An Apology from a Gen X Mom to her Gen Z Kids Regarding Gun Violence

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if all guns shot only marshmallows?

So accustomed are we in the United States to gun violence that yesterday’s shooting at a King Soopers grocery store initially only registered in me slightly more disgust than the shootings last week in Atlanta. When my mother-in-law casually mentioned the developing news story before dinner, I decided not to investigate immediately. The story would likely be the same as we have seen myriad times before. Innocent citizens going about the business of their daily lives, murdered by some disgruntled, disturbed male in possession of a deadly weapon. It was just another day in America, a place where the right to procure military-grade weaponry trumps the right of every day citizens to shop, worship, view movies, attend school, or enjoy a concert or social event without marking out an explicit exit strategy just in case. We accept metal detectors at sporting events and music venues as part of normal life. We sigh when we learn of another shooting, and then we move on and wait for the next one. It’s inevitable as the phases of the moon.

As a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder and a former 8-year resident of the Boulder area, I naively imagined my favorite college town was immune to such tragedies. Boulder, set against the backdrop of the Flatirons and the Rocky Mountains, is a highly educated, liberal-minded town, the kind of place where the hippy vibe and omnipresent Subaru Outbacks belie a laid back, outdoorsy spirit and not the inner-city mean streets where you might imagine a shooting spree would occur. Boulder, with its protected open spaces, fine dining, and university ties, seemed insulated to me somehow. But nowhere in this country are you safe, and I should have known better than to imagine Boulder was an exception.

I have written about gun violence before. A long-time Colorado resident, I’m no stranger to the spectacle of mass shootings. I was 30 when two teenagers shocked the nation by shooting up Columbine High School in my hometown of Littleton. In 2012, I was 44 when we were returning from a trip to the mountains and I had to inform my sons about a mass casualty event in an Aurora movie theater, 20-some miles from our home. The following year we witnessed another school shooting down the street from our home at Arapahoe High School. Now, in 2021, we once again had to discuss a horrific shooting in a place they have visited many times. They were not exactly surprised.

As a parent, the most difficult part about the proliferation of random gun violence is not the fear of losing my sons in a mass casualty event (although they never get dropped at school — or anywhere else — without that thought crossing my mind), but is instead the tough conversations I have with them after more innocents have been murdered. Our oldest was born two years after Columbine. He and his brother have grown up in a world I could not have imagined as a teenager hanging out in malls and skating rinks and concert halls without a thought in my mind about guns. Their youth was defined by fear of gun-related violence. The toll that school lockdowns and shooting safety drills have taken on their psyches is measurable in their anger, frustration, and anxiety. After I informed my oldest about the shooting yesterday evening, his response was predictable. He immediately became angry, swearing that he would never raise his own children in this country. He then pivoted to fear, asking me if I had given any thought to expatriating to a less gun-happy country. Finally he settled upon bitterness, saying only that he was “done” with it. If in the past 21 years since the violence at Columbine we adults haven’t been able to find a solution to this situation, he knows there is a little hope for change going forward. Our divided political landscape suggests he is correct in this assumption.

Our sons are disillusioned. Their reality is that adults have failed them on sensible gun legislation, among other things. They are frustrated and scared and angry, and you can’t blame them. They are right. The ever-present threat of death at someone else’s gun-toting hands has gifted their generation with legitimate mental duress. When you’ve been doing lockdown drills since elementary school, barricading yourself in a classroom and hiding under your desk in preparation for becoming a human target, you might feel unimportant and unheard. On January 6th when the US Capitol building was attacked by a violent mob, both our sons said that maybe now the lawmakers would be able to understand what it’s like to be a student in today’s schools, to be hiding and fearful. Gen Z is filled with depressed, anxious, and lost individuals. Youth suicide rates climbed 56% between 2007 and 2017. Today’s kids are struggling for many reasons, and the adults in the room seem okay with it. Or at least we don’t seem to care enough about the mental and emotional health of our own children and grandchildren to make substantive changes for them.

I’m sorry, boys. I’m sorry adults in my generation and others haven’t done more to protect you and your peers. I’m sorry I’ve had to tell you too, too many times about lives lost in pointless shootings in schools and theaters and churches and shopping centers. I’m sorry that my donations to organizations fighting for commonsense gun legislation, my letters and calls to our congressional representatives in DC, and my attendance at various protest marches against gun violence weren’t even close to enough to help effectuate meaningful change. I’m sorry that our government hasn’t made headway on this issue and that we’ve accepted that your loss of innocence and sense of personal safety are the price for protecting the Second Amendment and the freedoms of those who choose to own guns. You deserve better. I see that. I see your fears and I know how these preventable tragedies vex you and affect your mental health. Your elders have no legitimate excuses. And I’m sorry.

