Get Off My Lawn

I pay attention to dreams. I believe that, at least in part, your dreams are meant to help you work through issues you are struggling with in your waking life. I do remember most of my dreams when I wake, if only for a little while. Sometimes, though, they are odd enough and vivid enough that I find myself telling someone about them. Those dreams often come on nights when I take a melatonin or Benadryl before heading to bed.

Last night’s dream started out normal enough. Steve and I were returning home after a trip. It wasn’t the home we live in now, but it was supposed to be. This house was an older, two-story Craftsman-style home, that had been renovated inside but still retained its period charm. At any rate, we recognized it as home and were glad to be there. I carried some of my bags upstairs and grabbed the knob on the bedroom door. It turned, but as I pushed the door to open it, I felt resistance. Someone was on the other side blocking me from going in. I put the bags down and pushed again. It gave enough for me to see that there were people inside the room. Rather than being frightened by this, I was puzzled. I pushed again, and the door opened enough that I was able to recognize one of the individuals as a former owner. I also noticed that none of our belongings were in the room. The room had been returned to the way it looked when we toured it, complete with their bed, dressers, lamps, and knick knacks. What the hell?

“What are you doing in our bedroom?” I asked, more annoyed than concerned.

“We decided we want our house back,” came their reply. “You can’t live here anymore.”

“Ummm….we own this house now,” I said firmly. “You need to get out or I will call the police.”

“We never wanted to leave this house,” they said. “You tricked us into selling it and now we are taking it back.”

At this point, it occurred to me that I needed to get Steve. I walked down the stairs and told him to come up. I turned the handle again, and this time they let us both in. We had a back-and-forth conversation that went much like the previous one, but at least now Steve was up to speed. I was getting quite angry at them for being in our house. I mean, we’d been paying the bills and the taxes and who the hell were they to just say we couldn’t be here anymore? This was our damn house. I escalated to threats.

“You need to get out or I am going to start moving you out myself. It would be a shame if I dropped this,” I said, picking up a Lladro figurine of a woman in fancy dress.

“Go ahead and drop it,” the previous owner said. “We’ll just add it to the lawsuit we’re filing against you.”

“You can’t sue us. We own the house. You sold it to us. The title is in our name, and your signatures are on file.”

He said, “We never wanted to sell. You tricked us.”

“That is not how it happened. We told you we liked your house and asked if you would sell. We told you to name your price. You did, and we paid it and the sale went through.”

“We want it back. We’re not leaving.”

At this point, Steve and I looked at each other and then walked downstairs, completely perplexed about what to do with the squatters in our bedroom. I suggested we call our realtor, Andy, as back up. We did and went outside to wait for him.

When he got out of his car, he was on the phone. Realtors are always on their phones. He ended his call, and we told him what was going on.

“So, what do we do now?” I inquired.

“I have no idea,” he said, sounding as confused as we felt. “I’ve never had something like this happen before.”

I told him he had better figure it out. What the hell do you do when someone who used to own your space has moved back in without violence? It was a conundrum, but I had no doubt they did not belong there and must go.

About that time, I woke up. I told Steve about my crazy dream, not really thinking about what it meant. A couple hours later, though, it came to me. Yesterday, I was talking to Steve about how I am feeling more powerful and capable of standing up for myself and making my choices from a place of what I want, rather than what is convenient for or desired by someone else. This dream is a perfect representation of that. I wasn’t afraid for my safety when I found them in my house because I felt legitimate claim to my space. I didn’t want them there and I knew they had no right to be there, so I had no plans of letting them take from me what I knew was rightfully mine. I merely had to determine the proper way to oust them. That is progress for me. In my past, I’ve too often let others run roughshod over my wishes, but I’ve been working to stake my own claim in my life and realize that my personal choices and mental well being matter more than keeping the peace with others. It’s a good place to be. I’m on the right path at long last.

Now I just need to get those people out of my house and then off my damn lawn.

The One With All The Memes

They say you can tell a lot about a person by the memes they save to their phone. So, here are some of my favorites. Enjoy this harmless peek inside my weird little brain. You’ve been warned.

