Day 12 (March 17, 2020)
The President of the United States looked me straight in the eye through the TV today during his press conference. He urged me to stay home. Especially me, he said. While I am not old, I am immunocompromised and that means if I get sick, I could take up a ventilator that he is saving for a friend. Or something like that.
But I am a widow. And I am a single mother to eleven- and fourteen-year-old boys who are on Spring Break after they have been out of school now for 6 days. The first two days were just to clean the schools. Then the second case appeared in the area and that required another week off. Now we are hiding behind Spring Break, hoping for good news nobody really believes will come.
The boys and I were supposed to go skiing in Colorado but we cancelled our trip the day before our flight out. It is a good thing too because the Governor there shut down the ski resorts the day we were supposed to arrive. He did not want me getting sick in his mountains and taking up a ventilator from one of his friends.
Having cancelled my trip at the last minute, I suddenly have no food for the week. And everyone wants me to stay home. I decided to go to the grocery store. It was the eeriest shopping trip ever. My doctor put me on a restricted diet last week. I can’t eat real food (gluten, sugar, dairy, corn, beef, pork, eggs, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, peanut butter are all off the list of items I can eat because I might be allergic to them). I was very worried that I would not be able to find any food with all of my restrictions. To my relief, there were plenty of boxes of spinach and cans of sardines left on the shelves. Won’t the boys be thrilled to find they have been switched to a fish and greens diet overnight?
There was no meat on the shelves – they were as barren as the toilet paper shelves. Of course, I know where all the toilet paper has gone. I have been taking four mile walks every afternoon around my neighborhood. I have seen my neighbors reorganize their garages – they added shelves and threw out all their kids’ sporting equipment (since little league has been cancelled anyway) to make room to store the mountains of toilet paper they have hoarded.
I used to work in accounting for Kimberly-Clark – a large manufacturer of toilet paper. I had to take a moment to muse on their income statement for the month of March 2020 – soaring sales of toilet paper, overtime for employees to keep machines running through the night. All so that my neighbors could create padded rooms out of their third garages. I guess it gives them a place to scream where no one can hear them. Two-ply insulation that doubles as a safe object to throw around the room.
I do have to wonder if rogue teenagers will ever wander by these garages filled with temptation and grab a few of the stockpiled rolls to toss around trees. Mummified trees could grace neighborhoods as the new spring-time decorations. I think neighbors have already thought of that, though. Their third garages now have extra padlocks on them, just to keep out the rif-raf who might be looking for the one item no one can find on store shelves anywhere.
Day 25 (March 30, 2020)
Today is the 17th weekday without school. We survive this type of schedule every summer but we use lots of camps and friends to do so. This is a new experience for us. The boys have officially begun showing symptoms of confinement-itis. I made up confinement-itis to describe the mental condition characterized by excessively ridiculous, irrational, spontaneous, hilarious, hostile, irritable, or otherwise excessive behavior that stems from spending too much time in quarantine or isolation.
To mitigate the fighting between my boys, I had to take away video games and send them out for true alone time with the lawn mower – one boy per yard. The complaints exhausted me. I had to send them back to fix issues with the mow job a couple times. The complaints exhausted me further. I started envisioning myself as their drill sergeant for Army Ranger school. Since they aren’t taking any other classes, why not put them through extended boot camp? It made me feel a little more like I was helping them get through the challenges life would throw at them – like Ranger school prepares soldiers – and less like I was a super-nagging mom who just wanted her lawn mowed from a heart of gratitude.
Last night, John begged me to take him to the grocery store. Literally, he begged me – throwing himself at my feet, telling me that he was going to rot if I didn’t allow him the privilege of wandering the aisles of Kroger with me. This came just 3.5 weeks after his last fit because he had to join me on my shopping outing to pick out his school snacks. I refused to take him. There is great irony in feeling a pang of parenting woe from depriving your child the chore of grocery shopping. We both got over it quickly, though I will always wonder if it is that act of sheer cruelty on my part that will send him to seek counseling in his adult years.
We have been in a city-wide shelter-in-place order for five days now. An advertisement on the news channel today used the hashtag #aloneTogether. We are asked to create our own bubbles – like the bubble suits that really sick kids wear to keep them alive. My bubble makes me feel fat – like I have to carry around a bunch of extra weight just so I know where the six feet of social distancing separation ends. I am very lucky to have my boys and our dogs in my bubble with me.
