parenting

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!

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.

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

 

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