One Year On

One year, folks. One year since things went nuts.

On March 6th 2020, Chico flew back to the United States from Spain, and on March 14th Trump banned flights from many European countries (including Spain!).

The fact that Chico has been with us through this pandemic has been one of the small miracles I’ve witnessed over the last year.

There have been a few others.

The Power of a Gifted Teacher

We are lucky to live in a privileged school district, where each child was issued a Chromebook. We are also lucky to have reliable internet connection.

And we are extremely lucky that for kindergarten the Bug was assigned to one of the finest teachers I have ever encountered. A woman of great patience, kindness, but firmness, with a sense of humor to boot.

Mrs. B has reached through the computer screen and ignited the Bug’s love of learning. I consider that a miracle. And the miracle of Mrs. B’s gift has had such a big impact on our family.

He’s logged on to school each day with joy and anticipation, and not once has he complained about it. Miracle.

The Dedication of a Team of Strangers

I signed up to volunteer with the local medical reserve corps last spring. I felt powerless in the face of the pandemic and wanted to help.

From the first time I volunteered, I was struck by how well organized, how proactive and how coordinated everything and everyone was. It seemed to me like all the other volunteers were pros who had been doing this forever.

It turns out, a large number of them were first-time volunteers like me. But like me, they were of a mindset that they were there simply to be useful.

It speaks to how well the organizers from the health department do their jobs, because the MRC here runs like a well-oiled machine.

We currently vaccinate between 1,800 and 2,800 people a day at the county vaccination site. That entire operation is staffed solely by volunteers.

That volunteer army is a miracle.

How Children Adapt to the New Normal

The first time I went to the grocery store wearing a face mask, I nearly had a panic attack.

It was so strange, so frightening and so new to me that I didn’t think I’d ever get used to it.

Ha! Shows what I know! Now I feel weird NOT wearing a mask!

When the kids first had to wear masks, it was a struggle. They complained and fussed, and kept pulling them off their faces. By the second time, they were more resigned. By the third time it was as if they’d been wearing them all their lives.

Now, when we leave the house, they put on their masks like champs. It’s the new normal for them, and they shrug and put them on, just like they put on sunglasses on sunny days and hats on cold ones. No biggie.

Not having to argue about mask wearing every time we go out? Definitely a miracle.

A Shoutout to Librarians

The last little miracle I’ve witnessed is the wonderful dedication of people who love their jobs, and do them well.

Specifically, librarians.

They are a rare and wonderful breed, and they enrich our lives in so many small ways. Every Monday, we go to our local library, and there we encounter the ways librarians show the community their love.

They’re small: A carefully chosen display of books and references on this month’s theme (March is national crafting month!). A printed flyer with a list of read-aloud chapter book recommendations for children ages six to nine. The weekly craft, all neatly packed in a brown paper bag, ready for us to take home (this week we’re growing zinnias!).

The joy the boys feel when they pick up their weekly crafts, and then settle in to browse the bookshelves… That joy is a gift from the librarians.

And it is no small miracle.

Thank You, Miracle Workers

Thank you to the teachers, the volunteers and the librarians. Thank you for the miracles you work every day.

A Farewell to 2020

I came across this clip on Instagram:

npr.org

I watched it repeatedly. I cried as I did. I defy you not to shed tears when you watch it.

As Much As I’d Love To Forget…

Forgetting this year would be too easy. And extremely dangerous.

To forget this year would dishonor the memory of the over 343,000 Americans who have lost their lives to Covid-19.

If we forget, we brush aside those who have survived but suffered through this pandemic.

Forgetting would trample on the memory of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many, many more who were killed by police brutality this year.

We cannot forget the lessons and the reckonings of 2020.

If we do, what will happen the next time a global pandemic strikes? Will we be just as unprepared as we were in March of 2020? The idea of that terrifies me.

We Also Shouldn’t Forget the Joy

Amid the bleakness, the anxiety and the isolation, there have also been moments of joy.

