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.
  • 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

Covid City 7: What About Me?

March 20, 2020, 10:00 pm

You know what? We’re actually kind of figuring it out over here. Things are still a mess, but we’re getting better at it. Or at least more used to it. Obviously I don’t like parenting in Covid City. I’m exhausted. I didn’t choose this. I would never choose this. But there’s no reason to keep fighting it; thinking about how things used to be or worrying about what will come doesn’t help. I’m overwhelmed, yes, but sometimes that’s just how it is. Sometimes we have to swim underwater for a while even if we don’t want to.

You know what else? It’s Saturday. We made it through our first week. We did it. We’re doing it. Good job, us! Good job, everyone!

Big realization: Dave and I left ourselves out of the homeschool schedule. In no way did we consider our own needs at all; we didn’t even include breaks for each other. Over the course of a weekend, I went from having a typical full-time office job, with lunch breaks and coffee breaks and talk-to-other-people-face-to-face breaks, to working 15-hour days with no breaks at all.

I have been so focused on everyone else in my family that I completely lost track of me. So, in addition to adding in at least one solid break and one shorter break every day, I’m also going to add in a two-minute morning meditation where I set a self-care goal for the day.

The idea behind this exercise, based on the practice of morning intentions, is to: 1. Take some space each day before the craziness begins to just be with myself for a minute, and 2. Focus in on one action that I can return to throughout the day to center and calm myself, to help myself find positivity, to remind myself that I am worth caring for, too. It’s simply a way to gather myself together each morning and focus my energy on self-love. The act of setting this goal is enough, even if I don’t come back to it later. But hopefully I will, and hopefully building this into my routine will help me practice better self-care as we adjust to the insanity that is Covid City.

I encourage you to join me in this activity. If you don’t know what to choose for your goal, perhaps something like “take a deep breath” could work, or “be nice to when I talk to myself in my head.” You can use the same goal every day, if you want. My one recommendation is to keep it specific; something like “relax” is a little broad and daunting. Choosing a simple act might feel more doable.

Today my goal is to stretch. So many of us carry tension in our neck, shoulders, back, and hips, especially those of us working from makeshift home offices and/or lugging babies around. I feel like I’ve pushed my body through the past week without considering it at all. What an amazing gift it is to have a healthy body! Particularly in these times. Today I want to be good to it, which means I’m going to get off this computer right now and do some stretches.  Maybe I will remember to do them again later, too.

What will your intention be?

Covid City 6: Embracing Change

March 18, 2020, 8 am

As it tu­rns out, it is not possible to take care of a 9-month-old, homeschool a preschooler, and also work full-time all from inside the same apartment. Especially when that apartment has only four rooms. Add to this the monumental task of explaining things to a sensitive, smart, anxious four-year-old and then helping him navigate his emotional reaction to it all. Life here in Covid City is intense.

Like many parents, Dave and I went from having 75 hours a week of childcare (L at school 8:15-5:30/6 five days a week, the baby with my in-laws from 9-6 three days a week) to having no back-up at all. M is completely off-the-hook, requiring someone on him every waking moment; literally, if you turn away for a second, he tries to kill himself. I somehow managed to work from our makeshift bedroom office on Monday while Dave kept both kids alive, and poor L was bored, sad, and emotional all day. By mid-afternoon, he broke down crying and demanded my attention (“I need more hugs,” he later said to Dave).

He needs more of a lot of things right now. To make matters harder, the only time Dave and I can plan, prep, and work through how to best provide this support is once L is asleep, which isn’t happening until 9:30/10:00 pm nowadays. And, let’s be honest, whoever is doing bedtime usually falls asleep in L’s bed before we get the chance to talk; L has been having nightmares, M has been teething, and so Dave and I are maybe getting four hours of broken sleep a night. These two kiddos are exhausting.

Shockingly, I did get some work done on Monday. And you know what? It felt completely irrelevant. Why was I writing a biweekly report instead of writing homeschool plans or emails to my loved ones? Why was I confirming advisement calls when we have no idea what next semester will even look like? Another COVID-19 season will arrive before a vaccine has been properly tested and put into place. Society as we know is only going to keep changing.

CUNY, and all other employers, need a long-term plan here, not just some weird attempt to move old routines and expectations from offices into homes. Too many people, higher-ups in particular, are clinging to a model that has quickly become ridiculous. It doesn’t make sense to keep working as usual right now.

I’m personally lucky enough to have some PTO to use for the rest of this week, but even that phrase, “PTO to use,” feels absurd. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs, to the point that the unemployment website crashed when Dave tried to access it last night (now they’re doing a staggered schedule based on last name, so Dave’s assigned time slot to apply is Thursday morning). Our entire global economy is ready to collapse. Healthcare facilities are overwhelmed as confirmed cases continue to rise. Right now, what matters most to me is not clocking in work hours. Instead I need to focus on taking proper care of these kids, staying connected to my people, and squeezing in self-care as I can, which means writing and meditating because that is how I stay sane.