This is groundlessness
My first love was an oxford comma
Sometimes Piglet’s inspirational wisdom is just annoying
Cheeses, this one is probably in my top 3
Story of my life thus far, but I am working on it
The hill I am willing to die on
It is possible to be an anxious person but not a worrier
Yes and yes
The older I get, the more this has proven true so now I do the things I don’t want to miss instead of overthinking it
This is so clever…and true
All the feels about this one
If you want to call, you have to text me first
My current mantra
yep
My prayer to the football gods every single football weekend
Definitely true
Hahahahahaha

There are so many good ones, but let’s not go overboard, am I right?

Diffusing The Power Of Shenpa

Indeed

Yesterday I wrote about learning to deflect when something or someone triggers me to act in ways that run counter to what is healthy for me. And then, in a wonderful act of serendipity as I was doing homework for the Midlife Mindfulness class I attend, I discovered that our topic completely ties in with the work I did yesterday in therapy and then in my blog post from last night. Talk about the Universe wanting me to succeed! Everything is lining right up.

This meeting’s focus was on the concept of shenpa, which Pema Chodron, world-renowned Buddhist nun, describes as “the hook.” The hook is what I would call a trigger; it’s the sound, the person, the scent, the comment, the situation, the whatever, that sets you off into a negative pattern of self-censure, jealousy, blame, anger, or frustration, which leads you to actions or words that may seem to comfort you in the moment but that ultimately lead you away from peace rather than towards it. I feel this is my life in a nutshell. I grew up in a highly reactive household, so I learned to be reactive to everything. Because of this, I have long admired people who seem to roll with things, who accept the reality of the situation without an emotional meltdown. I have not known many people like this, though, so I am certain that reacting to shenpa is common for most of us.

The experience of shenpa immediately removes us from the present moment and sends us into a spiral of destructive thoughts and behaviors. The way I most often experience shenpa in my life is through my verbal outbursts or my desire to escape a situation that troubles me. Both are an overreaction, usually as a result of a comment or action taken by another person. Instead of quietly sitting for a moment with the thing that has hooked me and deciding how or even if it requires reaction from me, I am off and running and the hook sets. So, this is my next big challenge: I need to recognize the hook before taking the bait. Pema Chodron says the best way to stop this cycle is through meditation because it is only by observing our thoughts that we are able to change them and our actions around them. Through meditation, we slowly gain control of the monkey mind that will make off with us if we don’t see its little game.

I am setting my alarm for 6:20 tomorrow morning so I can get in ten minutes of meditation before I begin my day. Ten minutes doesn’t sound like much until you have to make sitting still with yourself and chasing away distractions a priority. It’s more difficult than you might imagine. I was thinking I can still use the Wonder Woman golden wrist cuffs, which I wrote about yesterday, to deflect what triggers me. I can still cross my arms in defiance of the shenpa that appear. And then I can use my meditation skills to stay present, experience my discomfort, and then either let it go or react calmly from a place of peace in the present moment. I am already better at putting distance between myself and many of the people and stimuli that trigger me. I am also better at seeing where things are going, even if I can’t always find the brakes. I’m heading in the right direction.

I’m grateful for the small things in life that line up for me when I am on the right path. I suspect, though, that it is less about messages lining up than about my openness to seeing them as they fall in my lap.

Groundlessness: The Path To Emotional Freedom

This quote embodies the concept of groundlessness

“Let go or be dragged.” ~Zen proverb

Last night at the Midlife Mindfulness group I attend we discussed the concept of groundlessness, which is the notion that life is in constant flux and we can never be fully grounded. As beings, we want to be on solid footing and constantly seek security, when in reality the firm foundation we crave and occasionally feel we have achieved is an illusion. Our resistance to the fluid nature of our existence causes personal suffering because when a change occurs that rips the rug out from under us we feel as if our life is falling apart. Even the term “falling apart” implies that at one point everything was together. But every day our lives are upended by changes. Something as simple as a driving detour can send us spiraling. We become frustrated, worried we will be late, annoyed at the inconvenience. Our discomfort is not caused by the detour, however, but by our resistance to the change placed in front of us. If we choose to regard the detour as nothing more than an unexpected hiccup, we accept that these things happen and our anguish subsides.

