My Three Moms and a Dave

This month marks 18 years living in the Northeast, 13 of them in Brooklyn. Before that I spent 18 years in KY. And now, in the same month in which I crossed this personal threshold of an equal number of years here as there, I find myself packing up my apartment and moving back to Middle America because Dave and I can no longer afford the rent. 

Covid did the unthinkable: it shut down New York City’s entertainment and nightlife industry. Dave, like so many others, is out of work indefinitely. It’s a huge loss, not just of income but of a whole community. 

But get this – my sister, Kelly, bought the house next door to my sibling, Max, then invited us to spend the upcoming year in one big Covid family compound. Four adults (aka my three moms and a Dave), four kids, two dogs, and one cat, doing our best to make it through this pandemic, this curse/gift of remote school and virtual offices, this country’s blatant racism, this frightening election season, this even more frightening climate crisis, together.

When I first left for college in Boston, I never would have guessed that I would fall in love with the Northeast, that I would come to identify myself as a New Yorker, as a part of the city, the city a part of me. It is hard to leave; there is sadness to be felt. But I am also very excited. Covid has pushed me into a place I never would have imagined. It’s scary and beautiful and full of magic. I am so grateful to have landed like this.

Will we return to a life in Brooklyn? I hope so. But these days, who knows what the future will bring. I’m still setting goals and dreaming dreams, but I’m not committing myself to any of them. Truth is, we never knew – and will never know – what the future holds for us. We humans built a society and made plans that gave us a false sense of control, of power, of certainty. We trusted it would continue despite how shaky, broken, and inherently oppressive it all is. Covid has changed me. It has changed us all. I would never choose any of this, but now that it’s here, I want to be changed by it.

I might not know where I’ll be living, what I’ll be doing, or what our country will even look like in a year from now, but what I do know is that I will never stop trying to bring a little more peace, justice, and joy into this existence. Too many people, especially people of color and immigrants, are not landing like my family is. Instead they are being murdered by police. They are being beaten and thrown into cages by ICE. They are being told that their lives don’t matter as much as the walls of their neighbors’ houses. They are being harassed by landlords, forcing them to choose between paying for food or paying for rent. There is no going back. And why would we? Our country was founded upon genocide and built upon slavery. All of its systems are rooted in white supremacy and the exploitation of labor. Our entire world is burning, literally and metaphorically.

This is our opportunity to transform.

2nd Place in Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship!

pen parentis typewriter.pngY’all, I won 2nd place in the Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship! Plus they wrote the most flattering description about my story, 2021, on their blog. I am floating.

It’s organizations like Pen Parentis that keep hope alive in us writerparents, even during these dark and exhausting times. Not only do they provide this fellowship every year, but they also host monthly literary salons, weekly accountability meet-ups, and multiple other community-building events, all centered around inspiring, motivating, and celebrating parents who just want to keep writing but have so much standing between them and their words. Learn more about their work, history, and future events by visiting their website at penparentis.org and/or following them on Instagram: @PenParentis and Twitter: @PenParentis.

And speaking of events, stay tuned for details on a special Zoom salon this fall in which I’ll be reading my prize-winning story!

Justice for Breonna Taylor: Ways to Take Action

justice for breonna

Image created by Ariel Sinha

It has been four months since Louisville police officers burst into Breonna Taylor’s home and murdered her in her sleep, and you know what? The three police officers who killed her are taking vacations. Eating dinners with their families. Posting pictures of themselves on Instagram. Collecting their paychecks. Living their lives.

You know who isn’t living her life? Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT, wife, daughter, friend, and so much more, who was SLEEPING IN HER HOME when she was shot and killed by police.

There was so much negligence surrounding this case and yet there is no justice at all. Two of the officers are even still working! None of them have been charged. Eighty-seven protestors have been charged with felonies, yet these murderers are out there free.

I know you’re tired. I am, too. And I know everything feels hopeless sometimes. But we cannot give into those feelings.

Get involved. Stay involved.

Ways to keep fighting for Breonna:

KY officials Breonna

Do the Work

How many more black people need to be murdered in order for white people to care?

Breonna TaylorBreonna Taylor, murdered in her sleep by police officers who forced their way into
her home in search of a man who had already been arrested.

This is on us. We as white people have to take action, and we have to constantly engage in our own anti-racism work in order to understand how we benefit from white supremacy, how we contribute to it, and how we can undo the hurtful, dangerous, racial biases that exist inside all of us. It doesn’t matter if you’re “one of the good ones.” Are you white in America? That means you have work to do.

Our country is not safe for people of color. Our entire system is built upon genocide, slavery, and white supremacy, and that didn’t just go away when the Civil War ended. BIPOC have been terrorized by white people since the founding of the U.S.A. and they continue to be hunted down, jailed, and murdered by hateful white people who are encouraged and emboldened by a hateful system and a hateful history. It is on all of our white shoulders to stop this.

