simply had no time for related arts, for recess, for lunch. So I am very hopeful about homeschooling.

I have a lot of luck with activities that mix multiple subjects: Science and math and reading comprehension and social studies disguised as cooking and crafts and science experiments. I gave my daughter a printed chart illustrating how to load the dishwasher and told her to take a stab at it. Doing dishes as homework. She loved it. She rocked it. And she learned, without realizing she was learning it, how to follow instructions when they are presented in pictures, much like an IKEA assembly manual. If I had told her that she was being tested on her ability to follow directions, she’d have choked. So instead I told her to load the dishwasher.

But this week brought the true Halloween miracle: Kai came in, sat down, and did his sight words all on his own. No prompting, begging, bribes. And he got them all right. Thanks, Great Pumpkin.

2020 good

My morning job recognizes Indigenous Peoples Day. So a few months ago, when I was putting in my time off requests for the rest of the year, I requested Monday off for my afternoon job. At the time, I did not know two things: 1) that my daughter’s school would revoke this first day of fall break and ask that students do distance learning instead, and 2) that I would give in and withdraw her for homeschooling the week before fall break. Since I control the school schedule now, I reinstated her day off. She needs a full week after what she’s been through since August. (We all do, tbh.)

I received my flu shot last month, and Anya got hers at her 9-year checkup. Since I was to be off Monday, one of R’s usual days off, I scheduled Kai’s flu shot for that day: Two adults are better than one in these situations. So of course R was called in on Monday, leaving me to handle my bucking, terrified 5-year-old on my own. He fought so hard that he had to have the shot in his leg while the nurse and I bodily restrained him. Anya and I cried right along with him. At bedtime, Kai informed me solemnly that if I ever made him go back to the doctor again, he would stop loving me forever. “No more love left in my heart for you, Mama.” I told him gently that being his mom means I have to take care of him and keep him healthy, and that if he had to stop loving me, so be it — that I would never, ever stop loving him. He gave me some remorseful hugs and kisses after that, and he fell asleep holding my arm. What stings isn’t the words he said but what I know it cost him to say them. I am his sun and moon, and I held him down while a stranger hurt him. In time he will understand that it was for his own good, but right now he is confused and hurt — and who wouldn’t be?

Monday evening, as I was preparing dinner, I noticed our koi, Espada, was acting strangely. Glassy eyed and slowly moving her mouth while resting diagonally at the bottom of the tank. Twenty minutes later, she was dead. R and Anya buried her in the backyard, and nobody was terribly interested in dinner after that. (That’s fish funeral number 4, for those of you counting at home. Daddy flushed Bubbles, Ben Connor, and the OG Princess Cupcake, but Mr. Pickles, Princess Cupcake II, and Angel were all interred.) Daddy picked up some tiny neon fish at the pet store later that evening, which took some of the sting out of the loss, but Monday was a day.

In between those moments, though, there was joy. It was a gorgeous autumn day. We played I Spy with the blazing fall leaves, marveling at the showers of them blowing across our windshield. I treated the kids to cake pops after the shot. After we returned home from the doctor, we all cuddled together on the couch and watched movies. The kids don’t often have me all day with no responsibilities before us; the lack of a to-do list and uninterrupted Mommy time was a welcome treat. I can’t remember the last time I sat down and watched a whole movie with them without doing something productive at the same time.

“How was your day off?”

“Good,” I reply. And it was good, mostly. Just as 2020 has brought joy and discovery and wonder alongside the pain and loss and hardship. It’s a bittersweet good. The kind of good that will look better in hindsight. The kind of mixed-bag good that you learn and grow from.

2020 good is a thing.

You say you’re tired and you just want to close your eyes

Post soundtrack: No Surrender by Bruce Springsteen. An alternate post title I considered was “There’s a war out there still raging; you say it ain’t ours anymore to win,” but the battle isn’t only out there — it’s also in here. It’s everywhere. It makes me tired.

I’ve been having a lot of vivid dreams lately. The other night I dreamed I was back in my childhood bedroom rushing to get ready before I missed the school bus. (Spoiler alert: I missed the bus, because 8-year-old me had way fewer last-minute things to do before leaving the house than adult me, and I was an adult/child in the dream.) I was struck by how detailed the dream was. I could smell my bedsheets, a combination of Era laundry soap and Bounce fabric softener. I could feel the warmth of the sunlight radiating through my window blind, and see all the loose threads in my Cabbage Patch bedspread. I lived in that house for 8 years. Not the shortest amount of time I’ve spent somewhere, but I’ve lived other places longer. I haven’t set foot on the property in more than 30 years. Yet when my mind goes home, it goes there.