Also how I stay sane: pointing out the positives, no matter how small they are. Here are some of my positives for you:

  • It is wonderful to not rush around every morning, racing to get everyone dressed, fed, and dropped off so that I can get to the office on time.
  • It is equally wonderful to forgo the mad dash from the office to the subway to L’s school for pick-up by 6 pm.
  • Homeschool is actually fun. I mean, I studied Early Childhood Education and taught preschool for years so that helps. And L is super into learning. But even if those things weren’t true, there’s something special about doing this together.
  • M is nine months old today! And he is trying to talk! Cannot wait to hear what his first word is.
  • These kids eat SO MUCH food. It’s impressive. But also my kitchen is a disaster. But also, that’s okay.
  • The pets are thrilled. They are quite therapeutic, and it’s super sweet to watch them bond with the baby. I love how oblivious those three are.
  • Signs of spring are everywhere. When L spots a dandelion during a dog walk, he gleefully squeals and runs over to pick this weed of a flower then show it off to me with reverence. Adults have strayed way too far from the things that matter.

As crazy as it is to be a parent under quarantine in Covid City, it’s also fun; my adorable little life-suckers provide quite a bit of welcome levity, and they do an excellent job of distracting me from the news. That being said, I don’t think yesterday would have gone as well if we hadn’t implemented a new schedule with multiple activities. I know not every family and kid needs that kind of structure, but if you’re like us, I pasted our adjusted schedule and new ideas for you below. Keep in mind that we don’t intend to do this every day. In fact, L is watching Moana right now.

Parents, whether you’re homeschooling, doing art projects, or watching shows and eating Cheetos all day, you’re a freaking badass. Stay strong.

New Schedule, Adjusted After Homeschool Experiment Day 1, and Very Loosely Interpreted on Day 2
9:00     Family Circle Time: Good morning / Day & Date / Feelings Check-in / Book
9:30     Independent work at dining table (details below)
10:00   Center time: Creative, Science, Math, Library, Music, Computer, or just TV (more below)
10:45   Snack
10:55   Meditation/breathing exercise
11:00   Project Time –“animal of the week” (see below) or a one-off
11:30   Clean Up
11:35   Dance party
11:45   Reading on the couch (L reads a book or sight-word cards)
12:00   Adult does lunch prep while L watched Doodles with Mo Willems (this is great, L likes it)
12:15   Lunch
12:45   Quiet/alone time in room
1:30     Family exercises (see below)
1:45     Nature walk with Basil or watch TV or Center Time Rd 2 (same centers as Rd 1)
2:45     Snack
3:00     Chores
3:30     Meditation/breathing exercise
3:35     Family meeting
3:45     Homeschool ends, turn the TV on and bring me a margarita immediately

Independent Work: High Five puzzle book, math sheets from the web, writing letters in a notebook

Center Ideas & Locations:
-Creative on coffee table: coloring pages, paper and crayons, stickers, cutting things out
-Science on balcony: nature box, planting and watering seeds, dissecting my dead garden, digging in a planter full of dirt, using a magnifying glass to inspect the random things out there
-Math on dining table: addition/subtraction puzzle, counting & sorting items, toy abacus
-Library on couch: Lots of cozy pillows with books and sight-word cards
-Music in living room: play instruments, sing karaoke, pick a record and discuss what instruments you hear

Animal of the week: Choose an animal and throughout the week, watch Nat Geo and Animal Planet videos, makes notes of facts about it, do art projects, listen to songs, “dance” like the animal, discuss what it eats, look at map to see where it lives

This week for us is the octopus: Nat Geo Doc (4 mins), Nat Geo Pics & Facts Slideshow, “Octopus’s Garden” by the Beatles, making octopus tentacles with tissue paper leftover from Xmas, acting like an octopus, finding sets of 8 things around the apartment

Family Exercises: Go Noodle has a lot of options we haven’t explored yet. Yesterday we did this intense video but were terrible at it and laughed a lot, so that was fun.

My Motherhood List

There are a million things to say about the past eight months since having little L, and it’s daunting to think about putting them down in a blog post. My world has been rocked in so many fantastic and intense ways, some expected, others completely surprising. There is no way I can adequately describe the experience of birthing and caring for a baby, especially in the forty-five minutes I have left before he wakes up from nap. So, I’ve decided instead to give you a list of things I think and feel these days, in no particular order.

