This is Us

October 30, 2020

I write a lot about my family, so I thought I should introduce them by telling you a little bit about what they love. If I included an accurate list of what they don’t like, (considering that these days we are kind of cranky, given the pandemic, and everything,) you would have to skip dinner to finish. Afterwards, you would be depressed; reading about stranger’s complaints is irritating and you might have more things to your list of what makes you unhappy.

Katy, my seventeen year old, loves data. She wants a scale for Christmas. She writes everything that she eats and tracks all physical activity on an app. She would like a thermometer for Christmas, but that’s just probably because she’s a bit of a hypochondriac. She loves “Call of The Midwife” and “Gray’s Anatomy”. When people ask me what she plans to do with her life, I tell them she wants to go into medicine, which I feel is accurate, given her viewing choices. When I ask her, she says she has no idea. I like my answer better.

Colin loves clothes, sneakers with resale value, cologne that is not sold at CVS, matching socks, and hoodies that cost $200, (I don’t think he calls them hoodies, but it’s too early to ask him, and you know what I mean). When we take a family picture, he looks like a model who we paid to sit with us to make the photo look better.

Sheldon, my husband, loves watching the weather channel. He likes cleaning out the refrigerator while announcing to all within a ten mile radius that he is cleaning out the refrigerator. He regards being stuck at red light as his own personal hell and he loves driving at 2 am when all the red lights change over to blinking yellow, but he also. likes being in bed by 10 so that he can watch the weather channel.

He also loves back rubs, and is sad that one of the casualties of being married for twenty years is I no longer give him thirty minute back rubs using expensive moisturizer. I need the moisturizer for my neck. On special occasions, I will scratch his shoulders if the angle from my hand to his itch doesn’t require I move or disturb Sophie.

Sophie is our dog. She has liver and kidney disease, so her passions these days are simple. She loves sleeping on the sofa on top of Sheldon’s bathrobe. She loves barking at other dogs, small children, teenagers, adults, and trucks from our back yard. If the weather is bad, she will stand in our living room and bark at our cat. Maybe what Sophie loves is the sound of her own voice.

She loves sniffing bushes, grass, and tiny corpses of dead animals, I think. If I sense she’s spotted a dead animal, I do not investigate, but pull on her leash until she follows.

Michael and Maurice, our cats, do not love each other at all, but since I spend so much time on everyone else, I don’t have much to say about them. Both like to have their bellies scratched, and will bite you when they have had enough.

Maurice only has three legs, and has a very large appetite. This probably won’t work out well for him, since he limited support for his expanding belly.

Michael likes to join Sophie and I on walks around the block. He doesn’t actually follow, he usually manages to stay about twenty steps ahead, and moves like he has somewhere to go, and we just happened to be out at the same time.

I love Megan Roup, from The Sculpt Society, and dance cardio workouts in my living room with Sophie watching. I love eating too much one day, and finding out the next that I lost two pounds. (This is rare, and I don’t have an affiliated link). I love the woods, stupid comedies, going somewhere with someone else driving, loud music, Spotify, buttery chardonnay, and my friends. I love being home and thankful we have a home, and enough to pay the mortgage each month.

I’m starting a job next week and working from my dining room. I love shade of blue on the walls of my dining room, which will hopefully inspire me to do great things. I’ve missed work, and I hope I love this job as much as working with students at Quincy College.

I love my family. This whole pandemic thing has allowed me to get to know them really well. After eight months with these people, it is a tiny miracle that my daughter talks to me, even when she isn’t building up to “Can you get me Chipotle”, my son doesn’t squirm when I hug him, and I am considering the possibility that maybe I should give my husband a damn back rub with moisturizer when he gets home.

Tell me what you love.

Sophie is sick. We got a call from the vet around noon. The diagnosis yesterday was that she was fine, and we were being overzealous

.Today the tests came back. Her liver and kidneys are failing. They have prescribed a low protein, low fat dog food, and given us an IV set up to give her fluids every day.Her kidneys are working at 25%.

We have another visit scheduled for two weeks to see how the IV and dog food help, she won’t eat the food. Or sniff the food.

But she barked at the neighbors and strolled across the field at Houghton’s. She rolled in our yard, and drank the fancy spring water with electrolytes.And now, she is on the sofa, glaring at her food, at the world, or at me, because she feels that workouts are overrated, or should be done outside, where creatures are not trying to nap.She might be in pain. Doesn’t understand why Purdue’s grilled chicken pieces haven’t been offered as an option.Or has been following the news.I know I am not the only lucky person with the best dog ever, but Sophie is. We watch dogs in our home, and Sophie has sacrificed her bed, snacks, and yard, to all of our guests, with patience and grace.If you walk by our yard in East Milton Square, and are annoyed by the black and white pup growling behind the ugly fence, say hello. She might be saying goodbye, or reminding you that Bassett Street belongs to her, and she’s not going anywhere.