I’ve Gotta Be Me

Meme borrowed from someone better capable than I at creating memes

My journey towards personal growth is, I imagine, similar to the one many other people have undertaken. It’s one step forward, two steps back on perpetual repeat. There have been times when I have felt that I was getting there, wherever “there” is. But there have been many more moments when I have realized with considerable chagrin that I am not as far along as I had hoped. The secret is now and has always been just to keep moving and not give up. I may never make it to that mythical place where true mental peace and emotional well being reside, but I can keep heading there, even if I occasionally feel like Sisyphus pushing that damn boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down for me to move upwards again in perpetuity.

As disappointing as it has been for me to accept, I am human. I spent my first forty years simply coping with the life choices I made based on a model of my life that others crafted. And I was living my life disconnected from why I was heading in the direction I was going. I was merely going. Then, I woke up. And when that happened, I got sad. Sad that I had gone along unaware for so long, sad that I had stopped believing in my dreams, sad that I had decided to take a path others chose for me, and sad that I had perpetuated the self-restrictive mindset I developed as a young child to endure mental and emotional abuses. I wallowed in the sad place for a long time, flailing around, unsure of how to save myself, sometimes unsure if I was even worth saving. Just when I’d make a breakthrough in one area and walk from the darkness towards the light, my eyes would adjust and I’d realize I’d escaped one small hole just to land in a different, slightly roomier one. C’est la vie.

Last night while having dinner with my family and discussing my struggle to find peace, my sister-in-law pointed out that the decision on which way to proceed ultimately comes down to one notion. You need to look at your options and decide which one you can live with and which one will only lead to regret. As time for me on this troubled, beautiful planet wanes via the non-stop aging process, I need to choose: do I continue worrying about making others comfortable and happy with me or do I carve out a place where I am the protagonist and not simply supporting cast in someone else’s story? We all have life choices, and they usually come down to how much work we are willing to do and how much pain we are willing to endure. Some people aren’t cognizant enough to realize they have choices or that they have already unconsciously made one they are following. Some people decide that choosing between options is too difficult and requires too much work and decide to remain on their current trajectory. I am once again at a fork, and I know I need to step off the old, well-worn path and onto the new one. I’ve made my decision. I’ve been slowly gathering fortitude and momentum. Right now, I am the little, toy car that has been wound up and is being held above the ground, poised for release. I just need to set my wheels onto the path I know is right for me, let go of fear, and see what happens. I need to choose myself and leave others to fight their own windmills. I cannot help them, just as they cannot help me.

I have been working to make peace with myself and my decisions for a long time, but I kept getting caught up in other’s expectations and feedback. You can’t move to the next phase of growth until you let go of the comments and obligations put in your way by those who would keep you tethered to your old paradigm because that is what benefits them. All of this is to say that I’ve been working for a long time to run out of shits to give about what others would tell me is the “right” way to live. One of the best books I’ve read recently is Untamed by Glennon Doyle. So much of what she describes as her journey feels like my journey too; she’s simply farther along on her path than I am on mine, which means her words can serve as a beacon for me to follow when I am uncertain and thrashing about. One of the quotes from that book that speaks to me the loudest is this one:

“This life is mine alone. So I have stopped asking people for directions to places they’ve never been.”

While others can offer input, they don’t know me, my heart, or my potential. I alone control those things if I am brave enough to own my power. I’m choosing to recognize that my path is mine. No one else knows what directions to give me because this is not their path and, ultimately, it is not their choice. Allowing others to lead me along in my life, like an ass on a rope, has gotten me too far down the wrong road. But I’ve had time now to stop, to look back, and to contemplate where I’ve gotten to by allowing others to hold the reins. I know for certain now that the path that will lead me to regrets is the one I’ve been traveling. I know I can do better for myself, and those people who really love me and appreciate me will cheer me along even if the direction I’m heading isn’t one they understand. The rest? Well, the rest aren’t my problem anymore. I gotta choose me or I’m lost forever.

Don’t Let The Gaslight Dim Your Shine

“Leave safety behind. Put your body on the line. Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say.” ~Maggie Kuhn

Back in the days when everything about me was still shiny and new

I haven’t spoken to my father in six months. This is not the first time in our relationship when silence has come to fall between us. When I was 23, we had a dispute that led to two full years cessation of contact between us over questions I had regarding a car he had previously owned but that I had purchased from him. During those two years, birthdays and holidays went by without any notes or cards or calls. Even my paternal grandmother stopped acknowledging my existence. I was exiled because I’d had the temerity to ask for advice regarding something that was now my problem. The argument we had over the car and the period of time when we were estranged came to an end only after I had gotten engaged, and my mother told me the right thing to do would be to reach out, share my news, and ask him to walk me down the aisle at my wedding. I didn’t want to do it, but I acquiesced, convinced it was the decent thing to do.