I have been considering the suffering I have felt because of the stage I am in with my sons. Joe is off at college, and Luke will graduate in June. As a woman who has devoted two decades solely to the care of my children, I have been experiencing groundlessness. The entire day-to-day reality of my life is changing. They are moving into their lives without me, which is how it is meant to be and what I have always wanted for them. It was only when I began to embrace the pain of letting them go without resisting the accompanying sadness that I was able to move through the grief and towards the point where I can now be at peace with this next phase in all our lives. Do I miss spending time with them? Absolutely. Does my acceptance mean I no longer shed tears about it? Nope. I still do that. But I am able to view this flux in my life now with gratitude for what has been and interest in how this next phase of life will unfold. I don’t have a clue what it will look like, but I don’t need to know that. I simply need to welcome the groundlessness. After all, everything I am now is a result of the changes and adaptations I have had to make in my life thus far. Who knows what personal growth this latest upheaval will bring us?

When I think about groundlessness, I remember one of my favorite scenes from the Ron Howard film Parenthood. The family is attending a school play in which their daughter has a part. In a scene in the play, her character is being pushed to do something she doesn’t want to do. When her little brother witnesses her struggle from the audience, he is compelled to run on stage to save her and chaos ensues. While many people find this interruption an amusing disruption, one woman yells with agitation towards his parents, “He’s ruining the play! He’s ruining the whole play!” The mother tries to stop her son but then decides to let the scene unfold, while the father remains visibly uncomfortable. The camera then films the scene as if the parents are side-by-side on a rollercoaster, the mother relaxing into the innocent pandemonium with smiles and laughter while the father looks frightened, tense and concerned about what others think, anxious about the ride he doesn’t want to be on. Eventually, he notices that most people are laughing as kids on stage have gone rogue and the set is falling over and what was probably a mildly amusing production has turned into an event they will never forget. He releases his desire to control the narrative and begins to enjoy the ride too.

I try to think of life as that rollercoaster ride. We can either choose to focus on the exhilaration of the inevitable peaks and valleys of being alive or we can tense up and feel queasy about them. The ride stays the same, only our attitude about it changes our experience of it. Choosing to live in acceptance of groundlessness can become our new solid ground and free us from the illusion of security along our journey. With some practice, I am improving my muscle memory around being secure within the insecurity of life. Let go or be dragged. Am I right?

I Still Have A Crush On Val Kilmer

“Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans. ~John Lennon

Tonight I finally had a chance to watch a movie I have been curious about for a while. It’s a documentary about Val Kilmer, simply titled Val. The film is a combination of video Kilmer shot himself, long before the days of camera phones during the time when memories were recorded on large, clunky video recorders with footage that ended up on large, clunky VHS tapes, and more recent footage taken of him. Kilmer had a bout with throat cancer from 2015 to 2017. Chemotherapy and two tracheotomies stole his voice and left him with a hole in his throat through which he breathes and feeds himself. It’s sobering to watch the juxtaposition in footage between a handsome, winsome leading man and a man with tracheostomy tube who now travels the country to sign autographs at events like Comic Con. It’s a stark reminder of how life works.

Kilmer is eight years older than I am, and I had a crush on him from his first feature film, Top Secret, in 1984 when I was 16. He had an on-screen charisma that came at me like a freight train. After Top Secret, I went to see him in Real Genius, a film I have seen at least a dozen times now and still adore. I saw Top Gun because he was in it (I never cared much for Tom Cruise, always preferring blond men) and then I went to see him in Willow, The Doors, Tombstone, and Batman Forever. There was something about him, a depth that you don’t often see in handsome, Hollywood-leading-man types. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was there.