May 13, 2020

There is a piece of me that is enjoying every moment at home with my daughter.
We watch tv together. Eat breakfast together. Workout together. She shows me a game she’s playing on her phone that is just like FarmVille, and gave me a tour of her “campsite.” (I pretended to be impressed, but wasn’t really impressed until I read AOC plays the same game. Now I’m a little impressed and kind of confused.)
I asked her to look at my LinkedIn profile, and listened to her feedback about potential career paths.

She talks to me about her relationship, takes great delight in hiding condiments when I don’t put them away, plays her flute at midnight, and bakes at one am.

I know this is abnormal behavior, but who, anywhere in the world is behaving normally right now?

How do I know if something is wrong?

I wake her up each morning, because schedule is important. We exercise, because movement combats depression. I’ve been lenient about time on her phone so she can stay connected with friends.

I do not have a clue what I’m doing, or what all of this is going to do to her.

I’ll be fine. I have some leads on new opportunities. Sophie keeps my feet warm, and Sheldon is building me a garden in the back yard.

But what kind of scars will this leave on my daughter, and will I ever stop missing my son?

This is the season of not knowing anything. I’m a mom, and the stuff that I know isn’t that helpful right now.

Should I give her more space, or insist she does her homework in the living room?
Do I check on her grades, or let her know I trust her to that chemistry homework takes precedence over carrot cake?
Do I say something about the fact she has macaroni every day for lunch, or do I stock up on Annie’s?

I’ll try not to give into buying a $300 Nintendo to make things better, but it’s tempting as hell.

Arrrghhhh.
Julie

Happy Mother’s Day

May 11, 2020

At this point, we’re all taking care of somebody, whether it’s your fish or your dog, your kids, your mom, or a friend, your heart, your waistline, or your health.
I couldn’t sleep this morning. Since I became a mom almost twenty years ago, this day feels like a low-key, brunchy, Christmas. I remember the handmade cards, the scary looking eggs, the Mother’s Day at First Parish that always began with me trying to get them awake and out the door by 7 am, dangling the words “it’s Mother’s Day” like a threat.


My seventeen year old Colin recently decided to quarantine with a friend, and Katy will probably sleep until eleven. That’s fine.


They couldn’t be more different.


Colin makes choices that make me mad, crazy, sad, and defeated. He values sneakers more than books, smells like weed most of the time, and eats so much takeout, he should buy his own landfill.


He is also funny, generous, and kind. He is my boy, though he has forced me to accept he is does not belong to me anymore, and never did.
He smiles and my heart falls out of my chest. He sounds worried, I want to gather him into my arms, and make it better. I can’t.
All I can do is love him. So I do that, even when I want to smack him in the head.

Katy has been the light of my quarantine, which was not what she wanted for her sixteenth birthday. Every day she teaches me patience, while I wait for her to finish her room, her homework, her conversation. She says she learned this from me, and I tell her I’ve earned the right to keep her waiting. She thinks that’s funny, and goes back to whatever she’s doing, but does it more slowly. 

Katy was thrilled to put time limits on Facebook on my phone. She worries about the cost of everything, but vegetarian sausage, because she says that’s worth it.
She is careful, uses actual measuring spoons, understands chemistry, saves her money, and doesn’t care what people think. Except me, she cries when I snap at her.
I need to remember that even though she may seem like a remarkably mature thirty-five year old, a mother’s words have the power to sting like they did when you were six and in trouble for eating all the Oreos.
She listens when I speak, as long as it’s not too early, and I’m surprised and thrilled by this. (If I’m giving the lecture about being on time, or clean clothes, or dirty clothes, she pretends to listen, if she’s feeling kind).
Katy reminds me a lot of my mom.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

You tell me often how proud you are of me, and between you and me, I’m a bit of mess.
I’m still working out what I want to be when I grow up, my daughter acts like the parent half the time, my cabinets are more disorganized than Trump’s, and I know absolutely nothing about retirement plans. (I do have a good recipe for chicken thighs with artichoke hearts for the NYTimes I’ll send over later.)


If you say I’m amazing, I must be. You’ll always be the smartest person in the room, (with Katy right behind you.) 


I love you,
Julie

Day Fifty Seven- I’m not sure whose counting anymore.

For weeks after my braces were. removed, at random times, I would run my tongue along my teeth. The enamel after three years of metal and rubber bands felt glorious and unexpected

Ever since the words quarantine came into daily conversation, I’m constantly checking my mood like I used to check my teeth.

I ask my daughter- she says I get way too close, and sound scary serious- “how are you handling everything?”