These are usually small and very personal. Collective joy has been noticeably scarce.

Personal moments of joy for us this year have included:

  1. The Bug learning to read and becoming an independent reader.
  2. The Bear learning to ride his bike and taking joy in riding with us.
  3. The Chico’s slow progress in his immigration status (though admittedly this has also sometimes been a source of frustration).
  4. My rediscovering the piano and taking the time to practice.

What Joy has 2020 Brought You?

It doesn’t matter how short the list is. Try and make one. It just might help you feel a little better about this past year.

Happy New Year. I hope 2021 brings us all peace, joy and collective healing.

Christmas Cookie Madness

It’s been a crappy year. For that reason alone, we need LOTS of Christmas cookies.

Also because we’re at home, we’re bored, and we might as well bake.

Therefore, I admit it.

I have gone overboard.

I have made cookies in years past, it is true. But not quite this many cookies. And perhaps not with this intensity and sense of purpose.

It’s hard to say exactly when it started. Honestly, the days are kind of running together at this point.

But I think it was Friday night that I mixed up the first batches of cookie dough, ready to bake on Saturday.

First up were some wonderful gingerbread cookies. I haven’t made these every year, but the Bug asked specifically for gingerbread cookies this year.

Next up, I mixed up the dough for the ever-popular and much-beloved peanut butter chocolate kiss cookies (sometimes called peanut butter blossoms).

Saturday and Sunday we baked and decorated, and by the end of the weekend we had the previously mentioned cookies as well as my favorite sour cream ginger cookies, and Russian tea cakes.

The last cookies to make are the chocolate crinkle cookies, which are always popular.

Why so many cookies?

Is it just me, or does it feel like this Christmas has to be the most Christmassy of Christmasses in this history of Christmas?

As if, in an effort to make up for such an awesomely and epically crappy year, we need to make Christmas even more over the top to compensate?

I was even thinking of making a Bûche de Noël, for goodness’ sake!

Whatever the reason, I feel myself driven by some unknown force to make this Christmas a very special one for the boys.

This is the first Christmas we are spending at home just the four of us. Up until now we have always traveled for Christmas.

Perhaps I’m worried they’ll find it disappointing after previous years of boisterous family gatherings.

Relieved and Disappointed

Honestly, though, I am so relieved not to be traveling for Christmas this year.

Though we were supposed to have seen our family members throughout the year: in summertime, for Thanksgiving…

So now, even though I wanted to stay home for Christmas, I’m still feeling bummed about not seeing our families.

Less Christmas Stress

But as Chico and I were saying the other night: we feel far less stressed about the holidays this year.

It’s nice not to worry about packing so little so that we’ll have room to bring gifts back. I’m not worried about overweight luggage, travel delays and winter storms.

(I’m also remembering how last year the Bear spent the entire transatlantic flight being sick to his stomach. Man, I’m glad we won’t have to deal with that!)

Bittersweet

In 2019, I wanted to stay home for Christmas 2020. In 2019, I had crossed the Atlantic four times, flown domestically four times, and was ready to just stay put for once.

Now in 2020, I’ve been forced to stay put. And the travel itch is growing.

Hopefully, in 2021, we’ll be able to see our loved ones near and far. And maybe we’ll travel for Christmas again.

Maybe.

An Illegal Hug

We humans really are funny creatures.

Previously I wrote about being an extrovert and really missing contact with others. Today, I stole a quick moment of contact that was wonderful.

But made me yearn for more.

Outdoor Meetups

At some point, a couple friends and I decided to get together outdoors. We meet up with our kids in quiet playgrounds, always looking for secluded spots.

Today was a sunny and warm-ish day, so we met up after school got out on an elementary school playground.

We hadn’t seen each other for a while, and the sense of joy at being together was palpable. Chatting away, we were delighted to be doing something that felt so normal.

A Stolen Moment

One of my friends is acting as homeschooling teacher for her own kids and another pair of siblings. She is a woman of incredible energy, generous and kind in spirit.