Watching Val, I found that depth again. At times it was hard to tell if the recent footage of him was him being himself and living his life with a camera recording it or him playing a character, a Hollywood star who survives cancer only to realize he’s lost the only career he ever wanted. Whether or not he was a “difficult” actor because he cared about the craft of acting and telling a story is up for debate, but I get the sense from the film that Val’s perfectionism regarding his chosen profession likely ruffled feathers. After Batman Forever, a film that was a big commercial success, he turned down the title role in the sequel because his experience in the first film, being cramped and miserable in a suit that barely allows you to stand or move without help, much less hear or breathe well, was simply not an opportunity with growth potential. But, you don’t get to turn down a request to reprise your role as Batman without fallout.

I don’t want to say anything else about Val himself or the film because I believe art is best left to be interpreted by each individual their own way. What I can say is that the real life struggles of the man behind the actor are profound and, in many ways, universal. As I watched, I was struck by how ephemeral it all is. How we think we have all the time in the world for our passions, our work, our loves, our family, and our own self-development and growth, when we have no control at all over any of it. Ever. One day you’re creating what you hope will be the pinnacle of your life’s work. The next, you grapple with the knowledge it’s gone and can never be resurrected.

We don’t have all the time in the world to live out our dreams. Each day we have that day and nothing more. It’s what we do in the aftermath of when our dreams fall apart that matters. Val founded a creative studio in Los Angeles and created a film about his life thus far. He may have difficulty speaking aloud and being understood, but I suspect he is not finished trying to express himself through art.

It’s The What Ifs That Will Ruin You

“I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.” ~Lewis Carroll

Spinning in a cycle of what ifs is like riding a merry-go-round

There is a show starting on television next week called Ordinary Joe. This is how the network describes it: “Life is all about the choices you make – and sometimes, what you do in a single moment can change everything.” In a preview for the show, we hear Joe’s voice say, “It’s only natural to wonder, What if?” We all have asked ourselves at one point or another how our life might have been different if we’d made a different choice. What if we’d pursued medicine like we wanted to instead of settling for an easier career path? What if we’d given that one boyfriend a second chance? What if we’d decided not to have children? There are a million what ifs any one person could come up with relating to their life. Let’s face it. All the what ifs we conjure up are infinitely more glamorous and desirable than our current reality because we’re dreaming, and that is the nature of dreams.

Most of my what ifs have centered around “what if I had realized earlier that the stories I had been told about myself as a child were just stories and not at all true reflections of who I was on the inside? What if I had grown up feeling loved, secure, and lovable, rather than alone, fearful, and unlovable?” These what if thoughts, in particular, have really done a number on me. They’ve taken the past I was handed and made it heavier than it already was. So, in addition to carrying around the mental weight of the trauma I endured, I was annoyed that I didn’t figure out until well into my mid-40s that there was trauma in the first place.

I’ve been thinking about this since I first saw the preview for Ordinary Joe. Here is what I have decided: what ifs may be natural, but they are not at all useful. When we make a decision, we are making it with the only skills we have at that time. Whatever knowledge or experience we’ve acquired up to that point figures into our choice. We couldn’t have done better for ourselves in the past because in the past we weren’t who we are now. When we think what if, we are imagining for ourselves in the past using our present experiences and mindset. We didn’t have our present knowledge and experience back then and, therefore, would likely have made the same choice we already made. There is no better outcome. We are where we are now because of where we were then. If you’re taking time to imagine what ifs with a more positive outcome, you’re basically in a fantasy. And while imagining a different, potentially more positive outcome (because who here wants to imagine a worse outcome) might be the kind of fantasy in which we would like to indulge, it’s only hurting us because it’s keeping us from accepting our present with gratitude.

When we focus on what ifs, we are focusing on two things that don’t matter. The past is over and done with, and we can’t unring that bell. And the future is guaranteed to no one, so dreaming what our future might look like is wasting the only time we know we have, which is happening right now while we remove ourselves from it.

I’ve decided it’s time to stop beating myself up over a past I wish could have been different. It couldn’t have been. I was who I was and I made the only choices I was capable of making given the reality I knew. It wasn’t until I understood my reality was skewed that I could do better for myself. So, I am going to try to stay in my present and appreciate what is rather than wondering about what ifs from my past or dreaming about what ifs for my future. We all have made choices we wonder about now, but that is a waste of precious time in the current moment. Maybe if we spent more time focusing on now, we wouldn’t be so concerned about mentally rewriting our past or dreaming about a future we are not guaranteed. We are perfect the way we are, and who we are right now in this moment is all we are called to be. Everything else is just noise.