George FloydGeorge Floyd, pinned to the ground and murdered by a police officer.

I am embarrassed. In my last post, I dove deep into my own pain about Covid and described what it has done to NYC, yet I did not at all examine what it has done to communities of color, what our police force and many healthcare providers and our “justice” system have done – and keep doing – to people of color. I threw in a few sentences about recognizing my white privilege and felt like that was enough. It took someone calling me out on Facebook for me to realize it absolutely isn’t enough at all.

Recognizing privilege is not the same as taking action. White people MUST ACT. Where is our outrage? Are we just so used to seeing black bodies pinned under white peoples’ knees, to seeing them dead in the streets, that we don’t feel anything in response?

I’m going to unplug for a bit and dedicate the time I would be spending on blogging and social media toward engaging in anti-racism work instead, both in myself and in my community. Sharing my personal story doesn’t matter right now. Nothing else matters right now.

Get to work.

Resources for Anti-Racism Work


Organizations to Follow


Instagram Accounts to Follow

There’s an inspiring and educational dialogue happening on Instagram about race relations, art, music, gender identity, American history, and how this all intersects. Do not follow these accounts if you have not already started on your own work. It is not okay to go into their spaces and be disrespectful or to center the discussion around yourself. This is a wonderful opportunity to listen to and learn from others. Don’t waste it.

Also, find out what district you live in and which politicians represent you so that you can start making those calls and sending those tweets.

 

Photo Credits
1. Instagram/@keyanna.guifarro
2. Offices of Ben Crump Law

Surrendering

Covid City has gotten ugly. I’ve tried often during these past few weeks to write about it, but I’ve been so hyper-focused on not catching the virus, on keeping my kids safe, on creating a loving home inside our apartment despite the invisible threat immediately outside of it, that I haven’t had the energy or brainpower left over to find words for the experience, much less to reflect on it in a meaningful way. But there are things inside of me that need out, and so here I am, writing and deleting and writing and deleting and finally hitting publish.

I know things now. Things I never, ever would have imagined knowing. Like what it’s like to watch EMTs in quarantine gear haul bodies out of buildings, to learn a neighbor has died because a random stranger is now walking their dog instead, to hear sirens blaring all day every day, to watch a demolition crew clean out a dead person’s third-floor apartment.

Out of everything, this last bit of knowledge haunts me the most. I don’t yet know how to describe the sound of furniture being thrown to the ground and hammered into bits, how to explain what it’s like to witness three men destroy an entire home in two hours. They hauled ass, sweating and shouting at one another through their masks as they grabbed and tossed and banged and packed. It was well coordinated, as fast as it could have been. They didn’t leave a physical scrap behind. But god, what a trail of emotional scraps.

As I sat on my balcony and watched, unable to turn away because even if I did I would still have to hear it, I kept wondering, Is there truly no one who wants this person’s things? I love that my mother’s rooster figurines, her recipes, her favorite red plates, are now mine; they help keep her alive. It seemed wrong to me that all those things could just be tossed out of a window. But later that evening, I thought about how, six years after my mom’s passing, we are still dealing with so much of her unwanted stuff. Perhaps people had already come to this apartment across the street, collected what mattered to them, then let the rest go.

My brain replayed the scene all night long, refusing to let me sleep. At around two in the morning, I thought of a new scenario: maybe there were people who wanted those things but were too afraid of catching Covid to come get them. That means they were probably also too afraid to come visit their sick loved one before she died. I wondered how many people across my city, my state, my country, were dying alone in that exact moment.

I wanted to get out of bed and break things.

CODE COMPLIANCE
That’s not to say it has all been nightmarish. There are beautiful parts, too. My family is connecting in new ways that wouldn’t have happened before. My meditative and spiritual practice is deepening. I am full of ideas for my art. I’m also exercising more often now that I’m not spending ten hours of my week on a train. And just the other day, I took part in a meeting with the Brooklyn Public Library in which 40 different professionals meditated on Zoom together.

But these small victories don’t balance out or erase the hard stuff. In fact, these little joys make the hard stuff feel even more surreal. When I look out at families eating dinner on their balconies, kids scootering on the sidewalk, drivers honking at people blocking their driveways, my brain struggles to compute how this totally normal scenario is so completely not normal. How is it even possible that the greatest city in the world has been taken down by tiny, disease-filled, death-ridden droplets?

virus droplets
Our super’s adult son, who has been helping with the work around our 60-unit building without wearing a mask, recently tested positive. Around the same time, we also discovered that a five-year-old died from a Covid-related stroke and that a hundred other kids in NYC alone were exhibiting bizarre, inflammatory symptoms linked to Covid. Just two days later, the number of infected kids in the city rose to 145; a teenager, who woke up one recent morning in heart failure, described it as “straight-up fire” in his veins. Doctors don’t yet understand why or how it happens. So much for the saving grace that kids are spared.