  • The love. Oh my God, the love. It’s so wonderful. Sometimes too wonderful, like, how can this much love actually exist inside of me? How can this much love be IMG_3569directed at me? This love wasn’t a choice. I felt some of it when he was kicking my insides, then the second his slimy, wiggly body was plopped on my chest, it overwhelmed me. And the love has only grown since then. Will it keep growing? How will my body hold that much love?
  • My husband is phenomenal. It’s strange how seeing my man with my baby is one of the sexiest things imaginable. Our spark is stronger than ever, even though it takes some serious effort.
  • Which brings me to the exhaustion. It’s better now that L sleeps through the night (I seriously feel for you mamas and papas who didn’t get lucky in the sleep department), but even so, holy shit. I had no idea people could function like this. I’m a freaking superhero.
  • And it shows. The lines in my face, the bags under my eyes. Are these permanent changes or will they fade once I’m back to sleeping more? (This is a rhetorical question).
  • Man, I miss my mom so much. But I also feel closer to her than ever. The first two months were rough. It seemed unfair and mean that she wasn’t here to share this with me. But as I healed, and as Dave, L and I figured each other out a bit more, I realized two things: 1, She is here. All the time. I cook her recipes, sing her lullabies, tell her stories. Also, I sometimes see her smile in L’s smile and that is just so damn cool. 2, What a gift! Right before having my own baby, I IMG_3810was given the gift of knowing what I remember about my mother after she died, what pieces of her still stick with me, what about her impacts me now. I entered motherhood with this. I’ve been given a pass to not worry about all the little shit and just focus on the things that honestly matter, the things that I know will last in L even once I’m physically gone. Also, between dealing with the loss of my mother and giving birth, what the hell can’t I do? Bring it.
  • I don’t mean that. Please, universe, don’t bring it. The little things make such a difference these days. I often plead out loud for a parking spot right in front of my apartment or a line with only three people instead of thirteen at Target. And when the grocery store is out of hummus, it feels like a really big deal.
  • You know what else feels like a really, really big deal Breastfeeding. It’s so special and sweet, but I miss my body being mine. My body hasn’t been mine since Dave and I first started trying to conceive back in June of 2014. That was eighteen months ago, folks.
  • But, how freaking great is my body? I grew a baby, pushed him out, breastfed exclusively for six months, am still nursing the little monster, and I look and feel fabulous. I rock.
  • This level of self-confidence is new, and I like it. But it wasn’t like I birthed a baby and suddenly gained all this confidence. What a trip it has been to rediscover myself! The first three months of motherhood were so freaking nuts. Becky who does anything except be a mom was gone. And then, like an ostrich raising its head out of the sand, Becky the writer, Becky the musician, Becky who exercises, Becky who walks out the door without wearing a nursing tank, a baby, and an enormous diaper bag, started to poke their heads out. But how in the world can all these Beckys exist? I definitely had to grieve the loss of my old life, of my freedom and my lack of responsibility (what the hell did I even do with all that free time I used to have?), but I don’t feel like old Becky has died. Old Becky is still here, and now Mom Becky is here, too. It’s a tricky puzzle, but how lucky am I to be working on this puzzle? I have all of these wonderful things in my life, plus my baby! How cool is that?
  • L is definitely not always cool. He really, really sucks sometimes.
  • That being said, it is super fun to take him out and about. He loves the lights, the noises, all the people. I’ve fallen in love with NYC all over again. How funny, Becky the Kentuckian raising a city boy!
  • Back to the me puzzle. Working is hard. I love my job and am happy to be back, but seriously? Work and mother? Why did I choose to be a teacher? All these people and their needs. It took me a solid six weeks to not feel like a zombie all the time.
  • Now that I feel like a zombie only half the time, I have somehow been able to write and play music. My level of productivity has increased exponentially. When I have an hour to sit and write, I am not on Facebook, I am not looking at my phone. I am writing. However, a big challenge for me has been letting go of expectations. I will not get that first draft of my novel done by next month. Nor did the band release our EP this summer. Yes, I use my creative time much better than I did before, but I just don’t have that much creative time anymore (again, what the hell did I do with all that free time I used to have?). Everything takes a lot longer now that I’m a mom. That is okay. Repeat, that is okay. It’s frustrating, but frustration is okay, too.
  • IMG_3722I miss biking to work every day. I miss doing yoga at night. I miss sitting to meditate whenever I want. Taking care of myself is difficult. But I have found little ways to do it, like biking around the park for twenty minutes when Dave is home, or doing a few poses while L crawls around me, or mindfully washing the dishes. It might not be thirty minutes of exercise or hour-long sits everyday, but it counts. And I’m discovering all of these little opportunities throughout the day to breathe deeply, to bring myself into the present moment. L is really good for this. Not only does he demand my attention (turns out that dog food, balls of cat fur and shoelaces are really delicious), but when I’m being mindful and present, everything is so much better. His delightful moments are that much brighter. His sucky moments are that much more bearable. Feeding the pets, vacuuming the rug, brushing my teeth, all the routine daily chores become a rewarding part of my day instead of a bother. And, let’s be honest, I fall asleep during most of my attempts to sit and meditate, anyway.

The little bug is stirring. This was a nice, long nap. It’s so great that he’s fallen into a steady schedule just in time to travel for Christmas. I’m sure he’ll continue this lovely routine on airplanes and in strange homes. Vacations are fun!

Happy holidays, my friends.