This most recent period of estrangement began in September, but it had been brewing for years. I had asked him a multitude of times not to send me ANY political or religious email forwards, as we hold diametrically opposed views on those topics, among many others. On my birthday in May, he came by to bring me a card and, while we were standing socially distanced from one another in my front yard, he chose to celebrate my birthday by insulting me. We were discussing the necessity of masks during the pandemic, and he let me know that maybe if I watched “real news” as opposed to fake news I would know better. The remainder of that brief visit was strained. We kept our distance after that until in September he sent me another political email, one meant to instruct me once again in how wrong I am regarding my political views. I had had enough. I replied to his message, said I could only assume he had no respect for me or my repeated requests, and therefore I was blocking him from my phone and my email, and taking a break. I was proud of myself for standing my ground. I have been at peace ever since.

Yesterday morning, as usual, I got an emailed, advance photo of the mail to be arriving in the afternoon. In yesterday’s photographic evidence was an image of a long envelope addressed to me in my father’s neatly printed handwriting, all capital letters. I froze. Peace was gone. My stomach flopped nervously. My heart began to race. My mouth lost all moisture. My hands trembled. I began to perspire. My mind raced. I sat in the car for a long while trying to calm myself enough to walk into the grocery store. As I think about that envelope now, the same anxiety pulses through me. I can hazard a guess as to what is written inside, but I don’t know for certain as I could not bring myself to gather in the mail from the box yesterday. So it sits there still as I try to decide if I want to travel down that road again.

Most of my life has been a steady stream of people, beginning with my parents, telling me how to treat my parents and how to feel about their actions. For forty-plus years, their words kept me in line. They told me that I owed my parents respect and support and kindness and gratitude. They told me I was lucky because I’d had a home, food, and a couple new outfits at the beginning of each school year. It’s not like I was chained in a basement for eighteen years. I should be grateful. About seven years ago, however, I came to see things differently. I began noticing the anxiety that surfaced when my phone flashed with my parents’ numbers. I’m guessing that if you come from a family where your parents taught you through their words and actions that you were loved, respected, and cherished, you feel that same way about them and can’t imagine not having them in your life. You want to take care of them they way they took care of you. But what is your responsibility to parents when your memories of them aren’t happy and filled with love? What if thoughts of your parents bring you only PTSD? What then?

It’s only recently that I have come to understand that living your life out of duty and a sense of fairness to others in a way that compromises your own mental stability is not a healthy way to live. I don’t know what’s in that letter in the mailbox from my dad. I suppose it could contain an apology or a plea to end the discord between us. I imagine that is unlikely, though, as I have never received such a thing from either of my parents yet. My parents, god bless them, are just who they are. They believe they have done right by me, the best they could, better than they got perhaps. But my cotton-mouthed, trembling-hand anxiety belies that notion. My body’s physical response means that it understands danger and aims to protect me even if I have been unwilling to protect myself. I’m 52 now, old enough to comprehend that if the thought of speaking to someone sends you into a panic attack, you can choose not to speak to them. The dozens upon dozens of small infractions by my parents built up over the years, leaving me with a fight-or-flight mentality where they are concerned. Seven years of weekly therapy has not been able to untangle that mess. I’m better now than I used to be because at least I am able to recognize the apprehension and discomfort and to honor it. I’ve learned that I have choices. I’ve learned that it’s not right to feel dread when you think of seeing or speaking to your parents. It’s not normal. It is not a universal experience. You know who taught me that? My sons. They did not have the same childhood I did. I raised them to know they are my entire world, the sunshine in my heart. And now as young adults they look out for me the way many children look out for their aging parents. They want me to be safe and happy and to know I am loved and appreciated.

So, I may go get the mail today and set that letter aside for a day when I am stronger and know its contents cannot hurt me. Or I may let my husband read it and decide what to do with it. Or I might just run it through a shredder because everything I need to know about our situation has already been played out cyclically for decades. I’m not certain if speaking my truth here will cause members of my family to become angry with me. I’m not sure who I might alienate with this admission. I only know one thing. I need to stand my ground and put other people’s ideas about how I should treat my parents out of my field of view. They haven’t walked in my shoes. They don’t carry my scars. And maybe if I turn off the gaslight I have been carrying around since it was handed to me in my childhood I won’t be able to read that letter at all.

The Next Chapter

“I’m not all knowing yet, but I am knowing.” ~Joe, age 6

Our son starts college next week. Although it’s taken 19.5 years to get to this milestone and I’ve had ample time to prepare myself for its eventuality, I find myself shellshocked. Not going to lie. This transition has hit me harder than I thought it would. You see, since my sons were born, I’ve played a little game with my heart. I’ve tried to convince it (and rightly so) that my sons are not mine. I mean, they’re mine biologically, but I have spent their lifetimes reminding myself that they don’t belong to me. They are now and have always been their own entities. I have carried on this charade in my head to protect myself because life is precarious. You may create their existence, but your offspring are meant to leave you, one way or another. The job of parenting is both the best and worst on earth. You get to witness the growth and development of this amazing creature who is part you but wholly not you, and then you get to stand and wave goodbye as they (hopefully) get into their own car, pull into their lane, and drive away. What a stupid, incredible ride we’re on.