The President announced yesterday that this should last another month at least. Perhaps I should offer him an hour alone with my confinement-itis inflicted boys and see if he changes his mind. I know he is trying to protect us from the COVID-19 outbreak but who is going to protect me from the insanity of teenage boys?
Today, the boys’ puppy stole an old stuffed animal. He gutted it in the living room in front of us, sending white stuffing flying through the air as he gleefully tore out the insides of his prize. Since the alternative was to get frustrated over the mess he was making for me, I decided to pretend that he was turning our bubble into a snow globe that had been turned upside down. I imagined for a minute that our living room floor was the ice skating rink at Central Park – not the version wherein they are setting up tent hospitals – but the version in a snow globe from 1985 where the artist made sure to paint realistic looking smiles on every child. I even put Santa Claus flying over a moon with his reindeer, though that is not very realistic because he would not have been flying at the same time kids were skating in a park. But it was my fantasy, so I took extra liberties with the story. I liked thinking of a world where Santa could drop off presents at every house without spreading a virus through the whole world.
Despite multiple requests, the boys have yet to pick up the stuffing that finally landed to the ground, covering it like a blanket of the worst fake snow. I don’t have the energy to plead with them for a tenth time so I am just pretending that the puppy and I have a bet over how long it will stay there before they pick it up. He supposes two days but I am going with two weeks at this rate. Every day it sits there, I am closer to winning the bet. Sure, it would be more fun if the bet were with another adult who lived in the house. But I don’t have one of those. So instead I humanize a dog so I can feel better about the conversations I am starting to have with myself in my head. Maybe I too have started showing the early signs of confinement-itis.
Day 26 (March 31, 2020)
Today it is raining. The boys won’t go outside. I took video games away yesterday. They have exhausted the content on Disney Plus that isn’t princess related (they don’t have a sister to blame it on). They slept in late – two hours later than normal. I was grateful because it delayed the start of the bickering.
After their two hours of mandated study time in the morning, I made them train their puppy to do tricks besides turn our stay-at-home mandated bubble into a snow globe. Sit and Stay seem like more useful commands. Then I suggested that they write their memoirs. They refused but I liked seeing them roll their eyes at me – it reminded me that I still do have some power, if not just the power to make them roll their eyes.
After the eye-rolling, we thought about taking stock-piled toilet paper and making origami animals for our guest bathroom. Hey – the house is organized, the lawn is mowed, what else is there to do than act like maids at a super fancy hotel and fold roses into toilet paper rolls? Teenage boys love that kind of stuff, right? Fortnight, football, fancy folding of tissue… I’m hoping we can make an entire Noah’s ark scene for the back of the toilet. The ark might be a challenge but once they complete it, we can post a picture on social media. It might go viral with hashtags like #SavetheChildrenFromTpOrigami and #NothingButTimeAndTP. Maybe they could use it to start an online retail business where they can sell paper arks and paper hats and paper masks and it can get shut down when the government commandeers all of their toilet paper masks for use in local hospitals.
Eventually, we moved on to cleaning out the garage. Except they weren’t really cleaning. They were sword fighting with broken fishing poles (until I told them they would poke out their eyes), running with pruning sheers (until I told them they would stab themselves), swinging plastic tubes (until I told them they would hit someone), pointing lasers in their brother’s eyes (until I told them they would blind their brother), and making human pyramids on top of tables (until I broke down and took a picture to commemorate the day we survived cleaning the garage).
Day 28 (April 2, 2020)
Less and less people are on the streets when I walk by on my four miles with the dogs. The temperature is cooler and people’s garages and yards are all pristine now. But it feels like a ghost town to me. As the only adult in my house that has now been issued an official state-wide stay at home order from the Governor, the lack of people on the streets feels lonely to me.
Facebook has adds on tv to encourage us all that we will make it through this. I know firsthand about surviving a crisis of death and moving on. I know it will seem impossible at times. I know it will take twice the effort that surviving used to take. But I know also that it is tough times that bond us and shape us and build character. I know that when this is over, I will have a different level of respect for the time I do get to spend with my neighbors, friends, and family.
