covid_19

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?

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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.

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

 

Covid City 12: Week Three

4/1/2020, 8:15 am

My family is starting to fall into a groove here in Covid City. Aspects that felt hard before are getting easier. We’ve found a flow of sorts to our days. But new things feel hard now, like the repetition and redundancy of it all, and how much video chats suck. The unknowns are weighing on me in a new way this week, too. 

There are too many questions, on both the global scale and the individual scale. I worry about hospitals being overwhelmed beyond capacity; Maimonides Medical Center recently had to turn their pediatric emergency unit into a coronavirus isolation wing (see the picture from TIME magazine below). This scares me. What happens if my baby has an allergic reaction to a new food, or if my big kid breaks an arm? Will there be a doctor available to treat them? Will this treatment expose our family to the virus?

Week one was just insane, everything coming at us all the time, changing every hour. Life was so different so suddenly. I jumped straight into plan-and-prepare mode. Week two brought me the ability to find space for myself, to cry and be angry and work on acceptance, but it still wasn’t enough space to truly reflect. This week, though, as my household has begun to settle and I’ve been able to think a bit more, reality is sinking in deeper, and my OCD has been set off. All these thoughts keep rushing my brain. We have more time in quarantine ahead of us than behind us and this feels daunting. More daunting is that we have no idea what our future economy and society will be like. Things can’t go back to how they were before, yet this return to before is exactly what those in power want. What can we the people do about this? Signing petitions and calling senators doesn’t feel like enough. Now that COVID-19 has woken more of us up, it feels like we’ve got a large enough mass to do something real. But what does that even mean? What actions should we take? And will our so-called leaders listen? What will happen if they don’t? Will things get violent? 

And then there’s the hardest question that keeps shoving itself into the forefront of my brain: Who am I going to lose to this?

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Two decades of cognitive-behavior therapy and practice living with OCD are kicking in. I’m doing my breathing exercises, and the act of replacing an intrusive thought with a more positive one has become second-nature by this point. I’m also trying to avoid the news entirely and focus instead on my family. We’ve had more good blocks so far this week than bad ones. It’s interesting how Covid City has turned even the most normal expectations upside down. Like, Mondays are good for us now; after two days of hanging out together with no “Mommy work,” we’re refreshed and ready to go. But then by Thursday, which was an easy day in the time of before, we’re a wretched mess (at least I think that’s what’s happening; the days are certainly blurring together).

I’m also trying to focus on what I’ve learned and what tweaks I can make to improve our days. A new framing has helped me: this life in Covid City is not homeschool, working from home, nor stay-at-home parenting. This life is all of it all the time. It is not possible to separate my roles out from one another. I don’t stop being the mama because I closed the bedroom door and put headphones in for a work call. I don’t stop being a program coordinator because my kid slinked into the room with tears in his eyes. My children appear in video meetings with my boss, I send emails while watching Frozen 2 for the fifth time in five days, and I make edits at night while Dave reads kids’ books out loud. All of my boundaries have merged. It is intense and at times overwhelming, but giving in to this merge feels better than trying to resist it.

Even if I had the physical space of a house with a home office on a separate floor, I don’t think I could work and ignore my family all day. I’m the organizer, the one who keeps track of time and pays attention to the little details. Dave is great at diving into messy art activities, cooking elaborate meals, wrestling and rough-housing with L. He does the laundry, walks the dog, cleans the kitchen (sort of). But without me, he struggles, just like I struggle without him. If anybody’s in this together, it’s the two of us. 

I keep thinking about my mom. I’m glad she doesn’t have to live through this, though in some ways, she would have been perfect for life in quarantine; during the years approaching her death, her phobias had forced her to isolate from the public, her undiagnosable illness meant she had to live with a million unknown answers, and her ongoing hallucinations had reduced her days to just getting through rather than planning ahead.

When I was L’s age, though, she wasn’t so sick. I have the sweetest memories of sitting at her and Granny’s feet, picking up scraps of fabric that had fallen from their sewing shears, draping the pieces over my dolls to make a patchwork dress, pretending like I wasn’t listening in on their conversations. I didn’t go to school until I was five and started public Kindergarten; most of my early-childhood days were spent over at Granny’s in the sewing room. The two women who raised me were hired to do big jobs like bridesmaids’ dresses, cheerleading uniforms, and elaborate quilts, but they also made almost everything I wore. They worked busily, and I was often told to entertain myself. There were no smartphones, iPads, or even TVs in the sewing room. The fact that I was bored did not bother them at all; they felt no obligation to keep me entertained. I certainly had my moments of ennui, but now looking back, those moments aren’t the ones that stand out. What I remember more than anything is how safe, comforted, and loved I felt in that sewing room, even when I was being ignored.