None Of Us Are Getting Out Of Here Alive

“None of us are getting out of here alive, So please stop treating yourself as an afterthought. Eat the delicious food. Walk in the sunshine. Jump in the ocean. Say the truth that you’re carrying in your heart like hidden treasure. Be silly. Be kind. Be weird. There is no time for anything else.”

Ruby is on a special diet because of her failing kidneys. She is none too thrilled about the fact that she is no longer getting table scraps or bites of peanut butter and jelly toast. The way she is fixated on that toast in this photo reminded me of the above quote. We know that she is in the final months of her wonderful doggie life, so we are working to make them as good and healthy for her as we can, presumably to help keep her around a little longer. But as she sat staring at Steve’s evening snack, I found myself thinking about that quote. She just wants to eat the delicious food, but we aren’t allowing her to do that.

We humans are funny creatures. We pay so little attention to life while we run around living it. And then when it comes down to facing our mortality, then and only then do we get serious about living intentionally, about paying attention to the important little things in the fleeting present moment.

Perhaps Ruby was simply trying to remind Steve to savor that damn toast because someday someone might decide it isn’t good for him, and then he won’t get to eat it anymore. He will have let his last bite of peanut butter and jelly slip away and won’t have even taken the time to savor every bit of its perfect complexity, the flawless balance of the salty and sweet. It will be gone, and he won’t have taken a moment to celebrate its gustatory elegance.

Sometimes I think we’d be a lot happier if we lived like our dogs do: begging for the best snacks, rolling around on the soft rug, chasing after butterflies, napping in the sun. Maybe we should just let Ruby eat what she wants. She’s been living her best, most aware, most immediate and intentional life since she was born. Maybe she doesn’t need to eke out more life. Maybe we should let her keep living the way she has been because she’s been getting it right all along. It’s only we humans that screw it up.

I’ll Carry My Own Wine, Thanks

Something occurred to me this morning. The purpose of this trek was to deliver Thing One to Washington to begin his first full year of college. Everything I’ve done the past twenty years led to these moments. And as much as I’ve enjoyed bringing Joe here and helping him get set up, one thing has finally sunk in. My work here is finished. Maybe not completely, as I’m sure soon enough he will be asking me to edit a paper or send him something he forgot. But I can’t pretend any longer that life as I have known it is the same. It’s not. I’ve spent the past twenty years laser focused on my children. Now it’s time to shift my focus. I imagine it’s like the day after the retirement party. You wake up and think to yourself, “Well, now what?”

The beauty of eastern Washington with her eye on the Blues

Joe and I had tentative plans to have dinner together today, but I woke up this morning with not one other thing on my agenda. I sat in my hotel room and took a deep breath. What the hell do I want to do? Not what do I have to do, but what do I want to do? I haven’t had many occasions to ask myself that for a long time. I decided that rather than sit in bed and feel sad and lonely, I had best get showered, do something with myself, and get some coffee. Seeking something new but still in my heart needing something that felt like the life I have known, I decided to drive out to Target in Richland because Richland is new to me but Target is my normal.

At Target, I wandered aimlessly to kill time. I knew Joe needed hangers and a small fan and I needed some water, so I took care of those things. I would pick an item up, thinking Joe could use it in his dorm room, and then I would remember that it’s not my job to decorate his room anymore and move on. I quickly realized that, although on most days Target can cheer me up, today was not going to be that kind of day.

I decided I needed to regroup. I bought myself a green tea from Starbucks and sat in my car thinking about what else I could do. I began researching a winery I had driven by on my way out to Richland. Going to a wine tasting solo sounded awkward, but I needed to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I’m starting over. Everything is going to feel weird for a while until it doesn’t anymore. Be brave. Be bold. Go big or go home. I booked a 2:15 tasting and went to grab some food. I ate lunch at a picnic table near the Columbia River and enjoyed the shade before heading back towards Walla Walla.