I haven’t dreamed of that house in years. But right now a part of me is crying out for the security I had at 8, when the worst thing I could possibly imagine was missing the bus.


My ballot just came in. Which has prompted me to ask, as I’ve asked before: Does it really matter if I vote? I live in a red state. My neighbors don’t just have Trump signs; they fly Trump flags and have scary bumper stickers featuring liberals and guns.

Side note: I am amused that this twitchy, trigger-happy crowd is so quick to yell “Faith, not fear!” They’ll go unmasked in public during a global pandemic because God’s got their backs, but they’re reaching for their guns if someone dares knock on the door of their suburban McMansions on a Tuesday afternoon. What, God doesn’t do intruders?

This weekend, Anya and I passed a Trump support motorcade that was at least 10 miles long. The electoral college vote in this state will never represent mine. Setting aside his bizarre claims to become a squatter if the polls don’t go his way (and the man pried his sick old butt out of a hospital bed to return to the White House, so I’m doubting he’s going to allow a little thing like a lost election to budge him)…what does my vote accomplish? He lost the popular vote last time, yet here we are.

I voted, on principle. But I don’t have any faith that it matters.

I have stopped telling myself that things could not possibly get worse, because clearly they can. Will it get to the point where someone bombs us to right our course? If so, who will do the honors? These are the thoughts that come to me as I lie awake at night. If the pandemic doesn’t kill us, it’s possible our president will.


We had Anya evaluated for dyslexia, and it came as no surprise that she has a host of language processing disorders. The SPED teachers at her school are sympathetic, but the bottom line is they are stretched too thin to offer much additional help. (Fun fact: Twenty minutes before our IEP meeting, I was writing a summary of an article about the rights of children with disabilities to a free accessible public education. It’s free, yes, and public, but accessible? Meh.)

There’s a private school that I think would really help her, but she turns into a trembling ball of squeak when I talk about transferring her. Also, the annual tuition would buy you an economy car, and we really need a new car. So we’ve decided to homeschool for the time being. One of the homeschooling programs I’m looking at says that 3rd graders should expect to spend no more than 4 hours per day on schoolwork. We’ve been spending 12, usually part of that in tears, and not even getting through everything. Four hours? Where do I sign?

There is a tremendous push to get all the kids back in school — even as local cases among school-aged children are on the rise. I know for some kids, school is necessary for their well-being: Home is not a safe place. They don’t have enough food. Their parents need a free place to send their kids so they can work. However, those issues do not apply to us. Anya does miss the socialization, but we can and are socializing her in other ways. As for the education itself — what the hell is so wrong with writing off this year, and possibly next, and tacking on the extra time at the end of her schooling? I mean, would it be the worst thing in the world for her to graduate from high school at 19 or 20, if it meant she lived to see 20?


In advance of family pictures, I took both kids to the salon. Separately, of course, both to minimize their exposure risk (we are still very much sheltering in place, even if the rest of the world has moved on) and because Tween Anya feels too old for the kids’ salon this year. So we opted for the grown-up salon for her — and, due to some glitch in the online scheduling system, making her appointment required I make one of my own. I’d just trimmed my hair, but my roots were in desperate need of a touch-up; I’d been putting it off because the semipermanent color was no longer cutting it and I didn’t know what to try next. So I put myself in the hands of a professional. And I’m so happy I did. I just look better with dark hair. Like my childhood self, if my childhood self were left in the dryer overnight.


The weather here has been absolutely luscious (though it sounds like that’s about to end), and we’ve visited the botanic gardens multiple times. It’s simple to socially distance at the botanic garden because the place is huge. Plenty of room for everyone.

During our most recent visit, I heard some people behind me discussing amongst themselves the fact that the kids and I were wearing masks (I assume they were not; I did not turn around), and opting to walk in another direction rather than pass us and risk being asked to put masks on. After the brash, tone-deaf energy of the motorcade, that small measure of consideration was almost enough to move me to tears. Even if it was less about our feelings and more about not wanting to be confronted, it’s a greater level of empathy than I’ve encountered regarding the issue — regarding any issue — in quite some time.