Granny_Mom_Me
This week I’ve decided to focus less on structuring our days and more on trying to create this feeling for my family. The world outside our window is scary right now. But here inside our apartment, we’ve got so much. I’m not giving up on our old homeschool plans and activities – I want L to be challenged, to keep learning, to practice the skills he’s been working so hard on in preschool. And I’ve actually really enjoyed some of the homeschool moments we’ve shared as a family doing yoga, learning about octopuses, or doodling with Mo Willems. But these things can still happen without the entire family centering our days around L. Letting him sit in boredom sometimes is probably good for him. At the very least, it allows me the space I need to keep breathing and to keep those positive thoughts flowing. Ultimately, that’s good for us all.

Covid City 11: An Ode to Anger

img_4046Written last night, 3/26/2020, at 9 pm

I am mad today. Really fucking mad. At everything, all of it.

I’m mad that my kid lost his school and his friends and a teacher whom he adored. I’m mad that his fifth birthday party is ruined. I’m mad that his sense of safety has been shattered, that he’s been forced to grow up so much in the past two weeks. I’m mad he won’t ever get this time back.

I’m mad that none of us are sleeping, that no matter what we try, the baby wakes up screaming in the middle of the night and then again at 5 am, bright-eyed and ready to climb bookshelves. I’m mad that his formula, diapers, and wipes are so expensive. I’m mad that for him, life in Covid City is all there is, that he won’t remember a time before this.

I’m mad that my dad, my siblings, my nephews, the whole rest of my family, is far away in Kentucky. I’m mad that my granny is alone in a nursing home, just waiting, watching, wondering.

I’m mad that I still have to work and my husband doesn’t. I’m mad at how my body aches and my brain hurts. I’m mad that we can’t go out to a restaurant or a playground or the Botanic Gardens for our annual romp in the cherry blossoms.

I’m mad that our apartment has only four rooms but that celebrities have mansions with pools and theaters. I’m mad that I’m jealous of them. I’m mad that anyone is living in quarantine with an abuser. I’m mad that so many others are facing this pandemic on the streets, in homeless shelters, locked in detention centers apart from their families, while billionaire landlords are provided mortgage relief. I’m mad that our political leaders are incapable and unethical, and I’m really mad that despite how the coronavirus has exposed this country for the sham it is, so many people are still defending it.

Fucking Wednesdays. Or whatever today is, I don’t even know anymore. Life as a parent on lockdown means there is no weekend. That pisses me off, too.

But you know what’s pissing me off the most right now? The fact that Dave and I are supposed to be packing for our 10-year anniversary trip to Miami. Without kids. To rub salt in the wound: I’m still receiving automated trip-reminder emails from Spirit Airlines. Each ding in my inbox brings me back to how, just one month ago, life as a full-time working mother of two had worn me down so much that the only thing getting me through was the promise of a vacation where my husband and I could rest, recuperate, and relish in each other. Instead of Miami, we get Covid City.

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I don’t have a cheery “but then I did this and was happy” message to wrap up with. I meditated, I ran, I wrote. These things helped, but even now at the end of the day, I’m still edgy. I guess I have to learn how to just be okay with that. I can’t stomp around yelling at my family, but I also can’t pretend I’m not angry. Perhaps part of staying sane in Covid City is letting myself feel whatever comes up. Some days will be positive, others will be angry. I have to just let that be. 

***

Update: I am posting this on Friday morning, and after having slept for six hours straight in a row, I am feeling better. I hope all of you got some sleep, too. My morning meditation self-care goal for today is to walk. Whether it be a simple circle around the apartment, a loop around the block with the dog, or a trip to the beach if I get so lucky, today I want to walk as much as I can.

Covid City 10: Support for Small Businesses, Nonprofits & the Unemployed

Did you recently lose your job as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic? Do you run a nonprofit or own a small business and need some assistance? Please see the info and resources below, courtesy of the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce and NYCETC.

support local business safely
New York State Updates

  • New York will implement a 90-day moratorium on evictions for residential and commercial tenants.
  • NYS will waive mortgage payments for 90 days based on financial hardship (with no late fees and no negative impact on credit).
  • With respect to Sales Tax in NYS, the failure to timely remit sales tax will not be subject to interest or penalties. The deadline to pay Federal income taxes has been extended to July 15th
  • New York has a critical need for Personal Protection Equipment including gloves, gowns, and masks. NYS needs companies to be creative to supply the crucial gear our healthcare workers need. NY will pay a premium and offer funding.
    – Need Funding? 212-803-3100
    – Have Unused Supplies? 646-522-8477, or email COVID19supplies@esd.ny.gov
    to mitigate high call volumes.
  • Public transportation will keep running to get nurses, doctors, law enforcement officers, and other essential personnel where they need to go. Everyone else: Limit the use of public transportation to only when absolutely necessary.
  • KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: Click here for info on COVID-19 testing, insurance requirements, filing for unemployment, mortgages and banking, utilities, and submissions for price gouging complaints.
  • Rental Arrears Grants for Single Adults and Families 


