I Think We’re Alone Now

Lots of adult conversations happen in our house. Are the pipes really failing? What’s the budget look like right now? Is she ever going back to school? How are interest rates? Should we refinance the house? Are we going to have to put the dog to sleep? And how does this pandemic affect…well, everything? Lots of adult conversations and very little adult time.

You know what else we have? A pair of little ears that want to know about EVERYTHING. What are you talking about? What does investment mean? Why doesn’t the grocery store have food? Will I miss school in the fall? What do you mean no camps? Most of the time we catch ourselves before we launch into adult talk but she seems to always be there.

I know we’re not alone in this (we’re never alone it seems) so what is there to do but send her to play in her room? She desperately wants to know what we’re talking about so she doesn’t want to do anything else but listen. It’s like we’re the most interesting people on the planet. Maybe during a pandemic we are.

Head in the Sand

In November 2016, I stopped reading the news. Just stopped. The hype of the election and the devastation in the aftermath was, for me, more than I could handle. I didn’t want to see the dissection of what went wrong for the first female candidate for President (yes, I would have voted for any woman running regardless of party) and I didn’t want to see the shambles that was quickly unfolding at the hands of the newly-elected President. No news was better for my mental health and so it was.

I wasn’t reading the news in 2017 when my dad died and white supremacists descended on Charlottesville. The grief was sickening that year. It must have been 2019 when I reactivated my subscription to the Washington Post and started following headlines on the New York Times. I didn’t go to any news sites, preferring a feed reader to dull the sensationalism.The world didn’t get any brighter in those two years. It appeared that many things were still in shambles, including my mental health.

You can see where this is going. But I was doing better! I didn’t have such a visceral reaction to the horror of the news. Wildfires, a shameful national leader, the loss of healthcare for millions, and so on and so forth. Still horrible but my skin was thicker. Apparently, not thick enough.

This virus and its impact have been crushing. It’s not the dying thousands really, although that’s horrifying, it’s the children wearing masks. It’s the decimated grocery stores. It’s the forced distance from others for fear of something we can’t control or vote out in an election. It’s fourth grade at home. It’s not going to an office each day and abandoning a spring break trip. Did I say it already? Can I say it enough? It’s the children in masks.

Debra sent this video yesterday. It’s light-hearted and upbeat, considering the subject matter. I cried. I can’t not cry. Yes, the environmental changes are amazing. I can see the bright side through the tears, at least. I’m not sure my therapist (and yes I have one) can help with this. It’s worldwide grief this kind and I have to stop reading the news.

Pandemic Boss

It occurred to me after I titled this post that it could be construed as me being some kind of superstar in a pandemic but, sadly, it’s more of a literal thing. It also occurred to me that you all might write your titles after writing, which I rarely do. Maybe I should rethink my strategy so we don’t end up starting from some sort of confused alternative world where I’m saving the universe and generally looking hot while doing so.

Instead, we’re reorienting from that tangent into reality wherein I have had three bosses in the last two years. In an industry that doesn’t see a ton of turnover – at least, not THIS much turnover – it feels both a little nerve-wracking and frustrating. The latest one started recently and I had my first meeting with her last week. It went well enough, for video chatting with someone I’d never met before.

I’m pretty comfortable with zoom, our (and everyone else’s) platform of choice for work. I can make small talk, get down to business, engage people, and generally, feel pretty adept at both running and attending meetings virtually. I’m probably better at it than I am in person since silences aren’t as painful somehow when I’m not talking with someone in real space. The first meeting with my boss went okay but I felt constantly awkward.

My wife says I wasn’t awkward, an opinion that means something since she was sitting in the room with me when my boss and I were talking (the joys of working from home!). But, well, she loves me so I think that takes off a few points. It’s weird to work from home with your entire family, Reader, weird. Still, I felt a little awkward and I wished we could have had at least one meeting in-person.

Having a new boss is intimidating. Doing it during an epidemic where you have to rely on facial expressions alone is daunting. Having the preferred method of conversation be on screen when you’re both getting emails and chats every few seconds doesn’t make it any easier. Each time her eyes slid over to what must have been a new message (and mine did as well) I wondered if I had said something I shouldn’t have. So here we are, new boss, new way of being. Just shy of terrifying.