My oldest has been my nearly constant companion. He is, what others negatively describe, as a momma’s boy. He’s my buddy. I’m not his friend, but he is mine. His absence is going to affect so many aspects of the life I have known that I don’t know how to begin to process it. The only thing keeping me afloat right now is the flip side, the narrative that I have pushed since he was born. He’s his own person, and he deserves and has worked hard for his chance to explore his purpose, to take his opportunities and see where they might lead him. And while I will miss him like crazy, I have also never been more proud of anything in my life. This kid is boundless. He’s no stranger to difficulty. And true to his new school’s motto, per ardua surgo — through adversity I rise — he has, and I believe he will continue to do so.

When he was finishing first grade and told me through tears that he didn’t want to go on to second grade because he was too dumb, I worried. How was this kid going to thrive? How would we get him there? It took a while to get him on the right path, but we did it. I found help. I found school psychologists and hospital psychiatrists who explained to me what obstacles he needed to overcome. I sought out schools that would help him develop not only study skills and common knowledge, but life and coping skills. And along the way, he learned how he works. He has a deeper understanding of who he is at 19 than I had of myself until just recently. He has that self-knowledge because I helped him change his narrative. Together, we flipped that script. I pointed him the right direction, and he did the work. Our persistence has brought us to the week he leaves for college. And I am a tangled mess of emotion, equal parts excitement and weepiness. What I am not, however, is anxious, because I’ve seen this kid discover his own power. I know he gets it.

In the end, when he is off at school, what I will be left with is a wise and grateful heart. I know he has roots. He loves his family. He knows what home means and he carries it everywhere he goes. I’ve done a mother’s job and I’ve done it well enough. Now it’s time for us both to grow again, to expand our horizons, to stand on the precipice of the future with our eyes trained on what possibilities lie ahead for us. We may not be together, but we will never be apart because we share a story. We’re just beginning a new chapter. And while I don’t know where this story goes from here, I have reason to believe its authors know how to craft a compelling script.

Covid-19 Is The Honey Badger: It Doesn’t Care

I have Covid-19. I got the positive test result last Thursday evening, a full four days after I visited an urgent care center for a PCR test. I’d been having mild cold symptoms for a week when I opened a jar of Vicks Vapor Rub and couldn’t smell a whiff of it. Damn. They aren’t kidding about that loss of smell thing.

Although hundreds of thousands of Americans regrettably have already died due to the virus, experts estimate as few as 1 in 10 of us have contracted it. With that in mind, I thought I would share my experience with it.

The most commonly listed symptoms of Covid-19 are fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, and sore throat. I didn’t have any of these symptoms, which is why I believed I had simply caught your basic, garden-variety cold after Denver had a 50+ degree temperature drop in less than 24 hours. There was no reason to suspect it might be Covid. The county I live in had, at that point, some of the lowest case numbers in the Denver metro area. And since the beginning of March, I haven’t eaten in a restaurant or visited a bar. I’ve not been to a wedding or a party. I haven’t spent time in crowded places, indoors or out. Although I often have groceries delivered, if I have to visit a store I have done so at off-peak hours staying more than 6 feet from others, turning around and exiting aisles when other people enter them. I use hand sanitizer when I go out and wash my hands and disinfect my phone as soon as I get home. I have taken, according to the experts, all the necessary precautions to stay healthy along with the other three members of my household, and yet here we are. Two positive cases and two presumptive positive cases. What can you do?

Fortunately, my family and I have no comorbidity issues. Overall, we are in generally good health, and I think that has helped us keep our viral load at a level where our immune systems are able to work as they should. It’s been over two weeks since the onset of my stuffy head, my taste and smell have returned, and I am confident that when my quarantine ends on Friday I will be feeling 100% healthy again. My family and I are still checking our temperatures and conducting daily pulse ox readings to be sure we are on the right track, but so far so good.

The most difficult thing about our mild Covid cases has been the stigma of having it. Our youngest was Patient 0 in his junior class, the one who caused in-person classes to be cancelled for two weeks. Friends and family ask us daily how we are feeling, as if they are expecting us to take a turn for the worst, and their fear has made me more uncomfortable than my symptoms. I keep wondering if I am missing something and if the other shoe is about to drop and I will be in the hospital tomorrow. Others inquire as to where we think we got it, as if it matters and as if we had been irresponsible somehow, and I have to shrug because I have no clue. We had been with no one who had symptoms or had tested positive. We just came in contact with it somewhere at some point. Covid-19 is like the honey badger. It doesn’t care. It goes where it wants and does what it wants.