Nice day on the Columbia

I had driven past the L’Ecole No. 41 winery a few times on previous trips. I found my way up the stairs and into the main sales area and told them I had a reservation. I was seated on the back deck at a table with just one chair, which immediately made me feel at ease. Nothing can make you feel more obviously alone than being a single at a table meant for two. I made small talk with the server as he poured my wine. And then I was there alone, sipping delicious wine, enjoying the sunny day in eastern Washington, the wasps swirling around a tree and some children playing on an old seesaw on the grassy yard below. As each pour came and went, I started to relax a tiny bit more. I allowed myself to envision a life where I have fewer demands on my time and greater freedom to be conscious about how I choose to spend that time. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all?

I did eventually meet up with Joe to give him the last few items he needed, to see the finished dorm room, and to grab a bite to eat. We enjoyed Indian food from the same restaurant we ate takeout from when we arrived in Walla Walla in January. Joe told me about his past, solo 24 hours. He told me he nearly had trouble assembling the storage unit we bought for his room until he remembered his bike tool had a screwdriver he could use. He told me his new section mates seemed like a quiet group and he was glad. He thanked me for bringing the final items. I told him about my trip to Richland and the winery. I told him how an older gentleman (yes…older than me) asked if I needed help carrying my wine to my car. I complimented him on his dorm room. Before I knew it, we were discussing when to meet up in the morning for my departure.

Lovely downtown Walla Walla urging me Forward

I know this is going to be a process. I’m creating a new normal, but I can do it. It was a new normal when Joe came into the world weeks early and weighing only 5 pounds. I survived that and then doubled down and spent years doing a pretty good job at Mom. I bet if you give me a few years, I’ll be doing a pretty good job at Justine too.

Do I need help carrying my wine? Jesus, man. I raised two kickass sons and dropped one off at college yesterday. Can’t you see how goddamn strong I am? I’ll carry my own wine, thanks.

I bet this dog carries his own wine too

Grab Your Monkey Mind By The Tail

Look, Ma! I’m on top of the world!

“Worrying is using your imagination to create something you don’t want.” ~Abraham Hicks

A few months ago, I joined a women’s midlife mindfulness and meditation group in my neighborhood. I had been meaning to get into meditation to rein in my monkey mind for at least the past 8 years and had even started practicing a few times, but I never stuck with it. When I saw the post on our local Facebook page, it was a sign. Now there would be some accountability. Even if I didn’t become a master at meditation, I reasoned, I might acquire more control over my thoughts and keep them from running away from me unnecessarily.

Last night our group met in the shade outside our local community center and discussed the “Don’t-Know Mind.” The don’t-know mind, I learned, is a central concern of Korean Zen, and it’s a representation of our enlightened mind before preconceived ideas, thoughts, judgments, and opinions create needless anxiety and suffering in our lives. Many of us spend our entire lives borrowing trouble that doesn’t yet exist. You have your negative life experiences and memories of bad news and you apply them to events that haven’t occurred yet. It happens all the time, and it’s a waste of precious life energy because we can’t possibly know how things are going to work out before they occur. We humans are not as all-knowing as we like to think we are. How many times have you imagined the worst only to later live a completely or mostly seamless experience? How much time have you wasted catastrophizing for nothing?

I can recount dozens of times I have borrowed trouble when I had no reason to believe an event would end badly. It happened last night. My sons decided yesterday to climb Mt. Bierstadt, one of the 53 peaks in Colorado over 14k feet. This is a well-traveled hike with a well-marked ascent. It is one of the easiest of these climbs. Hordes of people climb this mountain every day in the summer, and you rarely hear anything about it other than the trail was too busy. Still, my 18 and 20 year old sons would be leaving before dawn with a friend, traveling up the interstate into the mountains on little sleep to ascend to 14k feet alone for the first time. Their momma bear was anxious. Although I fell asleep quickly, I woke up with my mind racing and imagining the worst. I pulled out the don’t-know mindset.