Mostly, though, I don’t want to think about it. So instead, I used (presumable knowingly) “disgusting” tortillas to make the tacos for dinner. That way, my eleven-year-old, John, would have something to whine about to distract me from looking at the empty street beyond my window. He pleaded with me to taste them, but I am on a doctor-mandated diet that does not include gluten. For some bizarre reason, having such an excuse felt like a victory in the war on dinnertime. If only COVID could be so easily defeated.
His brother came down and ate without complaining. John began to whine again – Edward had started eating after him and somehow made it through his dinner faster than him. It was taken as a personal attack – John had to spend longer eating disgusting tortillas that Edward didn’t seem to mind eating. Such an offense required another eleven-year-old style meltdown.
Confinement has ramped up the frequency and intensity of these meltdowns. As a solo parent, though, there is no one else to intervene. I respond by first taking deep breaths. I give myself permission to not have to find logic in the arguments he presents. Once the situation has been defused, I laugh and attempt to assure myself that he has to grow more logical with age (assuming he will never outgrow this phase leads me to speculate how many people running the present crisis are doing so with little-kid logic and that thought is too scary to support).
Mostly, I give him a whole lot of grace. I never lost my father as a child and I never faced, as a child, a world-wide shutdown because of a disease. His brain doesn’t even know the questions to ask. Instead, his fear asks questions that he doesn’t want to face. Questions like “Can my mommy keep me safe on her own?”, and “Why couldn’t my dad be here now?”, and “What if my mom makes me eat leftover disgusting tortillas for breakfast?”
While I don’t actually know the answers to his questions (except the tortilla one – I won’t make him eat them for breakfast), I know that by showing him I am not moved by his fear, I am teaching him not to be moved by it either. And I know with certainty that the same God who has gotten us through the loss of their dad is continuing to sustain us through the unknowns of the present.
Day 29 (April 3, 2020)
John slept in until sixth grade early lunchtime today. I assume it was his plan all along – to avoid having to eat a disgusting tortilla for breakfast. Food isn’t that scarce, but he uses 11 year-old logic so who knows what is going through his brain.
I threatened massive punishment on his brother if he woke him up. I am hoping that the extra sleep will reduce today’s meltdowns. Even a 10% reduction in fits would feel like a vacation for me today. Maybe I won’t have to repeat my ban on him downloading 14+ video games on his phone another 15 times today (I suppose he thinks that 14+ means “ask your parent over 14 times”). I should probably just break down and record my response so I can text it to him every time he asks. Consistency is very important in parenting, you know, and a recorded response would standardize my position.
Today I am reviewing the TN Executive order that was signed on March 30, 2020. Among other things, the law requires some people (maybe only the ones we like?) to wash their hands. My boys were at a Montessori school when they were in first and third grades, so they had the privilege of being in the same class that year. They would come home and talk amongst themselves (conversations I overheard) about the kids they saw leaving the bathroom without washing their hands. Apparently, they determined their friend group based on hand hygiene. I wonder if they have a future as the handwashing police for the Governor. They are likely the only people their age with experience.
Reviewing the list of essential activities, I wonder if they will in any way rearrange the landscape of our culture. Will the fact that the Governor has listed golfing, kayaking, and tennis (does the ball have to be sanitized as it crosses the net?) as essential activities change people’s excuses for work absences? Will people begin adopting pets just so they have excuses to leave the house on their behalf? Making purchases from curbs is still allowed. In my day, those were frowned upon because they looked like shady deals. But today is a new day!
I went out to buy paint from curbside delivery recently. I called in my order, waited a mere two and a half hours in the parking lot, reminded the store clerk three time that I was out there, overheated twice, and then “presto” – it was like magic. I had a gallon of paint and another gallon of primer so I could paint things at my house that didn’t really need to be painted but made me feel like I had work to do. It only took 5 times the amount of time it would have taken to get the paint on a normal, non-Executive Order type of day.
The real curiosity was when my sixth grader asked if he could help me paint because he was bored. The last time my children helped me paint, my almost eighth grader painted himself. I should have known that he would do that because he saw his same-aged friend roll around in a paint can when he was 11 months old. I am sure he had been waiting those 13 years for his opportunity to do the same. He coated himself from head to toe in white paint, looking like an Australian native who used mud to cool down.