We were just getting settled into a nice chat when suddenly, one of her charges called out to her from the top of a jungle gym.

“Ms. S! I’m stuck! I need help!”

She caught sight of him and broke off mid-sentence. A look of kindly exasperation came over her face, she gave a quick sigh and moved to step past me, towards him.

Just as she was preparing to dash over, she made the slightest move towards me with her arms open.

Without realizing what I was doing, I opened my arms to meet her, and we caught each other in a quick but warm hug, faces turned away from each other.

Time seemed to stop.

Her smell nearly overcame me. I caught a wonderful mix of scents: her laundry detergent, lotion, shampoo, maybe even perfume?

It was wonderful.

I realized in that brief embrace that I hadn’t hugged anyone but my family since February. No wonder the scent of her arrested me: I’m so used to the smell of my boys that any different smells strike me as strong.

It lasted just a split second. We broke apart, she ran off and negotiated the kiddo off the top of the jungle gym.

That Hug Said So Much

Without saying anything, I felt like we had told each other so much.

That hug spoke of loneliness, exhaustion, frustration, empathy, solidarity. It spoke of need.

It was a beautiful and spontaneous expression of a need for contact.

All Too Brief

Shortly after, a nasty fall from a different jungle gym ended our visit a bit early. Someone got a knock on the nose, and needed to go home for a little TLC.

Without any expression of resentment for shortening the visit, my friend gathered her charges and prepared to head home.

I sensed that she could have done with a longer visit, a longer natter, a good yarning session.

I wished she could stay longer too, but I silently thanked her for that illegal hug.

It was a little preview of what we have to look forward to when, some day hopefully not too far from now, the pandemic is over.

Check On Your Extroverts

This morning my very dearest friend sent me a quick Whatsapp message.

“Hey, I’m free. Do you want to talk?”

“Do I want to talk??” I thought.

IS THE POPE CATHOLIC?!

DO BEARS DO THEIR BUSINESS IN THE WOODS?!?!

Yes. Absolutely. Yes I want to talk.

Her Spider Senses

My friend has a sixth sense for these kinds of things. She just seems to know instinctively when she’s needed.

Something must have told her that a little chat wouldn’t go amiss, and despite being in the office and having plenty of work to do, she gave me a call on her lunch break.

She’s a doctor. She’s done a residency in psychiatry. Psychology is a large part of her job. She has an idea of how different kinds of people are handling the pandemic.

She also knows me very well, and knows that I’m an incorrigible extrovert.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Hearing her voice was a breath of fresh air for me.

I’m very much a people person. If I cannot get social contact, if I cannot meet with other people, whether they be dear friends or even other parents on the playground, I wilt.

Seriously. I wilt.

I feel a hollowing out inside me, I feel a crushing loneliness, and I retreat to a gloomy place in my head.

That’s not to say that I can’t be alone. I very much enjoy my alone time. But I need it balanced with social time.

So when I got on the phone with my friend, though I had so many questions to ask her, and so much I wanted to catch up on with her, I proceeded to talk her ear off.

Kicking Myself

It was, necessarily, a quick call. My friend had to get back to work and I had to get my day started.

When we rang off, I stopped and thought, “Gah! I wanted to ask her about _____. I didn’t ask how _____ went!”

I had been so busy gabbing like a goose that I forgot to listen. It happens sometimes.

I regretted instantly how I had squandered our short call on seemingly unimportant blather. I ached to get her back on the phone and say, “Your turn!”

Sadly, it will have to wait until the next time we have a free moment.

Check On Your Extroverts

What my friend did today was a good deed.

That’s not to say that I was the only one who derived any pleasure from our talk. We enjoy chatting and listening to each other in equal measure. I know that it’s a pleasure for me to sit and listen to her when she needs it, and I have no doubt she feels the same way.

But she thought to herself, “I know an extremely extroverted person who is in social isolation right now. She probably needs a call.” And that was a Very Nice Thing.

A friend on Facebook posted this the other day:

Check on your extroverts, after 8 months of this, we are not ok. I miss people. Zoom is not a replacement.

