family

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.

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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.

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

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?

laura in hospital
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.

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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 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

Covid City 8: Be Gentle, Please

March 23, 2020 7:30 am

My calendar tells me it’s Monday. This matters when it comes to my job, but as a parent here in Covid City where going out is not an option, there is no such thing as a weekend.

Case in point: M woke up at 6 am Saturday morning. L stumbled out of bed a couple of hours later and asked when we’d be starting circle time. After having spent the past week experimenting with various homeschool arrangements, Dave and I needed a break. “Today is a Saturday, sweetie,” I said.

“Oh right, it’s a home day,” L replied.

“Well, I guess every day is these days. But it’s up to you. Do you want homeschool today?”

L thought for a moment and decided no. But then, only minutes later, he launched into project time and from there proceeded to lead us through the full homeschool schedule: outside exercises, center time, lunch, quiet time, meditation, dance party, more project time. It actually all went very well; Dave and I were even able to get the laundry and cooking done. So what was the magic secret? Why had this day gone so much better than the others? And how could we make it happen again?

Later that night, Dave and I analyzed all the different options we had tried thus far and came to some excellent conclusions. Even though L had melted down when we’d let him take the lead earlier in the week, he seemed to love it on Saturday. Perhaps now that he had processed things a bit more, letting him lead would be the best move. We went through all the details and felt confident in our plans to replicate Saturday’s success going forward.

Sunday started out quite lovely. L led us through some project time while Dave selected a fun assortment of records. But then, out of nowhere (though it’s never truly out of nowhere), L freaked out and screamed so loudly he woke the baby up from nap. Dave reprimanded L, but I preferred a gentler approach and so interrupted him mid-sentence. This is definitely not the “united front” philosophy we have agreed upon. Dave was, of course, pissed off and left the room, which pissed me off. It took a while to calm L down, then Dave and I had to calm each other down. Meanwhile, the baby was still screaming from his crib.

And that’s when it hit me: we can plan, analyze, and schedule all night long, but the truth is, four people on lockdown in a small apartment are going to get mad at each other. We’re going to yell at each other. We’re going to laugh with each other, too. And in the end, we’re going to get through it with each other.

Homeschool with Dave = setting up a mini-recording studio in the living room.

Saturday worked because it worked. Who knows exactly why. What I do know is that I cannot make everyone happy and I cannot make every day go well even under normal conditions, much less in Covid City. Some days will be good. Others will not. That’s life, with or without the coronavirus.

Of course I’m going to try to create conditions that will foster happiness, creativity, and positivity during our days here at home together. Our child craves structure; when left to his own devices, he enforces it himself. But no matter what happens, I have to stop wasting so much of my brain space on trying to make every day as good as it can possibly be. Parenting in Covid City is weird and emotional and messy. Getting through the day is good enough.

P.S. My morning meditation self-care goal today is to drink more water. I am used to have bottle after bottle while I work in the office, but here at home, I am all discombobulated. Plus, the three of us keep leaving our glasses all over the apartment and then when the baby wakes up, we frantically stash them in weird, high-up places out of his reach, which are also out of our sight and thus out of mind. So today, I’m bringing back the water bottle.

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?

Human Waves

BeckyMeditating
On this fourth anniversary of my mother’s death, I am struck by how often I find her in my day-to-day, by how alive she still is in so many ways. Yet I am also struck by how badly I wish she could have met my son. He has met her, through photographs, recipes, lullabies, records, but she never got to see his face, much less hold his precious little body, and this is the one big thing I still grieve.

But when we lose someone we love, there will always be that one big thing. As I meditate by this glorious ocean, two waves crash into one another directly in front of me, their waters flowing through each other until it’s impossible to tell where either one begins or ends. Seconds later they reverse direction and glide away, disappearing into the vastness of the great water behind them. I think of how my mom and my son are like two waves splashing together inside of me, their waters flowing through each other through me, how really all of us are like waves in the same great glorious human ocean, crashing and gliding and flowing through one another.

Remembering Rain

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I am six-years-old in the backseat of my family’s blue Oldsmobile. My father is driving through a patch of heavy rain and my mother is nervous, she bites her nails and spins the radio knob in search of a local weather report. My older brother, however, is fascinated; he presses his fingers to his window and traces streaks of water as they race down the glass.

The rain somehow beats harder against our car. My heart beats faster along with it. I am worried this much rain means a tornado is coming and I know a car is the worst place to be during a tornado. There is so much I don’t understand yet – the nature of storms, of my mother’s phobias, of my own mind – and I am too young to find the words to form the right questions, much less accept that they don’t have answers. I am confused and I want to cry but everyone tells me I cry too much and I don’t want to prove them right. My brother can sense my disquiet, he turns to me and reaches one hand across the middle seat, pats his lap with the other. I lie down on him and am instantly soothed. He drapes his arm over me and tells me that he likes the rain, I shouldn’t be scared, rain is fun. I love him and the soft way he speaks and also how safe it feels to lie in his arms. My body relaxes and I think that if my very smart big brother likes the rain, then perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing after all.

— ◊ —

The rain stops right as my husband pulls into a hotel parking lot. I release our boy from his seat and he is thrilled to be free after all those hours of driving. He skips across the sidewalk through the front doors and into the lobby, climbs onto the couch and bounces three times before jumping down and dashing off again. I check in with the receptionist and then corral him back out through the doors to our car. My husband, laden with bags, comments on how beautiful the lightning is. He hands me the stroller then slams our trunk right as a loud crack of thunder rattles the sky, cracks open the dark, heavy cloud hanging above us, and releases an onslaught of rain. We squeal and run into the hotel, our clothes and hair drenched from mere seconds of downpour. The boy is beaming, he dances in circles around the lobby, delighted he is wet enough to leave puddles of water behind him. “Watch me!” he shouts at the receptionist who obediently walks around her desk and watches his clumsy rendition of a frog. She asks him if he likes the rain and he nods enthusiastically. She then asks if he is scared of thunder and he pauses, cocking his head in thought. After a moment, he leaps up to his feet, sticks his arms out behind his back and runs to the couch, shouting “Nooooooo!” as he throws his wet body against a cushion and bounces off of it, laughing hysterically.

 

Photo Credit: Downpour by Vaidehi Shah