She usually says fine, but sometimes, she actually answers the question with more than two syllables. It’s best to catch her right before bed and never before 9 am.

I’m fine, mostly.
I’m depressed, miserable, elated, grateful, lethargic, whiny, goofy, tipsy, manic, sad, silly, sleepy, mean, petty, joyful, and mellow.

I’m lonely; I’m enjoying the time with my daughter.
I’m missing my job; I’ve wandered the woods at Ponkapoag on Friday at 11 am. I’ve read eight books, played my flute, and bundled up three bags of shirts for Goodwill.

There is a lot of talk about recognizing the difference between knowing what we can and can not control.

I’ve learned I don’t control a damned thing but whether or not I’m going to stay in bed, or get up with the morning.
I’m getting out of bed.

If I’m sad, I’ll move through it, with a little help from my friends.

Time to stop counting the days, recognize the privilege of a slow morning under blankets while coffee drips, and get on with the rest of my life.

I’ve got work to do.

Stay strong,
Jules

At 7 pm, I was curled on a recliner watching a new show on Netflix with Kate.

By 8, I’ll be working out, Sophie watching from the sofa. When the music gets loud, she goes outside. I hope the rain holds off.

Sofie is still confused by all the activity in the living room, and wishes we would eliminate this part of our new daily routine.

At 9, I might be on zoom with friends, trying to figure about what I can add to the conversation- does anyone really need to know about my chicken meatballs?, on the phone with family, (who actually might like to hear about the damned meatballs,) or talking about payment plans with Sheldon.

This lonely feeling comes and goes, like an ice cream craving, or bliss during the drive to work on a beautiful Monday morning.
I am not alone. I have family here, and a touchscreen away, friends send texts, call, and we promise to see each other soon. Then there is a quiet moment, when we wonder how long it will really be. It’s not uncomfortable, anymore, it’s the way things are.

Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s the world. Maybe it’s just the way I need to be right now.

If you’re feeling lonely too, you have company.

Stay strong, and amazing.

Love,
Julie

On Day Fifty Four, This Helped.

Today, I had to get off a zoom call because I needed to drive my daughter somewhere. I was worried about a friend of mine diagnosed with the virus, overwhelmed by LinkedIn, and exhausted by trying to come up with something to say- here, on the phone, or to my husband during dinner.
I’ve always used music to lift me up. I dance with Katy to the Latin music of Zumba, drag Sophie for endless walks, earbuds tucked, volume up, and play classical guitar on Google home to fall asleep.
Today, I needed more than the radio.
So I got in my car, plugged my phone to the auxiliary jack, pulled up Spotify, and searched for Bruce Springsteen.
I put on his playlist, and turned it all the way up.
I sang so loud my vocal cords ached. I wailed to the sound of Clarence’s sax, whispered about Billy down by the railroad tracks, and believed, for about three to four minutes, in a promised land, and that I, or we, will find our way there.
It’s nice to get swallowed up by headphones, jump around the living room with Katy, and lean into sweet melodies as I drift off.
But sometimes, I need to sing along, as loud as I can, to the music I’ve loved forever. I need to know the notes and lyrics, remember what it was like to be sixteen years old, and sing like no-one is listening.
Find your music, and make some noise.

Where I landed at the end of the day (Day 52?)
This morning, a friend texted me about a meteor shower tonight. It was around ten am, I’d just had coffee, I was walking the dog.

I mentioned this to every person I saw as I walked Sophie around the block.
I called my mom and told her. I woke up my daughter and didn’t even bother to whisper the news.

I’m not someone that follows astronomy. I think I might have seen a falling star, once or twice, out of luck, not from looking.

When I read those words, I could see me, in my blue and white flannel pajamas, sitting on the stairs in front of our house with my daughter. Sophia is lying in the grass, her leash looped ’round my ankle. There’s a glass of buttery chardonnay, half full, and Katy and I are looking up at the sky, our bare feet touch, just barely. There is the presence of neighbors, on porches, or lingering on sidewalks. I could hear their voices, soft and wonderful, and make out their profiles, just barely, heads tilted up to gaze at the night sky.

When I got home, I dug the beach chairs out of the shed and dusted them off. I put a bottle of good wine on ice, and found an old pair of binoculars in Colin’s long retired desk.

Around four pm, some clouds rolled in. The forecast said it will be overcast until morning.

Katy and I had a disagreement over hair elastics; this afternoon I did zumba alone.

I received a letter from the office of Unemployment that directed me to visit my online account immediately because I had a time sensitive notification. It took me an hour to locate the time sensitive notification, figure out I had to download Adobe to read the document, locate the letter,and make sense of it.
It indicates I have nothing to do unless I need to make changes, which would need to be made immediately.
Nothing has changed, but I’m working on it.

