Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Saturday, May 15, 2021

By the Numbers

Three hundred and forty-five days. That was the length of my Apple watch "move streak" which started in June of 2020 and ended yesterday, courtesy of my sinus infection. My goal was to meet the goal every day for a year, and I thought I would be sad to fall twenty days short, but in the end I didn't really care. Exhaustion and a craving for rest took precedence over a meaningless number, and I took the watch off at bedtime with nary a regret.

Though my goal of 365 days offered motivation for daily workouts and a thread of continuity in the long, empty days of the pandemic, it's no longer useful. As I lay in bed, trying to breathe, trying to stop my head from pounding, I thought about what the 345 days really meant - how lucky I was to be healthy for so long and to have space to exercise during the pandemic. Absurdly lucky, incredibly fortunate.

Numbers don't adequately express our lives, our feelings, our personhood. William is my second child and my first son and those descriptors don't do anything to explain how proud I am of his high school achievements, how sad I am that he will move out in August. The second departure doesn't promise to be any easier than the first, the second round of graduation events, prom, and parties no less exciting and tearful.

In this culture of numbers-obsession, where likes and followers are tracked relentlessly, I need to remember that quantity does not mean quality. Streaks are distractions, sight-views are missing the point. What was it Dr. Seuss said? "To the world you might be one person, but to one person, you may be the world." I want to treat every interaction, every workout, every day like it's one-of-a-kind, not focus on stringing things together or accumulating numbers but on appreciating each unique circumstance. As the days fly by, even in these waning days of the pandemic. each moment is a treasure.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

A Shocking Stuffiness

I woke up yesterday morning and something was amiss. Back pain, check, that's an everyday occurrence. Stumbling forward from bed to the alarm clock like a drunkard at 2am on perpetually sore feet, also normal. I performed my morning ablutions, confused as to my fogginess, when I realized that my nose was stuffy!  I haven't needed to use a Kleenex in over a year and but yesterday I had to go searching for saline spray and menthol.

We've been outrageously, absurdly lucky that in the past fifteen months of pandemic we haven't fallen prey to COVID-19 or even the usual seasonal bugs. All the mask-wearing, distancing and working from home kept us safe, I suppose, and my body forgot what it was like to be under attack from allergies or the common cold. A few teaching shifts in the water with young children blew that streak right out of the water. Those pesky young kid germs snuck right under my face shield and attacked when my guard was down.

We've been fortunate to escape the last year with our physical health intact. (Mental health, another story). Four of us are fully vaccinated and immune from COVID;  even our fifteen-year-old can get a vaccine now, and he's scheduled for his first shot on Sunday. We're unused to coughs and colds, our bar set at clear sinuses and easy breathing. My older son avoided me like the plague when he saw me reaching for tissues last night. "Stay away!" he said, "I can't get sick!" I guess I should be glad he's even paying attention to my existence.

I wonder if germ avoidance caused our immune systems to weaken, or if the frantic pace of work and family support over the past few weeks finally took a toll. Stress can be dangerous, and being back out in the world has increased my cortisol levels. Time to rest, avoid paranoid family members, and mask up in public. The last one, at least, is now routine.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Duck, Duck, Goose

I navigated my way through Friday swim lessons without any hilarious diversions, which made for a smooth but less entertaining shift. This morning, however, a Canadian goose nearly knocked me down in the 303 Coffee parking lot, which kicked in some adrenaline. With hands full of lattes, I had to pause in the middle of oncoming traffic, guessing whether to duck left or weave right. Fortunately the goose got some extra lift and squawked by two feet overhead.

The incident struck me as apt, since I am bobbing, ducking and weaving my way through May. You have to hand it to the old May-hem, even as we're emerging from a pandemic it manages to hurl everything but the kitchen sink at parents. Thursday brought a swim meet (where I got to time in person), an in-person choir concert (where the program was streamlined and guests limited), to a track meet. My heart rate hasn't gone down yet, so stimulated was I by all of this in-person excitement. After 15 months of introverted escape, the rapid expansion of community takes my breath away.

Psychologists and a viral post by actor Anthony Hopkins urge us to keep our innermost social circles small, as we have during the past year of COVID-19. As we emerge like newborns into our previously normal social scene, some of us are gasping and crying like colicky babies. Others are delighted and unfazed, even energized by the growth of human interactions. To them I ask for patience, for tolerance of those of us who keep a tight inner circle like a life preserver around us, and for whom the open ocean of bigger groups and large events seems perilous, like swimming with sharks or dodging our way through a flock of Canadian geese.