The good news is, we have an out: my siblings invited us to spend the summer with them and my nephews in Ohio. Four adults, four kids, two dogs, one roof. It will be crazy. But also, they have a yard and access to a pool. And most importantly, there are only 2,000 confirmed cases in Cincinnati versus 200,000 in NYC.

We are privileged in so many ways. Simply because we are white, we are far less likely to die from coronavirus than our black and brown neighbors. We have a place to flee to, a car to get us there, enough money in savings to spend our 2-week quarantine in an Air BnB surrounded by nature. My job is not on the frontlines and therefore I can continue working from any set-up. And we have supportive, loving family to welcome us on the other end of all this. I am beyond grateful that they have opened their home to us.

But it is possible to be grateful for something and extremely upset about something else at the same time. Leaving the home I made ain’t easy. I loved our little New York life. I worked hard for it, dammit. And we have no idea if we’ll be returning to resume it or to pack it up because who knows when the entertainment industry will return enough to employ my husband again (my income is not enough for NYC rent). We also have no idea what the city will be like by the end of the summer. There is still so much left to just wait and see.

I grieve for the loss of it all, sometimes to the point that I feel sick to my stomach. Yet I am also able to feel all the promise within all the darkness. Everything has changed. I’m making choices I never, ever would have considered before. There is excitement and joy in that, too.

Writer’s note added 5/28/2020: I would like to add that recognizing my privilege wasn’t and isn’t enough. I’m embarrassed that I focused so much on sharing my story and not on examining or reflecting on the ways in which BIPOC are disproportionately dying from Covid, are not being heard or helped by our medical system, and are being murdered by our police officers. I have a platform with my blog and I should be using it to improve society, not just tell my story. I posted some resources today for white people to engage in anti-racism work. It should have been included in this post.

Photo credits: The droplets image is credited to QUT: Chantal Labbe.

Cooking with Kids

IMG_0194I don’t want to write about Covid City today. Instead I want to brag about my kid. Right before social distancing went into place, my food-loving five-year-old was featured on “Podcast not Podcast with Christopher Burns” where he shared all about cooking for the family. He had recently made a broccoli stew and mashed potatoes with radish for us, and was thrilled that they’d turned out to be actually tasty. Since then, L has gone on to create “delicious sparrow cake,” which did not contain sparrows and was also not a cake but was delicious, as well as a mushroom soup inspired by a Mexican recipe from one of my mom’s old cookbooks.

L has always loved food. At three months, he grabbed a chip out of my hand and tried to eat it. At 18 months, he asked to sniff the different herbs I was using and said, “Mmmmmm,” after smelling the basil. At three years, he suggested adding cinnamon to a curry I was cooking, and he was right. By this point, he can chop up vegetables, select the proper ingredients, and mix them together all on his own. He’s willing to taste anything and genuinely appreciates good food; one of his favorite meals is fresh fish, salad, and broccoli stalks soaked in vinegar. And in the play kitchen in his room, which he refers to as his restaurant, L concocts all kinds of recipes with such earnestness that when the baby crawls over, he says, “No no, baby, the stove is hot right now.”

It’s such a beautiful experience to watch my kid explore and enjoy food in this way, especially considering my own fraught history with food and eating. Even though I had recovered from anorexia nearly eight years before I got pregnant with L, all the research about how eating disorders run in families had me worried that I’d somehow pass it on. Seeing my kid chef work in the kitchen is such a joy on so many levels.

Listen to L’s interview below, and stay tuned for details on his new dinosaur-themed chain of restaurants, coming soon to a city near you (“When I’m an adult, I’m going to be a paleontologist and open my own restaurant”).

“Mashed Potatoes with Radish” – Podcast not Podcast with Christopher Burns

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Delicious sparrow cake

Lessons Learned in Covid City

It turns out that Covid City is not just a column to write during a short period of life in lockdown. Instead, it is our new reality for a long time yet. In the weeks since I last posted here, I have learned four crucial things for surviving this new life:

  1. It’s all about creativity. 
  2. Sleep is necessary. 
  3. Meditate as much as possible.
  4. Take the joy when you can get it. Don’t question it, just be in it.

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Big news: after a two-week spell of intense quarantining, Dave and I drove our crew to my in-laws where we finally got some back-up childcare. As I watched L jump out of the car and run off through the yard with his Papa Bob, I felt something physically shed away from me. Dave and I were EVERYTHING for these kids for five weeks straight. All of it. I hadn’t realized how weighty that was until it lifted.