Today’s happiness quote from Gretchen Rubin is this:
“There are unheralded tipping points, a certain number of times that we will unlock the front door of an apartment. At some point you were closer to the last time than you were to the first time, and you didn’t even know it. You didn’t know that each time you passed the threshold you were saying good-bye.” — Colson Whitehead, The Colossus of New York

Most of my goodbyes have been more good than bye; not that I’ve never had sad goodbyes, but if we were weighing them on a scale, the ones that led me to a better place far outweigh the ones that didn’t. But right now — awful as right now is — is about the most content I’ve ever been. More so even than I was as a child. The world outside my door is going to hell, I mean, but inside these walls we’re doing fairly well. I’m not ready to think about the goodbyes to come. I worked damn hard to get here; I want to stay here a while.


My Fitbit says I’m sleeping more these days, especially on the weekends. Partly because I have less extra work these days, partly because the temperatures have been cooler in the morning. Mostly, though, it’s because snuggling with my kids in a chilly room that’s slowly being warmed by the sun glowing against the blinds gives me the same sense of security and peace I had in my childhood bedroom. We all snuggle close under the blankets and drift in and out of sleep until mid-morning. The extra lie-in makes my body stiff and sore, but it’s worth if if I can hold off the sky falling for a while and just…rest. Be at peace.

We all need more peace right now.

We made it to fall

Last month was pretty eventful, hence the silence. A quick recap:

I withdrew Kai from kindergarten.
Even with all our homeschooling, school was wearing us down. Homework took 12+ hours each day — even Kai’s kindergarten homework! — and required much more hands-on parental involvement than I’d anticipated. (Right as my morning job changed my whole work lineup, complete with a two-week overlap between the old and the new briefs. That was fun.) Neither kid’s classes involved any remote instruction, synchronous or otherwise. Anya was floundering without a teacher, and Kai was becoming belligerent and telling me he hated school. Hated school. At 5. So I withdrew him. I’m using this extra year to help prepare him for school — giving him small yet steadily increasing amounts of work each day, and looking for alternative ways (camp, online classes, play dates) to socialize him. And I’m hoping that next year will be better so he can go to camp and attend school in person.

I’m hoping next year will be better, full stop.

Anya is finally being tested for dyslexia.
Now that I’m Anya’s teacher, I’m getting the full picture of her learning disabilities — they’re a force to be reckoned with. She’s so smart, but that intelligence does not always come out in worksheets; you have to talk to her to see what she really knows. And virtual learning for us has been all worksheets. So I reached out to the speech and learning center at the university, and we’re in the process of getting her evaluated for dyslexia and other language processing disorders. My hope is that the results will mean the school has to accommodate her needs, and that further therapy through the center will help her learn to work past her challenges.

I tested negative for RA.
I’ve developed what may be another symptom of food sensitivities, or it may just mean I’m getting old: I’m having random but increasingly incapacitating joint pains. Wrist, finger, elbow, and hip pain make sense, considering how many hours I spend sitting and typing. However, my feet have no reason to hurt. Given my family history, I had the doctor rule out rheumatoid arthritis. I didn’t have any of the markers for RA, or markers for any other autoimmune disorder, so that’s a relief. But it also leaves me once more without answers. I seem to hurt worst when I’m also swelling, so I am testing foods to see if there is a dietary link beyond soy (which I already know causes me joint pain). I’m also trying out turmeric and giving the probiotics another go. The probiotics do seem to be helping, so let’s hope the turmeric follows suit.

R has been in quarantine for the past two weeks.
R’s niece, who lives in another state, turned 21 a couple of weeks ago, so he drove out there to go to her party. As a precaution, we have had him quarantined upstairs since he got back. We eat separately, sleep separately, use separate bathrooms, and wear masks whenever we are together. Happily, he has had no fever and no symptoms, so he should be rejoining us soon. I’m not sure if that’s such a great thing for him — he’s got a sweet setup up there, with an air mattress, snacks, a beer fridge, all of his DVDs and video games, and mandated alone time — but we’ve sure missed him.

We left the house!
The (slightly) cooler weather has allowed us to go outside a bit more often, so we have resumed visits to the botanic garden. They finally reopened the kids’ section, too, so while not all features are available for play, they can at least play in the playhouses and climb on things. As the weather improves, I’m planning on bringing picnic lunches so we can enjoy some extra time there. We love our yard, but it sure is nice to leave it once in a while.

Summer has finally passed (chronologically, at least). My kids are super psyched for fall. School’s going a bit smoother this week. Work is, for the moment, not awful. I am hopeful that October will go more smoothly than September. At the very least, we may be able to venture outside again.