While the past white coat experience was a consequence of trusting my older child, not my younger one, I cringed at allowing a similar recurrence. What if my younger child painted himself in white and then rolled around the garage, leaving body marks all over the concrete floor? What if the dog stuck his tail in the wet paint on the garage floor and began creating his masterpiece – lovingly entitled “Awesome Fluffy Dogs Assisting Ridiculous Owners During Bat Disease Weirdness” – all over the walls and the car parked next to him? What if my eighth grader decided to join in and then they digitally encouraged all their neighborhood friends to do the same? I would be shunned by the neighbors, isolated, alone in my house with no one to talk to. Oh, wait, what? That is already my fate so there isn’t really a punishment they could inflict. I guess I let my imagination run a little wild there.
Eventually, the answer to the request to be allowed to paint came out as “no.” I may actually enter a grocery store from time to time during a horrific pandemic to acquire milk for my starving teenage boy, but allowing my eleven-year-old to paint in my garage seems like way too large a risk to take — even if the Executive order has yet to ban such activities.
Day 30 (April 4, 2020)
Today, I am feeling unprepared for this pandemic. Sure, I have food, water, and a couple boxes of matches but now that I am on the island of “StayAtHomeAlone”, I am noticing that I do not have a task force. The White House has one, my company has one, the emails I get from organizations and companies all talk about theirs. Here, on my island, I have been running this show alone and I don’t think that is advisable.
I have, therefore, made an executive decision to create a pandemic task force of my own. I have to decide who will preside over the task force first. I sure don’t want that job – I have no idea what the future holds and don’t want the island’s inhabitants to withhold their votes from me during the next election. So, I have appointed my favorite dog, Norah, to the position of “President” of my task force. Everyone here loves her, she is middle-aged and experienced at what she knows (which includes sounding a lot of false alarm barks at unconfirmed threats and chewing on her feet), she has great orange and white hair, and she is devoted to naps and long walks – she has to be the only one qualified like that among us.
Next, I have to decide who will act as our chief medical spokesperson. My island has been voicing a lot of medical concerns lately – gashes from scooters and strange bug bites – and the inhabitants need to be reassured that these are not symptoms of COVID. I called out to Edward, my oldest. He wants to be an orthodontist when he grows up so I think that desire qualifies him the most for the position. I ask him a question like “Can you get COVID from your brother if the two of you have been quarantining in a basement and there are no trees to cut down in that basement so no one hears the trees fall?” He responds by making a nose that imitates a seal. My confidence has been lifted and I know that our medical concerns will be kept to a minimum by our newly appointed medical task force member.
Up next for appointment is the economic advisor. This position will be responsible for making sure that an island-wide economic collapse does not occur. Trade on the island is extremely important, as it allows the swapping of deserts, sharing of video games, and equitable distribution of activity decisions. My selection for this role must be well versed in what is fair and have completed at least fifth grade math. I only have two candidates left – the puppy and John. I decide to start with a screening question “If your brother/human took your desert without asking and without compensation, would that be fair?” Major, the puppy, wagged his tail at me and asked me to pat his head. I think he thinks it would be fair because he steals food off of the counter all the time.
John looks at me, confused. “I don’t understand? What is compensation? Why do I have to know that?” The frustration begins to mount in his face. I define compensation as something his brother provides in return. “What?” John squeals. “Edward stole my desert? That’s not fair! I never do stuff like that to him. Why does he always do that?”. With that, the interview process is complete and John has won the position of economic advisor.
Major, the puppy, is feeling left out. He is almost the last to be assigned a position. I will designate him as a reporter. He can share the decisions of the group with the rest of the island. He is good at wreaking havoc (like his snow globe), and doesn’t really care about finding the truth as long as his ratings stay high and people walk by to pat his head, telling him what a good boy he is. He also really likes to surprise attack the appointed President dog, Norah, which will lend itself to a dynamic like the one on TV.
What is my role, you ask? As a solo parent, it is the same thing it has been for the past three and a half years. It is to quietly do the real work behind the scenes. Running analyses, monitoring inventory levels, watching for information, ensuring compliance to government regulations, preparing the financial statements and revising budgets, coordinating collaboratives with suppliers and customers, policing tempers, and negotiating settlements. There is no committee that makes sure I am on target or keeps me from making bad decisions. There is no recognition for the work that I perform. While my children are imitating aquatic animals and looking up the word “compensation” in dictionaries, it is my job to be a task force of one that makes sure we come out of this pandemic stronger than we went in it. In the meantime, it is entertaining to convene a pretend task force meeting that sounds like a zoo being visited by a hungry, frustrated banker.