So instead of tacos for dinner, we had takeout, and they forgot the rice.

I’m at the table, scowling at the computer, wondering if it’s too late to bother Katy.

This is where my evening landed, somehow.

I had a vision, and it got lost in clouds and glitches. It was a once in a lifetime kind of night.

For forty-five minutes, I’ve been glaring at my laptop, missing a time that never happened. I haven’t even looked outside.

I need to find the dog, and my daughter, and we will go sit on the steps in the dark.
Maybe, there will be moonlight. Maybe there will still be blossoms on the magnolia tree, or a family will walk down the middle of the street, pushing a carriage holding a sweet baby, wide awake and laughing at her toes.

Maybe Katy won’t come downstairs, I’ll end up sitting alone, and the rain will come.

Goodnight, my friends.
If you’re in New England, and you’re heading outside, wear a sweater.

Love,
Julie

At 7 pm, I was curled on a recliner watching a new show on Netflix with Kate.

By 8, I’ll be working out, Sophie watching from the sofa. When the music gets loud, she goes outside. I hope the rain holds off.

Sofie is still confused by all the activity in the living room, and wishes we would eliminate this part of our new daily routine.

At 9, I might be on zoom with friends, trying to figure about what I can add to the conversation- does anyone really need to know about my chicken meatballs?, on the phone with family, (who actually might like to hear about the damned meatballs,) or talking about payment plans with Sheldon.

This lonely feeling comes and goes, like an ice cream craving, or bliss during the drive to work on a beautiful Monday morning.
I am not alone. I have family here, and a touchscreen away, friends send texts, call, and we promise to see each other soon. Then there is a quiet moment, when we wonder how long it will really be. It’s not uncomfortable, anymore, it’s the way things are.

Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s the world. Maybe it’s just the way I need to be right now.

If you’re feeling lonely too, you have company.

Stay strong, and amazing.

Love,
Julie

When Katy noticed me staring at some birds on the horizon. she asked if I was always looking for things to write about.
I said, yes, mostly, but that today, I already had my topic figured out, so I was just looking at the sky because I like birds.
I admitted I was going to write about how she, and our relationship, has helped me through this ugly, scary, sweet, and quiet time, way more than wine, walks, pop music, online fitness, chocolate, sweatpants, or even Sophia The Most Amazing of Dogs.
She suggested I write about how happy I was with the response from all of my Facebook friends and former colleagues regarding my last day at work at Quincy College.
(I read their comments out loud to my daughter while she ate her breakfast and looked at her phone. I think she was impressed. I am still floating, twelve hours later, remembering your kind words and support.)
She suggested I talk about the Milton Graduation Debate, her brother’s recent departure, my latest forays into the world of brown rice casseroles, or why I prefer zoom over FaceTime. (Can’t go there, can’t go there, it’s a process, and don’t know.)
I don’t want to give the wrong impression- during our social isolation, Katy and haven’t become BFF’s, started giving each other mani pedis and we don’t stay up late watching scary movies and CSI. She gives herself manicures, and watches scary movies after I’ve gone to sleep.

I actually don’t see her much. She”s sixteen. She’s in her room, on her phone, in the bathroom, or walking the dog, most of the time. She is capable of the fiercest of scowls, especially when she’s wearing her glasses and I interrupt her doing one of those things.

She is invariable late to our Zumba in the living room, which makes me swear and threaten to go ahead without her, and she just laughs at me from upstairs, and takes her time. “It’s online,” she laughs, “I can’t be late to an online class, and it’s not like you have a whole lot going on.” Katy can be cruel.
When she drives, she likes to scare me by staying close to the curbs on the passengers side, though she claims she’s avoiding oncoming traffic. She became a vegetarian nine months ago just to make putting dinner on the table even more complicated. She never throws down all her dirty clothes, she makes fun of me for losing my keys and she loves to hide the coconut sugar. She says my selfies are ridiculous, and I should stop waking her up at ten in the morning to talk about breakfast.

But when I wake her up at ten in the morning to talk about breakfast, she moves over on her bed. Sometimes, she’ll allow me a corner of her pillow, and, on occasion, talk to me before she looks at her phone.
Sometimes she’ll throw me out.
But five minutes later, she’s usually downstairs. Ignoring me.

To be ignored by the funny, smart, charming, brilliant, Katy Blackburn is an honor, and it’s nice to have the time to
sit at the table with her while she pretends I don’t exist.

We’ve had lots of time together lately, and whether she’s in her own world, asking me to bring her the sriracha/ice water/headphones/slippers, or talking to me about everything and nothing at all, she makes me happy, when I’m not feeling sad, and less sad when it’s one of those days.

She’d probably talk to me more if she wasn’t afraid I was going to write about it.

Love you, Kate.
I will always wait for you.