Given how case numbers are exploding across the country and no one seems to be going into forced lockdown, I trust the scientists who expect 40-70% of our population will have contracted this before a vaccine is readily available to all. As each day passes, I hear more and more about new cases among friends and their families. After my experience with Covid, this is my advice. Wear a mask in public. Take care of yourself. Make sleep a priority. Stay hydrated. Take Vitamins D3 and C. If you get any symptoms that seem like cold or flu, pay attention to them and record when they start. And get tested if you aren’t feeling well, even if you have only mild symptoms. This virus has become politicized, but it is not political. It doesn’t care if you are liberal or conservative. It doesn’t care if you think you are being careful. I know people who have thumbed their nose at its existence and haven’t contracted it yet, but they could and might yet still. We were taking legitimate precautions and that might have helped reduce our exposure and keep our symptoms our mild. I’m glad we are not huge risk takers by nature and heeded the science. And I’m grateful now that we are coming out on the other end with at least some immunity to it, no matter how short-lived it might be.

Hospitals across the country are becoming overcrowded, and healthcare workers are struggling and also getting sick. Some areas are nearing the time when doctors will have to make hard decisions about who is favored to receive potentially life-saving care. Some areas are running out of healthy care workers to staff hospitals. The bottom line is that this is serious, whether or not you want it to be, and the situation is only getting worse. And you just don’t know if you will be one of the unlucky ones who becomes an unfortunate statistic of this pandemic. I know we all have limited time on this planet, but if you take any precautions at all in your life, be it seat belt or bike helmet or flu vaccine, be careful out there now. Covid-19 is a pathogen. It doesn’t care what you believe about it.

Please, look out for others even if it seems like a bother or a burden. We’re in this together, and our common enemy thrives when we pretend it doesn’t exist.

Pandemic Alert: Check Your Introverts

I am your garden variety, classic introvert. To be at my best, I require alone time. And, by alone time, I do not mean an hour sequestered in a room while others rattle around on the other side of a closed door. I mean ALONE, as in no one present I have to answer to, no one to request my assistance or bend my ear, and nothing on my agenda or to-do list. That is how I recharge. Alone time is what enables me to be a marginally decent human being in the company of others most of the time. Without it, well, I start to lose my shit. Not only do I become irritable, but I feel adrift. I forget myself. I forget who I am and what inspires me and what makes my life worth showing up for. When I exist only as part of my coterie, I shrivel. It’s not that I don’t love my people. I do. They are almost everything. The intersectionality of our lives makes the yearly trips around the sun fascinating, joyful, and worthwhile. As an introvert, though, I just can’t show up for them as the best version of myself when I don’t have time to unplug from the world we share and plug into my own space. Sometimes my brain needs to be powered off so it can start up again fresh.

This is where I find peace

So, imagine my chagrin when in March, Covid-19 brought my peaceful, recharging time to a screeching halt. After what had been three quarters of a school year during which I had between 7-9 hours a day completely to my own devices, suddenly there was no alone time to be found anywhere. Initially, it was sort of amazing. I reveled in it being the four of us, keeping each other and the world safer by staying home together. I staked out my claim in the master bedroom, my husband set up his office across the hall, and the boys did online classes from their basement boy cave. As we adjusted to grocery delivery, weekly take out instead of dining out, and a sudden cessation of driving and shopping and living in the outside world, there was some bonding. After six weeks, though, life got real. I mean, we really weren’t going anywhere. None of us. We were all there. All the time. Nowhere to run. And once the novelty of our new uniforms of super cozy lounge-pants wore off, well, things got dicey until it got warm enough outside to venture out.

After spending a solid three months in each other’s presence, two things became crystal clear to me. First, we know each other well and like each other. Second, if we were to continue to like each other in the future, we would need more room to spread out. Because dealing with a pandemic and widespread political division and unrest isn’t stressful enough during a year that increasingly felt like the dawn of the apocalypse, we bought a new home and moved across town because that is how we roll. I naively thought the additional space would serve as a buffer for my introvert nerves. But, at the end of the day, wherever you go, there you are. And so I found myself still anxious and disquieted, albeit from a much larger and nicer enclosure. I had upgraded my twitchy self from a small aquarium to a deluxe Habitrail with its long tubes to escape to different spaces and a larger wheel on which to occupy myself by spinning for miles while still not actually getting anywhere.

On Sunday night, I hit a breaking point. I decided I might either end up in handcuffs or in a straight jacket if I didn’t make a break for it. So, with my family’s blessing (which felt more like several feet pushing my cranky butt out the door), I reserved a cottage 46 miles from home for two nights away, no noise, no schedule, no meal prep. Just me being me, whatever that looked like in the moment. And it has been glorious. I missed me. I’ve read, taken hikes, enjoyed a bottle of wine I didn’t have to share, sat on the screened porch and observed nature. For dinner tonight I had cheese and apples. Just cheese and apples like a picky 3 year old. Earlier today I spent about 20 minutes wandering through a cemetery and I found myself tearing up. All those lives. Were they well lived? Many, it appeared, were short-lived. If I survive this pandemic (fingers crossed), what story will I tell about my time in it? Life is fleeting and it’s for the living, and I need to be doing more of that. I need to tune out political noise, turn off the television, and go on more walks, hikes, and bike rides. I need to find things that feed my soul and do them. I need to be willing to ask for space so I can recharge. We could be in this a while.