Day 32 (April 6, 2020)
I have a teenage boy who has been receiving compliments on his hair since first grade. That attention quickly taught him the value of hygiene and appearance. As an eighth grader, I never have to remind him to take a shower or comb his hair. So you can imagine my surprise when I was looking at his head last night and wondering how his hair got so shiny. “When is the last time you showered?” I asked innocently (all mom-asked questions are innocent until proven guilty).
“I don’t know. Three or four days ago?” came the response.
“Well, could you maybe make that happen again sometime soon before you smell worse than the puppy?” I pleaded.
“Maybe. But at least on Saturday.”
“Saturday? That’s almost a week away. Is there a special occasion I don’t know about? Can’t we have a special occasion on Monday that demands a shower today?” My questions were becoming less innocent and more desperate. Covid has already taken organized sports, school, social activities, church, and shopping away from us – there is no way it is going to change the odor in my house.
And then his brother walked in the room. I didn’t even have to look up to know I had lost that battle. “When is the last time you showered?” I said, through a clenched nose.
“Let’s see… well, I haven’t this week…”
“Go, go now,” I interrupted. Yet someone my pleading through a clenched nose was not translated correctly so he stood there, staring at me like a deer in headlights, as if saying “Where should I go?”
I repeated my command and he cocked his head to the side inquisitively, as if greatly amused by the bizarre commotion coming from his mother. When he did, a bird’s nest and some gravy from dinner four nights ago fell out of his hair. A stunned bird flew away.
I mustered all of my courage and took my fingers from my nose to plead one last time as sweetly as I could. “Can you please immediately go straight to your shower where the water comes out and use a whole lot of soap and shampoo and maybe some air freshener and some Lysol and please go now and then when you do can you burn the clothes you haven’t changed that are helping proliferate that smell?”
“What does proliferate mean?” he asked. How is that the only part of what I said that he heard?
I put on my big pouty mommy puppy dog eyes and said “please,” as sweetly as I could. His brother chimed in over me, “Dude, you stink. Go take a shower!”
“Oh, okay. Can I play a video game first?”
“No!” his brother and I chimed in unison.
Perhaps my boys believe that they can ward away the virus if they smell like they are already dead. Or perhaps they are just being boys who haven’t seen girls in over a month and, therefore, cannot for the life of them recollect why hygiene outside of proper handwashing (you know, to prevent the spread of covid) matters. Either way, I am going to add “shower” to their list of daily chores they must accomplish before noon. And if they don’t do it, I will at least have the consolation that I know the world is staying more than six feet away from them.
Day 40 (April 14, 2020)
I had a brilliant idea last week. While cleaning my garage, I discovered both floor space and an old set of adjustable weights that my late husband had purchased shortly after he broke both of his wrists. The weather was perfect – low-70’s with a nice mix of sun and a light breeze so I set up a few exercise stations in the garage and made up a circuit workout for me and the boys. I had a jump rope station, a mat where we could hold a few planks, a weight station, and a step station where we exercised triceps and did box jumps and incline pushups.
I pulled the mom card and made the workout mandatory because I did not want to do it alone and I had no one else to include because of the stay at home order. If they wanted to be free to play video games or scooter around the neighborhood, the boys were required to workout with me for an entire hour after they finished their two hours of schoolwork and finished their chores. Since both of my boys have played sports since a very early age, they were okay with the physical aspect.
We began with a warm-up jog around the block. After I waved to the first neighbor and proudly told her I was forcing physical fitness on my children, my oldest son issued strict orders that he would participate only on the condition that I not tell anyone else what we were doing. Of course, the first thing I thought about doing was posting it on an Internet blog for you to read.
The workout went so well and we all felt so much better about ourselves that I decided to expand on my plan the next day. This time, it was my oldest son’s job to make up and lead our workout. I figured it would be an amazing opportunity for him to develop leadership and planning skills. I imagined that one day he would put it on his college application. He would proudly write essays about how he led group exercise classes that inspired a nation during a pandemic. He might even draw a picture of the coronavirus lifting weights to decorate his essay – cleverly combining themes of thriving during times of trial and a commitment to personal well-being (yet inadvertently signaling a strength in the virus itself). The admissions counselors would be so amazed by his training protocols he described that he would win scholarships and positions running exercise programs for the admissions team.
