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

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

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.

I walked Sophia, and watched kids skateboard up a plank in the middle of Church Street.
I saw a sign on a sidewalk that offered a virtual hug and all the love in the world in electric pink and blue pastels.
I spoke to a woman for ten minutes, through masks, ten feet apart, about how our dogs both like to bark through the fence.
I saw some friends and ate a veggie burger outside on a deck while we watched a bird feeder.
I cooked dinner, danced, drank water, bought wine.
I don’t think Thoreau would agree that I have pared life down to essentials.
But I am discovering my own essentials.
Before bed, I’ll look at the moon, kiss my kids, and scratch Sophie’s belly until she wheezes.
I’m lucky they are all within about five feet from where I sit, except the moon and the liquor store.
Stay strong.
Julie

I take an emotional inventory in the morning before I leave my bed.
I lie there, with my eyes closed, and try to feel how I’m feeling. Is my heart light in my chest, do my feet want to hit the floor and bring me upstairs? Does my skin crave another layer of blanket, does my head want to fold itself inside a pillow?

The first couple of weeks, almost every morning, I’d find that things didn’t look any better, and I’d dive into Facebook and feel worse until Sophie or I had to use the bathroom.

I will not tell you I’ve adjusted.
Or that in a month, a salad will come from our garden.
I will not tell you the time with the kids has been gift. It has been an revelation and complete pain in the ass.
I had the chance to know them when their only escape route is a screen. The fifth week in, it is easy to underestimate, and there is no end in sight. So I take notes and occasional pictures.

I check in with my overall state of mind all day long.

Today, I found joy, goofy, bird flying high, Christmas morning with toddlers and Santa, Bruce Springsteen in concert, joy.

At first, it scared me a little, this unfamiliar flutter, this smile that found my mouth, and lifted up to my eyes.

I don’t know, maybe it’s a symptom that hasn’t been documented yet.

I felt better almost all day, even though Katy and Colin are fighting over Netflix, Sheldon has some document I need to review, and it’s supposed to rain again tomorrow.

Tonight, I looked into the eyes of the cashier at Walgreens, read an update from my friend who works in the ICU, and washed my hands, like I’m Lady Macbeth on her worst day.

My spirit fell quiet, ached, went to wait in the wings.

Today, I glimpsed joy,
and it stayed for a bit.

I’m not sure why it came-
All I have to look forward to is clean sheets, a late night conversation with a friend, and pancakes for breakfast. I like French toast.

This joy isn’t strange.

I have clean sheets and soft blankets.
I have a friend waiting for my call.
I have pancakes for breakfast, and real maple syrup.
The coffee pot is set
so I’ll wake up to the smell of
dark roast and cinnamon.

I am blessed.
Sometimes, I don’t feel that way.

Today I did, for a while.

I need to work on that.

Love,
Jules

 

There were squabbles about dishes, “tone of voice”, how long ten minutes actually is, who Sophie likes best in the afternoon, when stores should open, the Cuomo’s, and a heated conversation about Zoom versus FaceTime.

At the end of it all, I don’t anything any of us remembered anything that was said.

What my family did this weekend was argue, over anything, and then retreat to our rooms, the woods, the shower, or gaze for an extended period of time into the refrigerator, and sulk.

It’s Sunday night. Katy and I worked things out with conversation, and a plan for the week ahead to help us communicate better.

Colin came downstairs and offered me some cold French fries and kissed me on the cheek. He then asked if I could feed them to the birds. I explained to him the birds are sleeping and gave him an icy look. He put the leftover potatoes away, and said “Good night, mom, I’m turning the tv down now.” For some reason, I believed him, though his behavior on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, would indicate this will be a challenge.

Sheldon is downstairs flipping through every tv channel because he is still working on understanding the concept of TV OnDemand. He offered to come upstairs and help me carry my water class, and eyeglasses to our room. He is lonely, and would like assistance with the remote.

This is a time for chocolate, technology, yin yoga, helping your neighbor, coloring the sidewalk in rainbow pastels, planting a garden, and spending time with the people and animals we love.
We have a lot of time with these people, so sometimes we might get a little, or a lot, irritated with them.
But this is not the time to hold a grudge.
Life’s too short, and sleep is hard to find.
Sweet dreams, my friends.
Love,
Jules

For a little over a month, I’ve been doing daily posts about life under quarantine. My intention was to keep a record of how my family dealt with this weird, hard, situation.

I’m going to keep posting, but I won’t title my posts with the number of days we’ve been home.

Each day going forward is not a number, or a marker of time until this is over.

Each day is a challenge, a nightmare, a blessing, and an opportunity to figure out who I am, how to leave the world a better place, what I can do to help those I love navigate through a world for which a map does not exist.

This was not the best of days. I didn’t get a full hour of exercise so I’m surly. I took a nap in the afternoon, ate too much of Katy’s lovely lemon bars, recipe gifted from my mom, told my son to pack his stuff and move out because he didn’t put a dish in the dishwasher, and got lost in a tiny patch of woods off of Rte 138.

I also had a zoom call with my family, apologized like I meant it, and, when I click post, am going to take a dance cardio class in the living room, bluetooth speaker connected, which will probably irritate the hell out of everyone.

I know jumping around on the carpet won’t leave the world a better place, and irritating the people I just apologized to is kind of hypocritical, but, this what me taking care of myself looks like.

Take care of yourself.
Love,
julie

Day Forty
There is nothing like the moment in the kitchen after the dishes are done, when I’ve left a zoom call with friends, and I’m waiting on my daughter to come downstairs to watch tv.
I wonder why Colin’s so quiet? I
I wonder why Katy’s taking so long?
Is the dishwasher making a weird noise?
Does Sophie look more tired than usual?
These moments are when I think, I really need to do yoga or consider drinking more wine.
We’re on Day Forty, my friends. I”m still looking at Facebook, waiting on Kate, which is what I was doing quite a bit of the time before all of this.
I should go see what Colin’s up to.
He’s probably making masks out of surgical tape and medical gauze or cleaning the linen closet.
I’m going to check, anyway.