Graduation looms, as do grad parties, vacations and other opportunities to mingle. I'll have to put my big girl pants on and self-talk my way into a semblance of composure. My fumbles of the past few weeks make this more difficult, as I rambled (way too loudly), and found myself divulging facts I should keep private at several volunteer events. I've never been good at small talk and now I've completely lost my way. I don't even know if I want to find it again, but I'll do my best to keep flying forward.


Monday, May 3, 2021

Kid Funnies

After getting my two jabs and waiting the recommended two weeks for full immunity from COVID, I jumped back in the pool to give swim lessons. Most of my clients are older and I can keep some distance while wearing my clear face shield, and for some I can even stay out of the water, but for the younger swimmers I am right there at arm's length, still protected by the Darth Vaderesque shield but up close. Working with kids under the age of 12 again provides welcome humorous material and useful research for my children's book and this blog.

A few weeks ago I had a young man - we'll call him Fred, though that's not his name - with a reputation of bouncing off the pool walls, turning somersaults underwater ad nauseam, and generally not wanting to do any of the suggested swim drills or distances. He's a sharp and funny kid, and I decided to take the bull by the horns and great him with tremendous positive energy.

"Fred! It's been so long since I last taught you, you have grown so much! How old are you now, 18?"

Taken aback, he froze and gave me serious side-eye. "I'm eight. When did I have you as a teacher?" he asked with lifted eyebrow.

"Oh, it's been at least two or three years," I said. "I bet you're a super swimmer now."

He ignored my obvious gambit to start swimming. "Three years, hmm." There was a long pause as he processed my absence from his life.  "Let me tell you, you have a lot to catch up on!" 

It was my turn to be surprised as Fred filled me in on the major events of the last three years, grandparent visits and deaths, school performances, sibling accidents, etc. My ploy to start swimming had failed, but our relationship certainly got back on good terms.

Then last week I had two youngsters in a beginner class. The first, aged six, was dutiful and determined, floating and kicking with straight legs and somber gaze. The second, aged three, was both exuberant and fearful, flashing an adorable grin when he felt comfortable and grabbing my arm with a vise grip when he felt nervous.  Imagine my surprise when I gently put him back on the bench after a back float and he turned and grabbed my chest with both hands. 

"Honk, honk!" he said with a glint in his eyes. I quickly recovered from my shock and removed his hands from my breasts, telling him that "we don't do that to teachers" and wondering how on earth he learned that party trick. I hoped the parents in the lobby didn't see that particular move on our TV. Still in fine fettle despite my reprimand, he grabbed the safety whistle as he went down the stairs and blew it until I could wrest it from his grasp. 

So merriment, shock and disbelief are back in my life and I remember now how interesting, surprising and startling young children can be. Time to dial up the shocking behavior in my children's book, and keep my notebook and pen ready for more kid adventures.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

More Light

 "As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being."  - Carl Jung

"To love beauty is to see light." - Victor Hugo

"There's more light out there, go find it!" - Kendall Toole

William and I watched the first part of My Octopus Teacher last night. The beautiful documentary about a filmmaker, producer Craig Foster, and an octopus that he befriends in the frigid Atlantic waters off the coast of South Africa brought me to near-tears with its beauty. The bright colors of the corals became the bright colors of the octopus, and the sunlight shone through translucent jelly fish and other creatures in the kelp forest. Just watching the first half-hour reminded me of all the beauty, all the light that exists in the world, and how much I want to go find it after this terrible year.

The whole country staggers to its feet now that the vaccine has arrived and COVID infections are mostly down, but headlines from India and Brazil continue to buffet our awareness and mass shootings have once again surfaced as daily occurrences. Most of us have learned to ration our news intake, to distance ourselves from tragedy just to preserve our sanity, but I forgot to seek out sources of beauty and light.

Withdrawing into my hole of unconsciousness, like the octopus hiding in its rocky den, doesn't spark my joy. The Oscar-winning documentary about an unlikely friendship between a man and animal reminded me of the mystery, the miracle-filled nature of our world. William and I spoke at the same time last night as we watched Craig Foster free dive in the kelp: "I really want to do that!" There's nothing stopping us from planning that trip. We'll soon be able to explore again, to recognize how much light is out there and how much we need to find it.