You don’t know what will happen tomorrow. You don’t know that there is any reason for concern. What if nothing bad happens? What if there is no traffic at all and they arrive safely? What if they packed the perfect amount of snacks, water, warm clothing, and safety gear? What if all that happens is that they make it to the top to view a cloudless Colorado morning with 360-degree breathtaking views? What if they make a memory together they will cherish forever? What if this gives them the confidence to climb other mountains, both physical and mental? What if they arrive home, beaming with accomplishment, and share photos from their adventure? You don’t know.

I took a few deep breaths, relaxed into the mattress, and fell back asleep, confident that the likelihood things would work out was far greater than the likelihood they would not. I slept so well I didn’t hear them getting ready and I didn’t wake up in time to say goodbye to them. When I finally awoke at 7:10, they were long gone. And when I checked my phone I noticed Joe had already sent a photo of them safely at the trailhead ready to begin their upward journey.

I think the trick is to grab your monkey mind’s tail as soon as you notice it. Once you have it in your grasp, tell that monkey to back off because it doesn’t know what it thinks it knows. The more often you catch that damn monkey, the more practice you have stopping its useless chatter. Eventually, you realize there is no benefit in determining an outcome you don’t want to have and likely won’t experience. You begin find stillness, peace, and positivity can fill the space in your head and give the monkey no room for running and jumping and bouncing around. I’m not there yet, but my monkey catching skills are improving.

The friends you meet along the way

Life During COVID-19 Is Basically Life With A Newborn

newbornJoe
Our oldest on the day he came into this world

I took a break from writing yesterday because I was sick of thinking about, hearing about, and whinging about COVID-19. I needed a mental health day from this health crisis. So, I turned off the television, stepped back from the social media, and spent most of my day completing a brightly colored, 500-piece puzzle of African mammals instead. While my husband worked in his office and my sons were in their lair building in Minecraft while using FaceTime to chat with friends, I sat at our dining table trying to line up the stripes on a zebra and make sense of a lion’s mane. It was precisely what my soul needed, a balm to cover the uncertainty and overwhelm.

This week that has felt like a year has been eerily similar to the couple weeks my husband and I spent at home directly following the birth of our first son. Our oldest arrived early and weighed only 5 pounds. He was, thankfully, fully developed and healthy in all respects. Despite our trepidation, having been crowned as parents seven weeks earlier than we expected (damn the miscalculated due date), the doctors and nurses told us it was time to go home. We lived only a half-mile from the hospital, but Steve came to pick me and baby Joe up, recently unwrapped infant car seat in hand. Trying to finagle and then secure a scrawny, 5-pound newborn into the seat took at least fifteen minutes, even though we would be in the car for less than two minutes on the slow drive home around the park with our precious cargo. We were overwhelmed, overtired, and overly cautious. And despite all the reading we had done, we felt we were flying blind. Everything was scary, awkward, and new.

That is where we are again. We are questioning everything we do. Should we have made that last trip to the store? Did we get too close to that clerk? Should we have wiped down every item we brought into the house? People were wearing face masks and gloves; should I have been doing that too? How many times a day should we be disinfecting surfaces? Should we eat what we have at home or order take out to support our favorite local restaurants? Do we have an adequate toilet paper back up plan? Why didn’t I buy and stash more candy and Cheetos from my teenage sons? We suspect we are overreacting about everything, but it is the only thing that feels appropriate. We don’t really know what we’re doing. We’re nervous and inexperienced. And we desperately want to do the “right” things.

We’re bound to fumble as we navigate a period of time unlike anything any of us have experienced before. Like parents of newborns, though, we need to trust that we are doing our best and that is all we can do in a changing environment with a novel disease that scientists are learning about on the go. You take precautions. You follow the current advisements and adjust when they change. You think critically and act prudently. And then you live your damn life — inside your house as much as possible and outside when you can be safe. Time will pass and, at some point in what will feel like a million years from now, we will be healthy, free, and confident again. In the meantime, we keep calm and carry on, but with an extra packet of antibacterial wipes, just like we carried when we had a newborn. At least this time around, we should be more well rested.