Thursday, April 9, 2020

#ParkTV As I See Things (Eight) Back to Back Pandemic Birthdays

Yesterday, April 8, would have been my mother’s 82nd birthday. I tried to use her old sewing machine to sew a face mask so I can comply with the CDC when next I venture out.

Designing the mask was fun. I took an old bra and cut it in half, found a soft fleece zebra print, cut it, and pinned it. Then I turned Mom’s machine on and tried to sew.

It didn’t go so well. Just as quickly as I started sewing, I needed a new bobbin. I grabbed another one and tried to set it up so I could keep working but the bobbin wouldn’t thread right and the needle got stuck. My throat suddenly tightened and I welled up. I fought tears, left the room, bent over with my head in my hands and sobbed.

I cried because the now empty bobbin was a direct connection to Mom. The thread on a bobbin she had wound when alive was used up. Gone. I cried because I couldn’t call her to ask for help. I cried because I had to make a mask in the first place. I cried for every person who has died in this pandemic. Every person suffering with loss. I cried for New York City. For Italy and Spain. For China. For Seattle. For every place affected and every person struggling to breathe. Every person working on the front lines. I cried for my children. The world I had brought them into. I cried for having guilt for wanting to have children in the first place. With my hands covering my eyes, I cried. 

Finally I finished crying. I washed my face and I found the sewing machine directions so I could figure out how to thread it. I tried to set everything up again.. and again, I failed. 

Again, I thought of Mom and how she had been in the middle of using that other bobbin before it ran out and a wave of fear rushed over me and I took a deep breath to calm myself. 

Why am I scared? I wondered. It’s just a sewing machine, I reminded myself.

I tried to label my fear.

I used to think it was floods. Hurricanes or tropical storms like Irene

Now I know I am actually not afraid of storms or raging water, but rather the possibility of drowning.  

I am really trying to say I fear being left alone to drown.

It really means I fear death. Not being here with my family anymore. Not being able to hear birds sing or see snowflakes fall or touching velvet or smelling garlic sautéing in a pan or tasting a meal made with said garlic.

But the real truth is, I’m scared of how this virus has blown apart the world and changed all the rules. Making us distance ourselves socially and making us hide behind masks and use screens to connect, which has made us more alone than ever before.

All while I’m waiting for an invisible wave to come so it can crash over me or I can ride it out so I can take another breath.

I got the mask stuck in the machine. Sensing my frustration and overall mood, my husband showed up just in time to cut the fabric free and our beautiful daughter (who turns 15 today) took the mask. She knew I couldn’t complete it on my own so she took it into her bedroom and used my old machine to finish it. In fact, she scrapped my design and made a better one with a notch for my nose. 

I guess I don’t have to feel alone with this pain. 

#ParkTV As I See Things (Seven) A Pandemic and a Pause Button

The world we knew just a few weeks ago, a week ago, a few days ago, even last night, will never be the same. None of us will ever be the same after Covid19.

The last full week in February, I went on a writing retreat at Wellspring House in Ashfield, MA. While there I took walks, napped, meditated, read, and FINALLY finished writing my novel. I have been working on the damn thing in one form or another for twenty-five years, so needless to say, that felt quite good. I spent a ton of time alone during that week and missed my family quite a bit. 

My alone time at Wellspring House was like a dress rehearsal for this, the world during a pandemic, our new normal. 

My sister texted me while I was still in MA: “Virus has escalated. Buy food as soon as you can. At some point everybody will. Best to be ahead of the game.”

I texted back, “Thank you.”

She texted, “Also any medications. Over the counter or prescription.”


I pushed back from my writing desk. I had seen the crisis coming, but wanted to pretend it wasn’t true. 

So, here we are. At long last. We’re here.

This is “The Zombie Apocalypse” I have been warning my children about. It’s finally arrived. And maybe, just maybe, that’s not such a bad thing. 

I’m not saying it is good that people are suffering or dying or that it’s good that the economy has tanked. Stress is at an all-time high for so many and that isn’t great, but it’s like the world has paused. That’s the good part. We’ve hit the pause button.

After I processed what my sister had communicated, I had to clear my head. I went downstairs for a cup of tea. She’s smart. Very bright. Knows way more than I do about most things. I tried to forget what she said for the time being. I was on a writing retreat. I wanted to feel peace. 

John, the Wellspring House writer-in-residence, stood near the stove. “Have you been keeping up with the news while you’ve been here?”