Fooling Around

You guys, it’s a good thing I like my family. I can’t imagine the hardship of being socially distanced with people I don’t particularly care for. This weekend we saw a bunch of college kids hugging and laughing in a parking lot, clearly meeting up after not having seen one another in a while. My first thought was, THAT is not social distancing. My second was, I bet they are starved for companionship after being in classes all spring and then being suddenly isolated with who knows what kind of roommate. Insert judgy brain: DUDES, YOU ARE GETTING US ALL SICK WITH YOUR LONELINESS.

It’s true though, being shut in at all is hard, it must be worse to be shut-in with people for whom you already needed coping strategies or you flat out dislike or even folks who you like a whole lot in small doses. Let’s throw in a kid for good measure. We have a particularly good kid but she’s fond of us and is taking this opportunity to be as close to us as possible (when she isn’t immersing herself in sanctioned youtube videos and games). The closeness is sometimes overwhelming. In fact, I spent at least two hours outside Sunday just to hear my own thoughts for awhile.

My own thoughts, apparently, miss my wife – you know, the wifely part – a whole lot. It feels like there’s always a jealous audience (cue RR) for short moments of connection. It feels like longer moments to fool around are impossible. To add to it, my wife and I handle grief in very different ways. And if this pandemic is grief worthy (which more than one piece proclaims it is) then my wife is never going to be in the mood. Like, never.

I am trying to be respectful of that. I am trying to figure out how to get my own needs met in this situation. I am despairing that this is predicted to go on into the summer. I absolutely cannot think about having to do this again in the fall or even having it extend all summer. I feel particularly bad that I’m thinking of myself when my wife is clearly thinking of more important things, like dying and isolation. Let’s assume for a minute she has the brain space to read this. This is not a giant plea for her to be different or to feel bad or to cater to me in some way. Really.

There’s not an end to this post. Kind of like the pandemic itself. I hope I’m not alone in this. But I know being overloaded with companionship doesn’t necessarily lead to good times. So here I’ll sit, knowing that things will change, eventually. What a dreary closing paragraph! Kind of like everything, right?

Shutter Click

I used to take a lot of photos using an SLR. And not a digital one. The sort you wound a strip of film through. I was not being pretentious, I didn’t have the funds for a brand-new to the market digital camera and both my uncle and father were avid photographers, taking selfies decades before it was a word. They showed me how to compose a shot, how to thread the film perfectly every time, how to coax a person into smiling at the right moment. Everything short of a darkroom. My dad even HAD a darkroom, we just didn’t get that far before I switched to digital.

I do more mental snapshots these days. Even the just-as-good camera on my phone sits unused most days. I’d rather live life in front of the lens. This period of shut-in has given me more time to take those snaps of my family, relaxing, cooking, bemoaning the state of the world. I don’t think any of us, you and me, all of us, are going to forget the months we were turned inward, looking at ourselves and breathing each other’s air.

So here’s what life looks like on a typical day at our house. I’m working at a at a set-up in the basement that my wife surprised me with after a long day of zoom meetings on my lap using a pillow and book to get the screen to the right level. There’s an old TV on the desk serving as a large monitor, a lamp with an Eiffel tower base, a jar of pens, a pad of sticky notes, and a picture of 7 year-old RR in front of a cornfield.

My wife is running on the treadmill, her feet banging into the belt quickly, fleet-footed. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It reminds me that the basement isn’t a basement in the cellar sense of the word. Yes, the ceiling is unfinished, and some of the walls are cinder block but some of them are finished and the floor is carpeted. There are full-sized windows looking out at the above ground side of the basement. It’s cozy down here and RR has a workspace as well. There’s a calendar on the wall, a clock, a set of shallow drawers to store her school work.

Outside the full-size windows is a bush I planted not long after we moved in. It’s sometimes a nuisance when I don’t trim it (what bush isn’t) and it obscures some of the afternoon light. But for two weeks in April, these two weeks, it blooms the most incredible smelling blossoms. The scent drifts through the window and freshens the air. Soon the flowers will fall but a nearby lilac is moving in to take its place, fragrance wafting through the window. I could ask for worse days to be trapped here.