K.M. ON FACEBOOK

PREACH, SISTER.

An Invitation

I invite you all to do as my friend did this morning and check in on someone you think might need it.

I call my Dad daily. If I’m seriously extroverted, I get it from somewhere. That somewhere is most definitely my Dad.

He and I alternate chatting and listening, and while we can drive each other nuts, we also get a lot of joy out of our talks.

Even if you’re handling this situation just fine, and you don’t feel the need to reach out, do it.

Think of that friend, that relative you know to be struggling with the isolation. It could be an irrepressibly bubbly friend, or it could be an elderly relation who misses contact with family.

Extroverts tend to have the highest highs and the lowest lows. It happens to anyone who is slightly off an even keel.

A call from you may just be the high the extrovert in your life needs.

Everything’s Normal

Things have been pretty dull around here lately. So dull that when I made hot toddies on Thursday night, it was the big event of the week.

(I made them with Celestial Seasonings brand rooibos vanilla tea, and OMG they were out of this world! Here’s the recipe I used.)

The other excitement of the week was getting our Christmas tree today!

Something Like Normal

We’re doing our best to keep things as normal as possible for the boys. They’re home all day every day and they don’t see other kids, which is not normal. But within that, we try to stick to a schedule.

I think that everyone finds some comfort in routine. It helps to normalize a very abnormal situation, such as this pandemic.

But a little change is sometimes called for, and this year we’re getting into the holiday spirit much earlier than I’m used to.

So, this morning we drove out to western Loudoun County and visited Milltown Creek Christmas Tree Farm. We got our tree there last year, and the familiarity of the place was good for the boys.

Also, the magic of it.

Even More Special This Year

This year, the comfort of the tree and the lights feels almost necessary.

Despite wearing masks the whole time, we felt normal, and certainly happy as we strolled through the rows of pines and firs trying to find the perfect tree.

(The Bear did complain of hunger a bit, but that’s all in keeping with the normal theme.)

The sun was shining, and though it was cold we were able to enjoy a complimentary cup of hot apple cider out in the sunshine before driving home.

Once home, we went through the process of taking out the box of decorations, rediscovering each ornament at a time. There’s always magic in that moment, but today it seemed even sweeter.

Craving Family

This will be the first Christmas in many years that we haven’t been with family. We were planning to stay put for Christmas this year anyway, but since we haven’t been able to travel at all since January, it feels wrong.

Normally, we’d have visited Spain in the summer, maybe even Switzerland, too. Staying home at Christmas would be a rest: a chance for us to relax as a family.

But after the isolated, socially distant year we’ve had, I miss family and friends more than ever. Though I swore last year I wouldn’t travel at Christmas for at least a few years, given the opportunity to do so safely, I think I’d jump on a plane tomorrow.

In Lieu of That…

We have ornaments. Gifts from family, friends. Gifts from my mother who always did her best to make the holidays magical.

And so we put up the tree today (two weeks early, in my books!), and it warms our hearts.

Looking at it makes our loved ones who are so far away feel closer.

Home Together Again

It’s official.

We have withdrawn the Bear from daycare and we’re now all home together.

Everything Was Fine

Over the summer, both boys went to daycare. The Bug was in pre-K and the Bear in daycare. Once fall rolled around, the Bug started kindergarten in the public school (distance learning), and the Bear moved up to preschool.

It wasn’t always easy to get the Bear out of the house in the morning. He’s no fool! He knew his big brother was staying home!

Also, he was wary of the transition from daycare to preschool, and he missed his old classmates from the twos classroom.

He loved his new teacher, though, and eventually all was going swimmingly, until a child in his class tested positive for Covid.

Until It Wasn’t

As I wrote at the time, this frightened us a bit. To me, it felt like a reality check that YES THE CORONAVIRUS IS STILL AROUND, and YES WE CAN GET IT!