Edward spent about 15 minutes devising his regimen and handed it to his brother who promptly read it, ran downstairs, wadded it up and threw it at me while moaning in great distress. Many years ago, our family made up a game where on birthdays and Christmas, we wad up the wrapping paper torn off of newly revealed gifts and throw it at each other. The person hit with the wrapping paper is required to hug the person who threw the paper. My kids never forget a holiday. Looking at the wadded up workout paper on the floor, I wondered what holiday it was and figured my youngest was trying to get a hug. I reached out my arms and leaned in. Instead of a hug, though, I got an alarmist “Have you seen this?”
I reviewed the workout and acknowledged my mistake. My oldest had been a competitive gymnast for seven years. In preparation for competitions, he spent 12 hours a week working out. Many of those hours were spent on core work. His dad once videotaped him doing sit-ups. The video lasted ten minutes before the little eight-year-old boy said “Dad, I’m bored, do I have to keep going?” He wasn’t tired because his abs were made out of Energizer batteries.
While he has not competed in the past 3 years, the years he did dedicate to the sport taught Edward a lot of core exercises. When he created his workout, he, therefore, pulled out every abdominal exercise he could think of. This meant we were going to be holding lots of excessively long planks, boats, and V-Ups. For an entire hour. With hill sprints in between.
I pulled out my positive attitude and told my kids I was looking forward to the experience and then I let Edward lead me in a routine that left me unable to turn, laugh, wiggle, sit up, or take a deep breath for a week. Eventually the pain wore off enough for me to return to blogging.
Smart children are a blessing when you are trying to home school them during a pandemic. You just tell them to read their teachers’ assignments and they come out making professional PowerPoint presentations about the Minnesota deciduous forest biome (whatever that is – I have to read the presentation to find out). Intelligence has a dark side, though. I have decided my kids have a future in crime or politics based on their silent, cunning protests to their chores.
As a solo parent, there are too many times when I get outsmarted and there is no allied adult who can warn me of the pitfalls of my parenting solutions. As a result, my abs are tired from a kid-planned workout and I have to research Minnesota forests. Hopefully, it will all make me stronger and smarter in the long run.
Day 56 (April 30, 2020)
My boys finished their quarter pipe. Before they placed down the top boards, the boys took turns graffitiing the support boards. They drew pictures of people and dogs, signed their names, and wrote sentiments like “coronabreak sux.” As the screws pulled the top boards over those words, I considered that, in addition to a quarter pipe, the boys had made a time capsule. One day, we will back those screws out to dismantle and discard the ramp and we will find those words etched with sharpie.
After losing my husband, I have many times run across his signature on a piece of paper or a picture of him or some other momento of the time when he was a physical presence in our family. Those reminders always give me pause as I reminisce on times that seemed hard with bills and preschoolers and marital-relationship navigation but ultimately were beautifully full of baby giggles and simple budgets and wonderful people.
These COVID inspired words scrawled out in sharpie on a 2×4 in a quarterpipe ramp made me wonder what we will feel when we look back on these times we live in today. Will I have fond memories over the way-too-late nights spent watching the boys chase and wrestle the puppy around the room? Will I miss those 4-mile walks I always seemed to have time for? Will I long for the adventure of heading to the grocery store to pick up items for a meal only to have to change all my plans on the spot because I can’t find meat, beans, rice, or bread? Will I miss the days where everyone laughed at toilet paper jokes without judging the person making them for having bathroom humor? Will the lack of kids talking and opening the refrigerator in the background of my work meetings make me feel less accomplished at work?
If one day, after my kids are out of the house and chasing their own kids, I am going to look back at this time with a sweet fondness, then why can’t I revel in it now? Sure, I miss adult face-to-face conversation. I miss the scheduled purpose to my day. I miss seeing routine faces at church and coffee shops and the gym. But this season here will have things to miss too.
