What a Year in Quarantine Has Taught Me

This week marks a whole year living in quarantine mode. Although I still found periodic ways to get out of the house and out of town, I spent the majority of it rarely leaving our 1400 square foot home. I had it easier than many and was able to continually feel that despite the virus, despite the death toll, poverty, and civil unrest, it has been a good year full of joy and silver linings. A necessary year in many ways. For all its struggles and forced adaptation, it prompted reflection and reevaluation of what I believed to be true.

  1. We can survive without even our most beloved places and routines. While I still feel the disappointment and allure of coffee shops and bookstores I can’t frequent, I have learned to replicate as much of those experiences at home as possible.
  2. Regular date nights are still important for a marriage. Stephen and I maintained weekly dates even if it only consisted of takeout, streaming a movie, or a game of Scrabble, but those dates reinforced the importance of quality time together.
  3. The idea of freshly ground coffee is much more enjoyable than actually needing to grind coffee beans each morning. I don’t mind brewing coffee, but I’m seriously contemplating buying pre-ground coffee from here on out.
  4. Zoom fatigue is very real. While I enjoy working from home, I’d love to have a day each week to squeeze in as many face-to-face meetings as possible. I miss the human connection lost through the internet ether.
  5. A school building provides the emotional buoy our children need. Weston’s attitude, energy level, and class productivity gradually sank the longer he remained in virtual school at home. I’ve witnessed more smiles, laughter, energy, and school work results since returning to the building two days per week.
  6. Bras, makeup, and painted nails are terribly overrated. I have cherished each day that I can forgo a bra because the computer camera only captures from the collarbone up. It’s liberating to remember we can be low maintenance and still accepted.
  7. Spending time outside is a mental health saver. Most days my walk was the only time I left the house. One or two daily walks to fill my lungs with fresh air instead of stale indoor air, to catch the light on my face, to look around at trees and shifting skies maintained a steady rhythm of normalcy and sanity in my life. 
  8. In the absence of control, we will create new ways to feel in control. For me, I carved out new routines like morning coffee and toast in my rocker or eating the same exact lunch every day while working on a puzzle.
  9. We didn’t spend enough time as a family before quarantine. I love how much more time I’ve been able to spend with Stephen and Wes since we moved to telework, virtual school, and a lack of other places to go. There is time to soak up their sparkling eyes, their chuckles, and their hugs.
  10. Slowing down has been an incredible gift. I’ve had more time to journal, to stare out the window, to meditate in the bath, to play long games of Uno while we eat, to snuggle on the couch by the fire because there really isn’t anywhere we can or should go. Of course, new challenges surfaced, but overall I felt a diminished sense of stress or compulsion to run errands and fill every minute of the day. It finally feels acceptable to sit and breathe. Breathe deeply until the pulse slows. 
  11. The absence of former habits, expectations, and obligations has created space to cultivate new opportunities for learning and growing. I have completed a dozen or more jigsaw puzzles, worked multiple crossword puzzles each week, started a website to more fully engage with my creative side, watched more TED talks, and opted in to personal education of relearning world geography, refreshing my French skills, and reading fascinating articles every day. My outside world may have temporarily shrunk in this year of COVID-19, but my inner world has expanded exponentially. 

This list could go on, and in my mind, it might, just to remind myself further of the blessings in disguise and the ways in which I and my family made the best of an unprecedented situation. There is so much to learn in reflecting back, and I’m grateful for the slowness and lack of running around that has afforded me the chance to do so. As quarantine life continues–and even as it gradually transitions into something else, something likely quite different than the life we knew before–I hope to hold onto the slow pace, the freedom of permission to stay home and savor quiet time, the room to grow in new ways.

Lessons from My 4th Grader

When I was a fourth grader, I met the first true iteration of my insecure self. I was developing quicker than my female classmates, and my face had not yet caught up to my nose. My wavy hair frizzed in humidity, never responding with the sought-after Barbie bounce when flicked over my shoulder the way it did for Kelly and Nancy, those classmates of mine whom the cute boys brought bracelets and asked to be theirs. I observed their recess encounters from the periphery. I longed, like most prepubescent girls, to be popular, to have hair I could flip over my shoulder, to have boys following after me with gifts and awkward smiles. 