The school reported the case to the health department, which I was very glad about. I got a call from a contact tracer, and answered all the necessary questions about symptoms, contacts, activities, etc.

Since then, we’ve received daily texts asking us to report on the Bear’s symptoms. It’s easy to do, and so far we’ve had nothing to report.

So really, not that scary.

And yet, today, with two days left to go in our quarantine period and nary a sign of a symptom, we decided to withdraw the Bear from school.

Family Priorities

Talking it over together, the Chico and I agreed that with the onset of the cold weather, these instances of either infection or scares are likely to increase.

Whether anyone gets Covid or not, the kids will all be getting seasonal colds, coughs and sniffles. And each time that happens, we will either have to quarantine until the symptoms pass, or we will have to get tested for Covid.

We decided that though it’s not ideal for either of the boys to be out of school, under the circumstances, we’d rather keep them home.

As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, we want to be able to spend time indoors with our friends and family. With the Bear in daycare, we wouldn’t feel as comfortable doing that.

However, if we know that our exposure has been limited, then we won’t be so worried about potentially infecting others.

Really it’s a question of controlling our environment as best we can.

Send Help (and/or Wine)

This is not going to be easy. It’s going to take a lot of willpower to keep from resorting to chocolate or wine on particularly relentless days.

The advantage we have now over lockdown in the spring is that the Bug has a schedule. Even though he’s at home, his days are structured, and that helps to set the rhythm for the rest of us.

Morning time is reading/school time (coloring, educational play, stories), we all have a lunch and break together, then afternoon nap for the Bear while the Bug has his afternoon classes.

The afternoons are all about exercise and playing. The boys “help” me with my Pilates (hilarity ensues–laughing burns calories, right?), and they do their Cosmic Kids yoga sessions.

If we can stick to a rhythm, I think we’ll make it through this.

But still, feel free to send wine. It won’t go to waste.

A Double Negative!

We got two pieces of good news today, and both involved negative results.

Do two negatives make a positive? Or is it that a double negative cancels out and makes a positive?

Whatever. All I know is that we had good news.

First Negative: No Breast Cancer Gene!

Now this is good news, in that I am relieved that I do not feel like I need to fear my own body.

However, it’s true that this is no guarantee that I will not get breast cancer. In fact, my mother was also negative for the gene indicators, and she did get breast cancer.

So while it is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, it’s still a relief.

I wrote earlier about there being an expiration date stamped on my butt. Well now, it feels like instead of an expiration date, perhaps it’s more of a sell by date.

Everyone knows you can keep stuff waaaaay after that sell by date, right?

Second Negative: No Covid!

This evening, Chico and I both got our results for the nasal swab test we had yesterday.

We are both negative for Covid! Hooray!

We are, however, still required to quarantine as the Bear was in contact with a positive case only last Friday. We’ve got about 9 more days of quarantine to go.

We’re watching him like a hawk for symptoms and we’re taking our temperatures daily.

Going Forward

Winter is coming. Cold and flu season is upon us. We’ve had our flu shots, (GET YOUR FLU SHOTS!) but I feel like in this, The Time of Covid, any symptom, no matter how mild, is going to make us think, “COVID!”

With that in mind, we have some hard thinking to do, and some decisions to make.

We may withdraw ourselves into our own family lockdown again. Or at least, stay all four of us at home so that we feel more comfortable expanding our bubble to our close family members.

You know: the people we’ll want to see inside when the weather really gets cold.

Meanwhile…

We’re having days like this:

One had a soft landing. The other did not.

The Risks We Run

It’s called a pandemic for a reason.

Over one million people have died worldwide (that we know of). Over 200,000 have died in the United States alone.

Just because we’re tired of social distancing, doesn’t mean the virus is gone. People are still getting sick with Covid-19. The coronavirus gives precisely zero craps about how fed up we are with things.

And So, We Choose Risks.

First, we carefully consider how much risk we are willing to tolerate. Do we get together with a limited group of family members?

Then, we consider the kids. Do we keep them at home? Or do we take the risk and send them to daycare and school?