Funny thing this pandemic. As an introvert, the words “social distancing” sounded promising. Then I learned that socially distancing myself from most meant non-stop socializing with a few. I know people, myself included, have been worried about our extravert friends because they need human interaction and without office time, sporting events, dinners out, concerts, and parties, they have been sad puppies. And they have been great about sharing what they miss and need. But, I would urge you to recall on occasion those who don’t share much. Check on your introvert friends too, the ones who are trapped in their homes with people full-time. PEOPLE. ALL. THE. TIME. They might need someone to vent to or a cottage to run to or, at the very least, a phenomenal set of noise-cancelling headphones and a door that locks. We’re all just trying to survive right now, going through these new motions and figuring out as we stumble along. Keep an eye out for each other. And, make it a priority not just to stay alive but to be alive because this life is all we get.

Virtual Postcards From My Covid-19 Vacation

“So happy I was invited, gave me a reason to get out of the city…you and your sister live in a Lemonworld.” ~The National

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At my house in Lemonworld

Our current, shared reality is, well, lackluster at best and terrifying at worst. As the number of Covid-19 deaths climbs and our world economy tanks, as the jobless claims skyrocket and citizens are sidelined at home, it’s getting downright difficult to maintain sanity. Although it was just a month ago I was looking forward to travel plans and finding plentiful packages of toilet paper during my Target runs, March seems to have lasted a lifetime since those halcyon days before the virus became everything. I find myself missing the annoyance of politics and the grind of everyday nonsense.

I had been doing my dogged best to write both to process the gravity of our situation and to bolster my flagging spirit. Writing, as it had been for me in the past, was becoming my escape, providing a sense of accomplishment and belonging. It was bringing me peace. It was my way of reaching out from my increasingly isolated, introvert world. Writing was all those things. And then suddenly it wasn’t because I found a better way out of my head.

I took a trip. I boarded a plane and now I’m on an island, basking in the sunlight, listening to the surf, and keeping myself plenty busy. I belong to the Animal Crossing world now. For the uninitiated, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a game exclusively for the Nintendo Switch console. My son downloaded the game on March 20th, its release date, a day when the virus news hit a sobering crescendo with the US State Department urging Americans to return home from abroad and Italy’s coronavirus death toll surpassing China’s. For a week, Joe played the game and showed me the sweet, wholesome world on his screen. It didn’t look like a bad place to be, so I decided to join him. Now I live on Lemonworld.

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Game fishing accomplishment

It’s been a whirlwind. I arrived here last Thursday afternoon. I settled into my tent and then began pulling weeds and gathering wood to raise funds for a house because my tent camping days are behind me. On Friday, I learned how to fish, determined how to shoot down gifts attached to helium balloons with my slingshot, and discovered that eating cherries gave me more energy to break rocks with my axe. I moved into my small cottage home, which I was able to pay off immediately because I am so industrious with my gathering and fishing and selling. Being a dutiful community member, I also began making donations to open a local museum. That same day, however, I made the horrific discovery that tarantulas live on my island. Of course they do because even peaceful tropical islands have their drawbacks. That first night, I got bitten and passed out three times because of those damn spiders. Hello, learning curve. Still, this island was beginning to feel like home and the spiders only come out at dusk, so I told Tom Nook, the tropical-garb wearing, raccoon dog fellow who brought me to the island, I was here for the long haul and thus ready to move into a bigger home.

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Visiting the Lemonworld Museum to see the coelacanth I donated

Yesterday, the spring skies opened up and it poured all day. Relentlessly determined to pay off my new, larger home (you have to catch a lot of fish to raise 198k bells — bells, you see, are the island currency), I spent my rainy day traipsing up and down the beaches trying to catch large fish I could sell to grow my bank account. I hit paydirt. On one of my expeditions, I reeled in an oarfish. Not long after that, I caught a rare coelacanth. While those fish would have netted me quite a handsome sum, I donated both to the museum because science is important. Ultimately, over the course of a long, active day, I was able to save up the full amount for my upgrade. I prefer to live debt free in paradise.

This game has been the perfect escape from these troubled times. Not only has it relieved me of infinite time to read news and perseverate over social media posts, but it has given me purpose and a sense of accomplishment (at least virtually). My sons both have the game now, and we can visit each other’s islands. Yesterday, my husband ordered himself a Switch, so soon all four of us will have an island getaway. The boys may have missed their spring break trip to Cuba, and Steve and I won’t be hanging with the stingrays on Grand Cayman in April, but at least we can still vacation together while trapped in our home. The only thing missing on my island, as far as I can tell, are pina coladas. Wonder if I can get my little raccoon dog buddy to bring me one of those?