I still carry remnants of that insecurity in my thirty-six-year-old being–the desire to turn heads with a slim body and glowing skin, to be so adored by my husband that he won’t reach middle age and tire of me, to be radiant enough that people want to hover in my circle of friends. And all the while, I am mostly falling short of my ideal self.

So when I watch Weston, my own fourth grader, I am both baffled and utterly impressed by his complete self-assurance. He’s not afraid to claim his tastes and interests. He’ll tuck his t-shirt into his jeans and rock it with snow boots. He prefers his blonde locks grazing his eyelashes and wears an anklet like he’s preserving some former surfer life. He’s taken to wearing my new watch despite it being too large and feminine for his wrist. 

This past weekend he amazed me further when he went with my husband, Stephen, and I for a pre-baby spa getaway. Weston wanted to be included and requested to join for pedicures, something even Stephen hadn’t experienced. The woman working on Wes’s feet finished without polish, assuming because he’s a boy that he wouldn’t want polish. She didn’t even ask. While Wes was too polite to request it after the fact, Stephen inquired for him and then went a step further to state he’d paint his toes, too. Stephen opted for a bold purple, and I couldn’t have been prouder of that move, that statement for Weston, for our gender-biased culture, for those women carrying out our pedicures with incorrect assumptions. 

Weston was so happy to have teal toenails and had no qualms about being a boy with his toenails painted. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with that. Fun nail colors shouldn’t be reserved only for girls, but we continue to perpetuate gender bias. Our society does it, and many of our own families do it. Growing up, my three brothers would’ve been berated and ridiculed with homophobic digs if my dad had seen them with painted nails, or if they had merely hinted at wanting a pedicure. “Real men” didn’t do that, and so we grew up believing those false stereotypes. Stephen’s upbringing was much the same, and so at thirty-eight, it still took more guts for him to paint his toes than what Weston likely felt nine. 

It gives me hope for future generations. It helps me believe our children will be that much more open and accepting of each other and of their own unique, quirky selves. They are kinder to each other and to themselves. That level of kindness and embracing of who we each are in our most authentic forms is a lesson we can all stand to relearn.

Mama Matters

Four weeks to go. It feels like this pregnancy flew by but also like I can barely remember what it was like not to be pregnant–what it was like hiking in Alaska without total fatigue or enjoying multiple cups of coffee instead of tricking myself into “two” cups by pouring two, separate half-cups. I haven’t had much to complain about during the majority of this pregnancy, but now the third trimester woes are plaguing me in full force: swollen fingers and feet (my feet are so swollen, they tingle and end in sausage toes); waking to pee once or twice a night, sometimes even three times, and then struggling to get back to sleep, tossing and turning from one sore hip to the other, adjusting blankets and pillows that only ease the ache temporarily; waddling with a heaviness that feels like the weight of the baby will capsize my torso and plummet right through my pelvic floor; dry mouth and nose and unquenchable thirst; a sore low back if I spend too much time on my feet, completing chores and small doses of spring cleaning that I can’t afford to hire out; a resurgence of sleepiness that makes me crave a mid-meeting nap like in the first trimester; and the incessant worry the baby will arrive before I feel prepared in my work, in our home, and in my mind. 

Receiving all the baby shower gifts we did put my mind more at ease and reminded me of the goodness, support, and generosity of people in our life. We are fortunate to have wonderful people in our corner even during a pandemic where social distancing has made everyone more carefully consider who they will show up for or log back into a Zoom call for. If only they could tackle all the items that find their way onto my pre-baby to-do list…

This time leading up to delivery is whittled away with to-dos and to-buys, and then I realize my maternity leave will pass just as quickly. My eleven weeks off will disappear in the sleepless blur, and while I’m grateful I have the benefits of sick leave and vacation days, I still can’t believe the unfairness and insensitivity in our country not having paid maternity leave as a standard. What if I didn’t have any paid time off? We wouldn’t have that much to devote out of savings to cover a proper leave, and then we’d all suffer.