We kept social distancing, but we returned the kids to daycare. They thrived. We kept up our hand washing routines, health checks. Everyone was fine.

When it came time to make the choice about distance learning vs. hybrid, we opted for distance learning, before the school board reversed its decision to offer a choice and went for only distance learning.

And Then… We Got Used to It.

Pandemic procedures became part of daily life.

The weather was good, the boys were happy. We were spending time outside, so we saw people outside, and it was easy to forget about the pandemic.

We kept wearing our masks, and the children’s teachers were always masked. It all came to seem so normal.

Yesterday, A Child Got Sick.

Yesterday evening, we got a call that a child in the Bear’s daycare class had tested positive for Covid-19.

I cannot imagine how terrifying the situation must be for the family. I’ve since learned that the child is only experiencing mild symptoms, and I pray that continues to be the case.

For me, it’s been a real wake-up call. A reminder that this is still real, and it can happen to us.

Quarantined

So we’re in quarantine. The Chico and I are experiencing mild cold symptoms, so we got ourselves tested for Covid-19 and should have results tomorrow.

Whether we have “the dreaded lurgy” or not, we’ve been given a stark reminder to take this seriously.

If we do have the lurgy, then we’ll see you after quarantine.

If we don’t have it, well, we’ve still got to quarantine at home.

Either Way, We (Won’t) Be Seeing Ya!

Because we’ve got to social distance.

Why I’m Going to Wear My Mask Outside, Too

Yesterday I wrote about how important it is for us all to get our flu shots.

I also slipped in a little additional bonus messaging about wearing a mask.

And that got me thinking.

I’m Being Hypocritical.

I wear a mask when I go into a public building. If someone has to come into my house for some reason, I ask them to wear a mask and I wear one, too.

We have expanded our bubble to include family members who live nearby, and with them we don’t wear masks, but we still maintain distance.

However, the place I have not been wearing a mask is outside on the playground.

“Nobody Else Is!”

This is what I tell myself when I feel a bit guilty and start looking around at the playground.

No other parents are wearing masks.

Everyone is standing apart, no one is getting too close, but no one is wearing a mask.

We figure we’re all outside, and we’re far enough apart.

Not So!

The CDC makes it very clear that wearing a mask in ANY public setting is important to help stem the spread of the coronavirus. They do not distinguish between indoors or outdoors.

This article from a hospital network in New Jersey addresses the question of wearing masks outside.

Here’s when you should wear a mask outside:

  • When it is difficult to maintain the recommended 6-foot social distancing from others (such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy or walking on a busy street or in a crowded neighborhood).
  • If required to by law. Many areas now have mandatory masking regulations when in public.

Here’s when you don’t need to wear a mask outside:

  • You’re in your backyard or on personal property and it is very unlikely that you’ll end up within 6 feet of someone else.
  • You are in any other secluded location where the likelihood of running into someone else is very low.
  • You are in either of the previously mentioned environments with someone you’ve been quarantined with.
  • You are under two years old or have a condition where wearing a mask would inhibit your health.
  • You are engaging in “high intensity aerobic or anaerobic activities” or when in the water.
  • You are eating or drinking outdoors.

Source: Dr. Frank Elliot, “Should You Wear a Mask Outside”, https://www.hackensackmeridianhealth.org, updated 07/09/2020, accessed 09/19/2020, https://www.hackensackmeridianhealth.org/HealthU/2020/04/20/should-you-wear-a-mask-outside/.

The Playground is Unpredictable

Unless you’re refusing to set foot on the playground and you’re sitting off to the side, far away from others, it is VERY difficult to keep six feet away from everyone else.

Kids are running all over the place, and their parents are chasing after them.

There’s no telling when suddenly, albeit briefly, you may be within inches of another person’s face.

I’m not going to risk it. I’m going to wear a mask. And by so doing, I’ll be protecting myself, those other kids and their parents, too.

The Question Is Now…

Do I make my children wear them?

Or simply keep them off the playgrounds?