We can’t completely move here for a few reasons and so the plan for now is to go back to New York when we have to and then wait and see if/when we can return. But even if we don’t end up coming back, having a few nights of real sleep has been transformative. Dave and I started quarantine as sleep-deprived parents of a new baby; in the past month, I hit a level of exhaustion I didn’t even know was possible. 

Of course there are challenges. No situation in Covid City is easy. Figuring out how to share space when all of us are in MA has been stressful. Parenting and grandparenting at the same time is weird. We’re all very different personalities, too, with different and often conflicting needs. Things are not lining up with the six of us like they have in the past, and I’m feeling confused by it. But there’s such a deep current of love underneath it all, and, as with everything, we will adapt.

78b36acb-cf00-4285-99a8-d2c429f06949And no matter what tensions may arise with our new arrangement, the fact that Dave and I got some space to ourselves changed everything. Yep, that’s right: Dave and I spent the past two nights alone in Brooklyn while other people took care of our kids. We slept, talked, drank, watched tv, had sex, meditated, chatted with friends, got all dressed up and played some music. We even ate candy in the living room and left the wrappers out on the coffee table and then the next morning, nobody tried to choke on them and nobody threw a fit that we got candy and they didn’t. I miss my kids – a lot actually – but this time to focus on other parts of myself (while eating candy with abandon) has been glorious.

This space has also allowed me to reflect on the past five weeks and think about how we can improve the indefinite span of quarantine left ahead of us. I opened this post with the lessons I’ve learned through this time of reflection. Now I want to leave you with some of my recent joys:

  • I rediscovered my passion for writing fiction and it has felt wonderful.
  • L turned five years old, and Dave and I completely rocked the whole birthday-in-quarantine thing. Gotta admit, the fact that he was genuinely happy all day long was super satisfying.
  • M talks! He says hi, mama, and dada. In that order. (I beat Dave, ha!)
  • We’re getting into a new musical project! James Kurk, the friend I have known for longer than anyone else, sent over loads of tracks for us. We had a Zoom brainstorm all together and now Dave and I are making some weird sounds over here. Connecting to creative people in creative ways is my new motto for quarantine.
  • Fiona Apple released her new album and it’s perfect for right now.

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Covid City 13: My Gratitude List

img_4455April 3, 2020, 9:30 am

I started a new practice yesterday: every time an anxious thought intrudes into my mind, I inhale, exhale, look around, and focus in on one thing I am grateful for. Then I do it again, and again, until I feel calm.

You know what? It works.

In this current moment, I am sitting at our dining table while M eats scrambled eggs and strawberries beside me. Dave is cooking pancakes in the kitchen. L is playing games on my phone on the couch. Basil is lying on the hardwood floor at his feet. The cat is sleeping somewhere, probably in my closet. No one is asking for anything from me right now, and so I could check Twitter, scan a news article, or give in to one of the many thoughts swarming my brain.

Instead, I am grateful for:

  • Our continued good health. The facts that none of us are high risk, that COVID-19 goes easy on kids, that no one is injured or in pain right now. It’s a privilege that Dave and I have a home, that we can focus on our family’s emotional process instead of on our physical health, that we’re all able to stay here and go through this together.
  • The past version of myself who went to therapy and worked hard to manage my anxiety. Thank you, young me, for establishing practices that I still use today.
  • My union-protected job. It’s easy to get frustrated by all the bureaucracy and by the assholes abusing power, but I’m glad I have these things to get frustrated about.
  • My immediate boss. Her support, understanding, and flexibility throughout all of this has been huge.
  • Journalists, academics, politicians, and everyone else who is writing and talking about how we can repair our classist, racist, colonialist country.
  • That delicious baby. Squeezing his huge, chunky, squishy thighs is like squeezing those stress-relief balls but with the added bonus of silky baby skin.
  • My precocious preschooler’s sense of humor. He is straight-up hilarious. Not just
    goofy poop jokes but well thought-out, set-up-in-advance, actually funny pranks. Then he laughs with this full-body ripple where he throws his head back and stomps a foot and my heart explodes.
  • The way my husband hugs me.
  • Also the way my husband explains audio technology to L as they set up our at-home recording studio. And then the way L proudly over-annunciates his words when sharing this new knowledge with me.
  • How my old dog cleans baby food off the floor, except for peas.
  • Hot coffee.
  • Cat purrs.
  • The strange cacophony of sound when multiple friends laugh at the same time on Zoom.
  • Sitting on my balcony in the rain, staying dry under its roof while I listen, smell, breathe, and let myself relax a little.b6fa470c-0af0-470f-a6cc-4acfa131e5f2