Who’s the voice of the moms who can’t afford to take any time off? How will their babies fare without the comfort of their parents in the crucial early days and weeks? What does that do to the formation of secure attachment? It puts those children in a vulnerable, disadvantaged position from the get-go. 

We need more women in positions of power and serving in policy-making roles who can advocate for mothers and fathers to be home with their new babies as a necessity. Because it is a necessity. If we want to see secure attachment, trust, and parental sanity, this cannot be a luxury or a condition for only “socialist” countries. The role of the mother should not be degraded to a side-job of true career work, should not be pushed aside as less important, should not be taken for granted.

None of us would be here without our mothers–all that they do, all they give, sacrifice, and offer to provide us a chance at something better than they had. I am no different. I value my own mother deeply and now want to be valued for my parenting efforts. I want the world to take more than Mother’s Day to appreciate all our mothers do and reciprocate even a fraction of that gift.

Vows for Ordinary Moments

This week my husband, Stephen, and I will celebrate our third anniversary, though it feels much longer than that. The more I learn of him, the more stories I hear and conjure in my imagination, the more I feel we’ve been circling each other’s hemispheres for the past twenty years. Our histories echo similar stories, jokes, places, even people, but always just missed intersecting. 

Each day that we’re together I exhale relief that our circling orbs finally crossed paths. While I, of course, wish we had met sooner, I remind myself of all the years to come, the endless possibilities and swells of love awaiting us. I will treasure them all and recite vows to reaffirm I won’t only commit in the grand gesture of the wedding ceremony but in the subsequent everyday, ordinary moments.

My Love~

I will snuggle up next to you in bed, even when I’m hot or feeling I should get going for the day, so I can savor a few more minutes feeling the warmth of your body and your breath on the back of my neck.

I will set aside distraction to look you in the eye and truly listen when you speak to me.

I will praise and support your efforts–large and small–to be a better man rather than criticizing your shortcomings. I want to build you up the way you do for me and the way you deserve.

I will gladly wash the pan with caked-on eggs after you make me breakfast.

I will hold your hand when we take walks even if it means adjusting my gait to be in sync with your stride.

I will thank you for putting up with me and loving me even when I make it extra difficult.

I will watch your movie picks without complaint because I know how they bring you such happiness. 

I will trust in your word and intentions to be a devoted father and helpful husband to our soon-to-be newborn.

I will appreciate how we balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses, knowing we’re guiding each other to the best versions of ourselves.

I will kiss you in the kitchen, in the bathroom, on the sofa, on the stairs, at any time of day to remind you I desire you always and everywhere.

I will tell you I love you every single day because I do and because I will for my whole life and because every breath is worth the loveliness and truth of those words.

The Baby-Self Balance

In less than six weeks I’ll bring a new baby into the world. 

I’ve found myself reflecting on the upcoming weeks as a time for personal growth and resolution rather than thinking of the baby’s rapid growth and my parenting resolutions. Perhaps it’s because this will be Child #2 that I know that the baby growing inside is a mostly passive form of growth and that because I’ve been down the parenting road before, I know if there’s a time to focus actively on myself and my growth, it’s now. I want to dedicate these next weeks to myself–to enjoying more of what I love–more crossword puzzles and journaling, more reading by the fireplace, more TED Talks and hot chocolate and snuggling in bed with my husband, Stephen. 

While I don’t plan to put my whole self on hold, I do know once the baby is here, I will have to squeeze my interests and hobbies into nap-length increments (if I’m not too tired) or read nursing-length articles (if I’m not too rapt with tiny fingers and soft suckling sounds). My hope is that if I establish my plans now with several weeks to cement them in and become attached to the joy they bring me that I will find ways to keep them going once my time and energy is split between self care and the care of an infant. I want to maintain my activities even if it requires a finesse and orchestration to incorporate them into post-delivery days. 