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Soaking up the sun and listening to the surf in my happy place

 

 

Both Of Us Are Dogs In This Scenario

I am a border collie.

Emphasis on the word border. I know my job. I herd. I round the family up. I make sure no one gets left behind and that we all proceed according to a plan. I keep us moving. When I am not herding, I like my space. I am affectionate, just on my own terms. I am reserved around strangers. I am smart, adaptable, energetic, and driven. I know what I want and what I don’t want. And I’m not doing any tricks or jumping through any hoops unless it aligns with my own agenda.

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Current mood

Our dog, Ruby, is also a border collie. I can tell you everything you need to know about Ruby (and, by proxy, me) in a few anecdotes. At Puppy Kindergarten, Ruby would practice the new trick we were working on 3-4 times for a treat. Then she would walk away and curl up in the corner with her back to me as if to say, “I got where you are going with this. I’m done with your reindeer games.” Ruby likes her space. If she is on her bed in the living room and I come and sit down on a chair next to her, she will get up and go to her bed in the other room. We used to try to leave Ruby in the yard when we would go out. Sometimes she would oblige. Sometimes she would walk to her kennel, curl up inside, and obstinately refuse to come out. Eventually, she trained us to ask if she wanted to be inside or out because it became clear she would only do what she wanted. Ruby is my spirit animal.

My husband, Steve, is a Labrador retriever.

He is all the things that have made Labradors the most popular dog breed in the United States since 1991. He is cheerful, affectionate, and active. He loves to be around people and is eager to please. He looks forward enthusiastically to all things, meals, walks, sports, and social activities, in particular. You never have to go looking for Steve. He is right there when you turn around, always. And, much to my delight, he does retrieve things including groceries and my morning latte. He is amiable, sweet tempered, easy going, and happy to a fault. Everyone loves Steve. He is inherently lovable.

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Boy’s best friend

Our first dog, Machiah, was a Labrador. I can tell you everything you need to know about Machiah (and, by proxy, Steve) in a few anecdotes. Machiah hated to be alone. She would let loose with the most pathetic, heartbreaking howl when we left the house with her behind in it. Machiah never missed a meal. In fact, an hour before mealtime she began reminding us that mealtime was on the horizon. She ate like she’d never see another bite of food, and then she ate things that weren’t her food or even food at all (including, but not limited to, a lampshade, a bike seat, tissues, and bottles of contact solution). Machiah, in her older years, would rest in the grass in our backyard and let our two year old use her as a pillow. She just wanted to be close to you with her heart of gold. Sometimes I wholeheartedly believe that Machiah lives on in Steve from beyond the Rainbow Bridge.

I write all of this both as an homage to our dogs, past and present, but as a way to explain to you what life locked down in our house right now is like. Picture that exuberant Labrador, full of energy and excitement and love and affection, following that border collie around in 1300 square feet, 24/7. Imagine that border collie slowly realizing there is no place to which she can escape. That is where we are, folks.

Welcome to Day Two of the Occupation.

Spotted And Clocked At 58 MPH

 

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And thus it begins

Tonight, at 5 pm, Denver instituted a citywide stay-at-home order. This had to happen because, despite dire warnings from the Word Health Organization and the CDC, we weren’t fully grasping what it means to stay away from others. We were packing into parks, standing too close in take-out lines, and crowding into liquor stores like we’d never see another bottle of (insert favorite spirit here). We were being the child told to sit in the chair in the corner of the room who couldn’t handle sitting in the chair in the corner of the room and so slid onto the floor and inched closer and closer to her friends, assuming she could get away with it. She couldn’t. Now we’re in the principal’s office until we’ve learned our lesson, a lesson we will not soon forget.

Today is my friend Lisa’s birthday. I had a gift for her sitting on my desk, a gift I had hoped to share with her in person over a coffee date, but that was not going to happen any time soon so I put the gift in my car and drove out to leave it on her porch. While I was out enjoying my last taste of true vehicular freedom for a while, I noticed how many people were driving like Mad Max, trying to tie up loose ends before 5 pm. Restrictions are scary. People tend to react to a crisis like this in one of three ways. They either over secure to feel safe (hello, toilet paper hoarders), they rebel (hello, spring break beach goers), or they fall in line dutifully and without question.

A recovering ex-Catholic, I still fall solidly into the third category. Big surprise, right? Do as you’re told? Yes, ma’am. Sit still? Okay. Follow directions? Of course. Color within the lines? I didn’t win a major award (leg lamp not included) for coloring at age 8 by being sloppy. Obey authority? Absolutely. Stay on the right side of the Keep Out sign? Done and done. In my youth, I learned to do as I was told without wondering if I should. So, this whole lockdown fits like a puzzle piece in my DNA. If the medical experts implore isolation is necessary, I wave my Good Girl banner and march to my room. It’s go time.