The Governor of Tennessee is loosening the stay-at-home order and as much as I feel a weight lifted by the movement toward “normalcy”, I am now anxious about missing the simplicity I have grown accustomed to over the past several weeks. When the chaos of sports and school and friends and constantly moving schedules comes back, I am going to miss seeing the young child whose hair was a month overdue for a haircut walk around the house wearing nothing but underwear and knee pads because he wasn’t going out anywhere but to ride the in-garage ramp anyway. I am going to miss all of the people sitting in their yards while I walk by and the hour-long conversations that ensue from across the street. I am going to miss being part of a community that is all simultaneously anxious and suffering together (albeit in different ways) and the bond that results.
Recognizing what this will become in my memories has helped me be less anxious in the moment. Different isn’t always bad – it’s just different. Now, Mr. Governor, let me out of here so I can enjoy a different different…
Day 58 (May 2, 2020)
Days inside an at-home order seem to blur together. A milestone birthday of mine is coming up. My kids asked me when it was and I told them the wrong day of the week. I didn’t do it on purpose – I honestly believed it to be on a different day. I lamented that my children’s homeschooling was left to me – someone who monumentally failed basic calendar reading skills for her own birthday.
“What are you talking about? You aren’t homeschooling us, you just make us do work,” Edward protested.
I tried to decide if his comment was an assessment of my effort or my success. Afterall, last week John told us that he thought Kanye West, the rapper, was running for president this year. Edward corrected him that it was only lyrics in a song and not reality. An actual, paid teacher would have taught him better and not sent him to learn current events from rappers.
This morning, as I sat at my desk working, John was sitting on the other end of the desk throwing a temper tantrum over math. I would take a work call and it would send him into a tailspin because he couldn’t ask me questions. At one point, I had to explain to my boss that the frustration he was hearing in the intermittent screams next to me were a result of math and not child abuse I was unlawfully inflicting.
Balancing work and home schooling can be quite an underestimated challenge. One minute, I am creating an operational staffing plan to tell my boss how many customer service agents he needs to support the call volume of a new initiative. The next minute, I am asked by my son to help him figure out how many donuts some random person named Brett can bake in 12 hours if he can bake 100 an hour. My first inclination is to call out the fact that Brett will not be baking for 12 hours straight as he is mandated by law to take breaks. Then I want to call out that the oven capacity could prove to be a constraint, depending on the required baking time of each batch of donuts.
Before I know it, my already math-tortured son is rocking himself in the corner screaming that he does not understand. In order to help my son complete his problem and return to my real-life problems, I decide to conclude that Brett is a robot who works in an oven factory baking his donuts overnight with no distractions and four arms for redundancy so he can commit to an output of 1200 donuts a night. I don’t think all of that translated into John’s recorded answer, but he got the gist of it.
All of that talk about donuts makes me hungry so then I have to take a snack break. Of course, I hadn’t been baking 1200 donuts in my kitchen last night but that’s all I could think about eating. Cauliflower and carrots were not going to satisfy my mathwork-induced craving. Three hours later, I have John calculate the number of “lunch” calories I consumed in my freshly baked gluten-free donuts if each donut had 100 calories and I ate a dozen. He got that answer right away – “1200. Isn’t that an entire day’s worth of calories for you, mom?”
“Don’t you have some history to learn from Disney movies, John?”
Let’s just hope no one at work notices that I diagramed my sentences in the notes of my most recent presentation. I will be prepared if they ask me how many adjectives I used in coming up with our staffing plan.
Day 63 (May 7, 2020)
Either my mom forgot to pass on the genetic code for having eyes in the back of my head or those eyes were blinded shortly after I was born. I cannot see what my kids are doing when they are not in front of me (please do not tell my children this). People say if one sense is dulled, others often become heightened.
Last night, I was in my room when I heard my oldest place his dinner plate in the sink instead of in the dishwasher. I immediately called out to him to correct his error. He looked at his brother and said “What? How did she know I did that? Does she know everything?” My heart felt a little bit of pride that my spidey-hearing had amazed my teenage son.
Unfortunately, when my husband died and I lost his two hands along with all the work they accomplished, I did not grow an extra set of arms. I still have not learned how to be in two places at once either. So, when we went kayaking on Saturday and my oldest (Edward) was using the excursion as aerobic exercise, paddling as fast down the river to an offloading ramp he had never before seen while my youngest was laughing that he could run up on every sandbar and downed tree branch, I ended up in a bind.