“Sort of.”

“By news I don’t mean politics. I mean the Coronavirus.”

“Oh,” I waved my right hand through the air as I poured water into my cup with my left. “I don’t usually pay attention to hysteria surrounding this sort of thing.”

“Oh, that’s where you’re wrong. I trust my resources. This is the real deal.”

So… I couldn’t ignore it. I had to allow it in. Had to give it more thought. 

I took my tea back to my room and settled into the chair at the desk. The woodsy view from the window had become familiar during my time there. There was still a dusting of snow. A squirrel climbed out onto a nearby branch; it skittered along and stopped close to me. Our eyes met through the glass.

Squirrels are always in fight or flight mode. They always look scared. They’re surviving. Little did I know then, in the coming weeks I would become more like that squirrel than I ever thought possible.

I didn’t store up massive amounts of food or toilet paper, but I picked up extra canned food here and there during the following week. When my husband stopped at the grocery store on his way home, I asked him to grab whatever he thought might be good to have on hand. He came home with tissues, paper towels, Chef Boyardee (yuck.) 

I’m not a foodie, but I cook every meal from scratch. Canned food is not my typical go to, but it doesn’t go bad and can be stored for a long time. 

I worked that whole week with the threat of the Coronavirus on my mind and with my sister texting me articles and my boss establishing new protocols which included social distancing and extra hand washing. I called my doctor to get backup prescriptions for my two asthmatic children. I made larger amounts of food every night and stored more than the usual amount of leftovers in the freezer.

The next two weeks were a blur in my classroom. A blur at home. My family thought I had gone crazy when I would try to talk about Covid-19. I had a wild look in my eyes as I described the pandemic which was inevitable.

I lost patience with my teenagers once during the weeks leading up to the schools closing and the local businesses adjusting to the Governor’s mandates. I had asked my kids to move our recycling bins from the side of the driveway into the garage while my husband and I went vegetable shopping. Five hours had passed while we were gone and when we returned with the groceries, the bins were still in the exact same spot. 

Filled with rage, I entered the house to find my teens. I needed to make them understand how lazy they had been. How inconsiderate. I didn’t take a deep breath to remain calm. I didn’t become Zen before I spoke with them. Each teenager, glued to a different screen, sat in a different room and hardly noticed I had returned. 

“I thought I asked to have those bins moved!” I shouted as I went from room to room disturbing their peace. Each teen looked up, bleary-eyed and confused about why I would rant and rave like a lunatic. Who is this woman and what is she saying?

I called them to the table for “Family Meeting,” a concept we’ve used for years to remind ourselves of rules and expectations. 

I am not proud of how the meeting went or the things I said. 

I told them I had failed them as a parent. I had raised such lazy children. Selfish children. Technology had stolen them from me. They ALWAYS stared at screens when they should be living in the real world. They feared actual telephone calls with actual humans and they avoided talking to one another all the time! How would they ever get the needed skills to function in the real world if they couldn't do a simple thing like move the bins I had asked them to move? I even said that my life would be easier if I didn’t have to do EVERYTHING around the house!

I don’t do everything… But I had lost my mind. Not my finest parenting moment. 

With the stress of this virus and feeling as if we were all at risk every time we left our home to go out into the world, the bins not being moved was my breaking point. Hey, I’m human. 

They said they were sorry. They would try harder to help out. They didn’t mean to be so selfish. I apologized for flipping my lid.

And I felt guilty. So functional, right? Our dysfunction is out. 

We’re being asked by this virus to stop living the way we have lived for so long. Almost the entire world has hit the pause button. And it is okay. It’s more than okay. It’s what my family needed. A pause. A much needed one.

Here it is. This is where we are. We have all stopped and taken an emotional inventory. We are following a schedule so we can all share the space without wanting to kill each other and we’re holding daily family meetings, we’re working together to cook meals, we’ve taken many walks together. We do our chores. All of us... 

They’ve stopped sneaking peeks at screens and are homeschooling fairly well as far as I can tell. 

A microscopic life formcame to our rescue and I am getting “quality time” with my family. It’s like a bonus: extra time with my teenagers before they move away. And they are paying attention to the world now because it has become real. My resentment has melted away as well.

We just took a walk with our neighbor and as we said goodbye to him, the five o’clock church bell rang out. We didn’t hug him like we normally would. 

Vermont is officially on “lockdown.” And so it begins...

#ParkTV As I See Things (Nine) Groundhog's Day

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