I did a great job mothering my first child, Weston, in his early years, but the part I didn’t do well, the aspect I neglected was my own well-being. I can’t lose myself to the mundanity of breastfeeding, rocking, diaper changes, and tummy time cheers again. Of course, I will do these tasks and try to do them with love and gentleness, but it can’t be at the absolute forsaking of my independent identity. 

I currently tackle the common (but often elusive) work-life balance in a remote work world that blurs the lines between home and work, but trying to establish a baby-self balance will be wholly new for me. I’m afraid my plans will feel laughable when distinct night and day turns into a bleary 24 hours strung to the next 24 hours, when my nipples are sore, and the hormones leave me crying for no reason. I’m afraid I’ll be too tired to give my best to the baby let alone maintain my personal space and time. 

How can I ensure I devote time, care, and energy to myself in the midst of devotion to my baby’s needs? How can I separate my desire to do so from the guilt I already feel hovering for wanting that for myself? It feels like the ever-present challenge of parents everywhere, mothers more acutely, which is likely why more and more people are opting not to have children or waiting until they feel they’ve lived enough of their personal lives to move into this stage. It took me nearly a decade to feel ready to have another child, and yet I’m still feeling particularly worried that my days will revert to the solely baby-focused days I experienced with Weston. I want to believe in my plans and resolutions, trust in my ability to find a way to be both an excellent mother and a radiant, strong, separate self.

Cold Hands, Warm Heart

This week has been a cozy one inside with morning coffee and a fire crackling. The temperature was lucky to rise above zero but mostly stayed in the negatives, torture for anyone holding out in our tent cities or, worse, the ones who don’t even have the protection of a tent. I hope shelters make special accommodations for frigid times like this week rather than let someone freeze, but I’m not doing any better. It’s not like I’m walking down the street to the tents in the park and pulling a Carl Gallagher to let homeless people sleep in our basement. 

It’s easier to be cozy inside my own home hoping someone else is making extra efforts to help those in need rather than doing the hard work myself. What does that say about me? Does that make me a less kind or generous person?

I used to prioritize generosity more than checking off my monthly charity donation. I used to lead food drives and coat collections. One winter I recall making winter care packages of hats, mittens, scarves, food, and hot chocolate mixes that I dropped off on the doorsteps of one of the poorer neighborhoods in my city. Since then I’ve let myself take the easy route of mindless, autopay donations–literally a set-it-and-forget-it version of giving. I’m blessed to be able to give financially, but I’d rather pair the intention with action. Like on Earth Day when Stephen, Weston, and I take garbage bags out to pick up trash to show we care about our beautiful earth. I should be showing Wes with actions that we care as much about our fellow humans who are hungry and cold in this coldest week of a Wisconsin winter. 

I want to recover the part of me who cared more, who was willing to take time and effort to buoy another. I want to be generous with my time and effort, not only my dollars. I want to be better for myself and to model for Wes and our future baby that they can and should spend time devoted to others. I want to show them we must be kind and spread love not only through our words but, more importantly, through our actions.

Fresh Starts & Other Life Goals

I have admittedly boarded the blogging train a decade too late, but I’ve been writing and journaling for as long as I can remember. Putting pen to paper, seeing words manifest on the page instead of weighing me down somewhere between my shoulder blades and solar plexus, has brought me cathartic release and also insights I may never have noticed if I hadn’t taken the time. Because the writing has helped, and continues to help me, I decided, whether late or not, that it was time to share my voice with the world.  We are all beautiful, fumbling humans after all with far more in common than what separates us.

And so I vow to be open, honest, and authentic in my entries. I will essay in the original sense of the word to share my journey in hopes that you will find a strand that relates back to you. Weaving together those strands we can create an invisible house of belonging where we can coexist and grow together, teach each other, and inspire each other. 

I want to reflect on, investigate, and discuss marriage and relationships; parenting and motherhood; spirituality and awareness; well-being, including fitness, health, and beauty; as well as learning and self-growth. I will recount the lessons of both my progress and my setbacks. I will remind myself and you, dear reader, that the everyday brims with goodness and simple pleasures to savor, a slowness and wonderment that can bring us such joy.