After commanding that all phones be left at home for their safekeeping, I told Edward not to get farther down the river than I could see. His fourteen-year-old brain translated that into “Don’t get farther away than that bend right there until I am on the river with you and then speed away as fast as you can and enjoy your paddling and I will see you in two hours.” I know this because he told me later while trying to build his very bad defense.
About an hour into the ride, we had to cross over a log jam so I laid eyes on him as he waited for help with his kayak. After that, I had no hope of catching him. I asked people on the way down if they had seen him. The first stranger said “Yeah, he is about 1-2 minutes ahead of you.” I was relieved. The next strangers said he was about five minutes out in front.
I noticed a carabineer and rope on the back of my kayak and clipped it to John’s kayak so I could paddle the two of us while he sat in the back begging me for snacks. I fed him what I had and he transitioned from exerting any paddling effort at all to sounding like he was writing a food journal for the New York Times on the best snack foods to eat while your mother rows you in a boat down a stream.
Thirty minutes later, I asked a man and his friend if they had seen my fourteen-year-old. “Oh, do you know that kid who was paddling like crazy? He’s way ahead of you. We saw him and started worrying about him because he was so young and all alone and moving really fast.”
Do they ever consider extenuating circumstances when handing out “Parent of the Year Awards” to single parents? I did tell my son not to get that far ahead of me (meaning I knew him well enough to predict the possibility of his Herculean attempt). Surely the laws of physics should weigh in. The reality was, as a mother, I was literally outmanned even before we stepped into the river. As a near man, Edward was a faster paddler than me. By this point, Edward also had a 15-minute head start for which, even if I did suddenly develop manly arms, I would never be able to compensate. Lastly, Edward wasn’t paddling two boats – one of which was holding a boy more interested in delivering commentaries on his dried mango than with navigating his craft around river debris.
I had two choices – freak out and continue to head down the river while freaking out or beg God to give my son the wisdom to know when to get out of the water and continue to head down the river. Either way, I needed to continue to head down the river.
I have freaked out a lot in my life. I am very, very experienced at it. But on this occasion, my son’s life could actually and literally have depended on the decisions that I made right then. My vast experience finally paid off as it taught me that I could not allow my brain to be hijacked by the freak-out dance it liked to perform for me during crises. If I borrowed trouble, it would know where to find me and this was not a kind of trouble I wanted finding me.
I prayed and then I told John, “If your brother isn’t there when we get to the take-out point, I will have to call the police and ask them to check down the river for me.” Having a plan of action made me feel like there would be something to do besides throw up my hands in despair.
“You said that way too calmly, mom,” John said, amused that while I was concerned for his brother, I was willing to wait to call in reinforcements.
When we finally arrived at the take-out point, there were a lot of people there. Edward was standing on the shore, defiantly. He had a look that said he had waited on us for eons. I was relieved to see him and know the drama was over. At the same time, though, I felt very vulnerable. I couldn’t keep my own son safe because I couldn’t be in two places at once like his dad and I used to be.
Day 64 (May 8, 2020)
About a week or so ago, my son’s orthodontist called to reschedule the appointment he had missed 6 weeks earlier – before the great toilet paper shutdown of 2020. The phone call itself was weird – no one had called me to schedule anything in so long that I had to consider first whether it was a prank.
The visit itself occurred this week. It was like something out of a bizarre sci-fi movie where all the children have to wear the same white tunic and part their hair in the same direction. Once my son was wearing the correct uniform and hair part, he was instructed to brush his teeth with exactly 100 strokes in each direction. Then we were to drive to the parking lot of the orthodontist’s office. We were explicitly told to arrive exactly 10 minutes early. If we arrived too early, they would assume we were there to see the podiatrist on the third floor. If we arrived too late, they would not have time to sanitize after my son’s visit and so would not accept us.
Upon our arrival, we were to text the office at 555-4BR-ACES. They would then make us wait for exactly 7.34 minutes before requesting that my son be sent up without me. When he arrived on the second story, he was to knock three times and then wait very patiently as they listened for any sign of a cough before showing him in the door to sit in a chair that had been sanitizing in ultraviolet rays for a minimum of 15 minutes since the last occupant left.
What happened inside the office, I will never know. Kind of like you never really know what the aliens do to their abductee brains before sending people back to earth in the sci-fi movies. That night, I did see a faint blue glow from under his bed when I went to check on him…