I was listening to Untamed, the new book by Glennon Doyle, today as I drove to Lisa’s. In one chapter, she discusses a zoo cheetah that has seemingly been tamed yet still paces the enclosure, looking for an escape, longing to run freely at the righteous, breakneck full speed she was built for. I started thinking about my own cage. About how I learned unquestioningly to do as I’m told. Like the zoo cheetah, I buried the wild me to live within the boundaries I’ve been told are mine to inhabit. And, in situations like this one, where I am required to confine at home for the greater good, being well acquainted with enclosures is helpful. But, I’ve been growing lately. I’ve been taking small steps, leaning casually against the fenced boundaries I adopted as my own, testing for a weak link, wondering if I’d be brave enough to venture out if I could just find a way to push through. So I am going to use this time in confinement to take a good, long look at what might be waiting for me on the other side of this enclosure. When this virus is at last contained and we are once again free to move, I will be standing by the door ready.

When it opens, I may linger at the threshold and stretch lazily for a spell, summoning my nerve. Then I am going to step out, slowly and with great intention at first and then later with fewer f***s to give, to do what represents my best self, discarding the mantle of appropriate “womanly” behavior on the ground where I stood. Life is shorter than me, people. We’ll be seeing that soon as community members, both young and old, fall victim to this virus and we watch families mourn unexpected losses of those to whom they were unable to say a last goodbye. Maybe even our own. If I am one of the lucky majority who escapes, I vow to live differently on the other side. I will still follow rules when I need to. I’m just going to push my boundaries more often.

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Cheetah weighing her options

The Avocado Advisement: A First World Story

“This is the first time in history when you can save humanity by just sitting on your couch and watching tv. Don’t f*#k it up.”  ~timely Internet meme

We are spoiled Americans. As a family, we are fortunate enough to be able to afford most of what we want when we want it, within reason. I mean, we don’t drive new Jaguars or BMWs. We do not live in a huge, stately home in a golf course community. We don’t take yearly trips to Europe. But we are able to buy a movie on our Apple TV without considering if the $20 is a waste, and the four of us can dine out a few times a month at decent, sit-down restaurants without being unable to pay our other bills because of it. If our sons need new jeans, they get them. If I want to buy a $75 concert ticket, I do it without guilt or stress. I know it is a gift to be in this position. And I do realize it makes us unlike most other American families. We are the lucky ones.

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The ghost of avocados past

A few weeks ago, when I saw the writing on the wall regarding this pandemic, I went shopping. I didn’t panic buy or hoard multiple packages of toilet paper, but I was able to purchase about two weeks’ worth of groceries in advance knowing we wouldn’t be going to the store as often once the virus began to spread widely among our population. Perishables were mostly off the table on my stock-up trip. Not a problem, I told myself as I bought some frozen fruits and vegetables. Then this morning I decided I would love an avocado for my bagel. Alas, there were none.

In my past life, I might run out to Safeway and grab a few of those bumpy-skinned babies to satisfy my craving. But, that past life was in the olden days two weeks ago. Now, I honestly have to look at a trip to the store differently than I did then. Now there are exponentially more people walking around unknowingly affected by COVID-19 than there were two weeks ago. My risk of contracting the virus is much higher, at a time when the hospitals are becoming increasingly overwhelmed. So I had to have a long talk with my fortunate self about going without. I suspect that over the coming days and weeks I will have to lecture myself many more times about the importance of remaining at home. I need to learn the delayed gratification I have been delaying learning. To that end, I made myself this flow chart, which I can refer to in the future replacing, as necessary, “avocado” with whatever thing it is I think I desperately need but really don’t.

 

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On voluntary house arrest, there is time to create flowcharts

This is our new normal. It may be our normal for eighteen plus months. I need to adapt to these temporary restrictions. They will be short-lived and my efforts could save lives, including my own and those of my husband and sons. I’ve lived a fortunate and entitled adult life, thus far, traveling freely through the world, buying grass-fed tenderloin steaks when I felt like spoiling myself. Now it’s time to do with less. In the grand scheme of history, what the times are asking of me is not a lot. It’s simply the matter of a small adjustment.

Someday the virus will run its course. Someday we will have a treatment or a vaccine. Someday we will once again be able to run to the store on a whim for that one topping we wanted but didn’t buy the first time through. When that day comes again, you best believe avocado toast will feel like the decadent treat it is and always was. We just didn’t realize that our last avocado toast would be our last avocado toast for a while. Live in the moment, my friends, and make sure to appreciate what you have today because tomorrow you might not have it. I’m grateful for the opportunity to remember and appreciate my great fortune and teach my sons to do the same. And when this is behind us, we’ll celebrate. We’ll don toilet paper togas and feed each other avocado toast just because we can. And then we’ll fold up the toilet paper and tuck it safely away for a later crisis because you just never know what tomorrow might hold.