Upstairs, on a non-school day like today, RR is drawing in her room, deep into stuffed animal pretend, or immersed in a game on the iPad. Yes, she is. And I won’t feel bad about it. We have to continue to work even though she’s on Spring Break, whatever that is. This afternoon, we’ll take a walk to find the things she has put on a scavenger hunt list. It’s sunny. Warm. Spring at its finest.

I’m talking with friends, texting my sisters and mom. Mom won’t stay inside, my sisters fall on the non-plussed to terrified spectrum. I know I should call my mother but you and I both know I don’t need that stress. At times when she’s me (and my sisters) the most is the time I need her the least. The washer and dryer accompany my typing. The dogs are upstairs hoping for a walk even though one is too old to make it very far. We’ll cook dinner together tonight, maybe sit on the bench out front to wave to passers-by.

It’s pandemic life.

Love Letter

I don’t think I’ve mentioned lately that my wife is pretty amazing. I imagine I did in the early years. I suppose I fawned over her now and again. Not often enough, I’m sure, but I wrote love letters then. I was different then. More romantic, more something. We’ll be married 15 years this March which is a pretty long time to keep newlywed standards of affection. We’re not even in therapy right now. We graduated with no expectation of going back. No, this is a love letter all on its own. 

If you’re expecting something sweet, I’m probably not your girl. I’m rough around the edges. Tattered here, jagged there. Not so easy to love. But she is. She fixes things. Fixes me. Last week, she was carefully pouring cinnamon into an ant hole. THE ant hole. The place we can’t seem to stop the ants from using as a revolving door. They come, they go and she’s there with ant bait and kitchen spices, ready to do battle. She hauls things. The trash, a new rose bush, a sink the contractor left in our basement. She handles things. She called when the paper started arriving late and met the oven repair man. She dealt with the homophobic vet and she deals with RR when the day is long and I can’t read another page to a squirmy nine-year-old. 

She knows me. We’ve been wrestling the basement into some semblance of normalcy after my mother dumped half her stuff and abandoned it. My wife shows remarkable resilience when she uncovers yet another box with a single crumpled receipt inside. But when it came time to sort through her old papers, cards, and letters she soared through sentimentality to make progress. I think that’s hard work for anyone. She knows my grief and knows when to be the stronger one. That must not be easy to do but she never fails to be there.

And while you’ll have to go elsewhere for torrid tales, suffice to say she delivers. 

I’ve never been this in love. I think that’s what you get after so many years invested. It’s easy though, like I said, she gets me. It doesn’t hurt that she’s attractive and charming. She’s also a wonderful musician, mother, and she does the budget. What more could I ask for?

Nothing’s Okay But It’s All Okay

You guys, I feel like a hot mess. In fact, my health insurance company has pointed this out by sending “helpful” pamphlets on combating anxiety, as if it were an army one could see and defeat. At least I haven’t gotten a diabetes one in awhile. That’s exasperating when it’s based on weight alone and not evidence. Anxiety is one of the things that’s not okay but that is going to be okay come hell or high water. 

Once I saw that I was losing sleep and reluctant to do my public facing job, I took myself back to the doctor and what she prescribed made me gain a lot of weight, fast. My eating habits didn’t worsen and I started exercising a lot more so that’s frustrating, to say the least. We talked, I cut back on the dose, and I’m hoping that the weight comes off, even if it’s not as quickly as I put it on. So it’s okay, even though it’s not okay. The thing is, the week we cut back, the anxiety got worse. On the plus side, I’m still okay enough that I can look the anxiety in the eye and name it which is better than it was before.

And to be honest, I could be eating cleaner but I’m watching my dog go downhill fast and I’m coping as well as I can given that he’s my first born, my best dog, my constant comfort. We put our mattress on the floor so that he can get up on it. I can’t get off of it in the morning because I am old. So it’s not okay. Losing him, stiffly struggling to get up in the morning (both of us), but it’s okay because I don’t have to worry he’ll puncture a lung falling off the bed or listen to him whimper and fail to get on it. I can’t help the rest of his problems, but I can do this. 

So perhaps saying nothing is okay is an exaggeration but it sometimes feels that way. But it’s all going to be okay, one way or another, now or eventually and hey, maybe those mindfulness classes paid off after all.

It’s 2020.