Financial Supports for Nonprofits and Small Businesses


Survey & Information Requests


More Resources for Small Businesses: Loans & Grants

  • NYC Employee Retention Grant Program – APPLY HERE
    Available to New York City businesses with one to four employees that can demonstrate at least a 25% decrease in revenue as a result of COVID-19. Eligible businesses will receive a grant covering up to 40% of their payroll for two months. Businesses can access up to $27,000. Gather the appropriate documents.
  • NYC Small Business Continuity Fund (Zero-Interest Loans) – MORE INFO
    Businesses with fewer than 100 employees who are seeing a decrease in revenue of 25% or more will be eligible for zero-interest loans up to $75,000 to help mitigate profit losses.
  • Federal Small Business Administration Assistance Loans – APPLY HERE
    As a small business, small agricultural cooperative, small business engaged in aquaculture, or private non-profit organization, you may borrow up to $2 million. Gather the appropriate documents. Choose ‘Economic Injury‘ as the reason for the loan request.
  • The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans – offers up to $2 million to help small businesses and private non-profit organizations overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing as a result of the Coronavirus. The loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact. The interest rate is 3.75% for small businesses without credit available elsewhere, and 2.75% for non-profits, with a maximum term of 30 years, depending on the ability to repay. Click here for more info. Check out the NYSBDC application guide for an excellent step-by-step explanation of applying through the SBA’s disaster loan portal. You can also refer to the SBA process summary or contact the SBA directly at disastercustomerservice@sba.gov or (800)-659-2955.
  • Renaissance Economic Development Corporation, an affiliate of Asian Americans for Equality, just announced its Emergency Small Business Relief Loan Fund to help the many independent neighborhood businesses imperiled by COVID-19. Learn more (or apply) at:
    English – https://renaissance-ny.org/emergency-small-business-relief-loan-fund/
    Chinese – https://renaissance-ny.org/emergency-loan-fund-chinese/
    Korean – https://renaissance-ny.org/small-business-fund-korean
    Spanish – https://renaissance-ny.org/emergency-fund-spanish


The Greater New York Chamber is open (working remotely)
and here to assist your business!

Questions? Email info@chamber.nyc or call 212-686-7220 or 212-CHAMBER.

Covid City 9: Resources for Staying Centered

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Posting quickly here today to share some resources my family has been loving as well as an excellent list of self-care and wellness sites my friend, Maria Logothetis, created. Everyone can benefit from these, not just parents!

Also, today’s morning meditation self-care goal is to take deep breaths. I am exhausted. M was up and screaming from 3 to 5 and then we all got up at 6:30 am for yet another day of making this work. It’s a good thing he’s adorable. Still, being cute doesn’t make up for being underslept. I need to come back to my breath as much as I can today, to center myself, calm myself, and remind myself that this ability to breathe with ease is a true gift, especially here in the middle of Covid City.

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Resources We’re Loving as a Family


Yoga 

  • www.downdogapp.com – Offers 5 apps for different workout methods: Yoga, Yoga for Beginners, HIIT, Barre, and 7-minute workouts.  They are offering free subscriptions until July 1 for any students, teachers or staff/administrators in K-12 & College.  All you need is a school email address. They are also offering their services free to the public until April 1st.
  • https://www.myyogaworks.com/  – Offering a 14-day free trial with a variety of classes, from beginner to prenatal to advanced. No app; website only.


Meditation/Mindfulness 

  • https://www.garrisoninstitute.org/programs-retreats/community-programs/ – Hosts mindfulness retreats and workshops of all kinds throughout the year. Currently offering Free Live Meditation sessions via Zoom on certain days.  Check out their link for details.
  • https://kripalu.org/resources  – Kripalu is a yoga and wellness center in Massachusetts.  They run retreats and workshops on a regular basis and have a list of articles and videos to help deal with stress, anxiety and the like, ranging from aromatherapy to cooking to yoga and meditation.
  • https://centerformsc.org/practice-msc/guided-meditations-and-exercises/ – The Center for Mindful Self Compassion has some online resources and guided meditations for you to explore. Self compassion is many times the first step to working with difficult emotions, especially fear and anxiety.
  • https://tricycle.org/  – This is a Buddhist online publication that has great meditation resources. They post free guided meditations from renowned meditation teachers, both Buddhist and non-sectarian, and have lots of articles for reading more on meditation and Buddhism. They also have a Daily Dharma email you can sign up for, with introspective quotes emailed to you daily.


Podcasts/Audio Talks for Mindfulness & Meditation

 
Free Meditation Apps
  • Headspace – Focused on guided meditations and tips to help you meditate. Ranges from beginner programs to advanced.  Great place to start.
  • Insight Timer – Offers great free individual guided meditations plus meditation programs – a series of meditations – you can pay for. Also tracks the time you meditate so that you can look for trends, etc.
  • Calm – User-friendly app with guided mediations.


Food for Thought