working parents

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.

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.