Two things happened. The vet made a house call to treat our menagerie and I left to work at a coffeeshop because I’m gay. Now, I’m pretty delighted I live in a world where my vet will a) make house calls and b) I can afford this too-good-to-be-true luxury. But I am not delighted that the vet they sent is the one who is rumored to be homophobic. So I left my wife to it rather than be out. How is it that it was easier to be semi-closeted than to deal with any repercussions for being a lady loving family? Ha. Lady loving.

And yes, Dear Reader, I know you would have been perfectly happy confronting him with The Gay or even gotten a different vet, but I LOVE our regular vet and it’s worth it, at least for now, to stick with the practice. So there I sat, gay as the day is long, drinking coffee and working while my wife dealt with the vet. Non-gayly presumably. It’s a lovely decade to live in, until it’s not*.

*Which, don’t even mention the shambles around us, both in the US and outside of it. Shambles.

4th Grade

Believe me, I know. Fourth already? There’s nothing like the passing of another birthday for your child that makes you reckon with the passing of time. Her ninth birthday is looming and I can’t count the number of people who have said “I can’t believe it, nine already? She was just a baby!” Don’t I know it.

I have lots of things to say about fourth grade but this post is really about the passing of years and the ending of third, in particular. RR attends a Montessori school and the children are grouped into classrooms spanning three grades. She has progressed in the same classroom since she was 5, with the same teacher, and the same children. This year’s crop of first graders has been a particularly enjoyable experience for RR, who is young for her age and happily plays with and teaches the smaller set.

Her teacher has been a compassionate, attentive, kind, funny person who has taken RR’s same traits and helped them flourish. She’s one of the most calm and thoughtful people I’ve met and I know for certain that we can thank her for helping RR’s personal space bubble evolve, nurturing her drawing skills, ensuring she could read and write beautifully, and teaching her to channel her frustration at learning new facts into curiosity and enjoyment. You guys, Montessori has been the right choice for RR since the beginning. I’m sure you know how it feels to just know you’ve made some parenting decision solidly right.

But today it ends, friends. Today is the day she rises up to fourth grade. The last day of school. The last day in this classroom with this teacher. I’m not great with lasts as a general rule but I’m a wreck. Somehow this artificial moment makes me feel like my little girl is gone, replaced by the person who has been glimmering in the distance. I’m thrilled with that person’s confidence and maturity, I’m not so thrilled to be saying goodbye to my baby.

I know, I know. You’re right, of course. You always are. This IS artificial. She’s still the same person. It’s a ceremony is all, a last day, a bookmark. But I’m a cryer, happy or not, and I’m an emotional disaster. I need all your tips to keep from crying. Cause I have a day to get through and no real confidence I can get through it in one piece.

Actually, NO

This is how I feel about my body acting like an asshole. I’ve mostly gotten over quirks I can’t do anything about. We’re not at war, I’m not bemoaning my brain chemistry, I’ve tried to internalize that there is not a normal. My naive hope that my body and I had reached peaceful relations has come to an end as I find myself suddenly under siege. Perimenopause. What the actual fuck. WordPress doesn’t even recognize it as a word, that’s how lame it is.

I went to the doctor. I know! I went willingly. Why, I asked? Why this particular bullshit? Why now? Why do I itch? Why am I waking up at night shivering? And don’t even start me on hot flashes. What are these things? I mean, I don’t have enough strong language for a hot flash. Estrogen dominance, she said. But, and I respect this, she had profane feelings about hot flashes, too. The commiseration was nice.

I work in a place with plenty of women 5-15 years older than I am and a fair number wield cardigans and fans. I refuse, friends, to fan myself in a meeting. But if this is any sort of warning bell, I fear the first pre-meeting/class flash. And I’m angry. Mad as a hornet, I said to the doctor. She said, it’s no use, it’s not helpful. She’s probably right but it makes me feel better to rage around like the running of the bulls for a bit.

It’s not grief over the end of child-bearing years, though I suppose that’s a pretty common thing, it’s absolute frustration that I have no control over this phenomenon without some sort of medication. Or, of course, the advice for anything wrong with you – more greens, less refined sugar, more exercise, more sleep, less stress. Are you kidding me? I need the refined sugar to deal with the broccoli and cauliflower.

Mad as a hornet. And not a damn thing I can do to stop it.