Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Saturday, March 6, 2021


 We've had the "quarantini," the "quaranteam," and now the "quarantinaversary," a bittersweet notation of one year in the bored/panicked/sad/hysterical timeframe since COVID first upended our daily lives. For those who have experienced great loss, for whom the time has been purely bitter, I am truly sorry. For the rest of us, who have experienced inconvenience and fear but averted catastrophe, we recognize our fortune while at the same time wrestling with an amorphous sense of loss. 

Our children have lost some of their education as well as socialization skills and abilities. Cherished rites of passage such as baptisms, confirmations, proms, graduations, birthday parties have been moved, removed, or observed in stripped-down, somber variations of the normal. We all miss loved ones, physical contact and a sense of optimism. 

But that optimism is creeping back, sending smoke signals above the horizon, which we might see when we venture out of our homes and bunkers. Many members of my masters swim team have vaccine appointments and on this sunny Saturday morning they compared notes about which vaccine they will receive, and when. My sister got her first vaccine last week, in the nick of time before the kids come back to school. In our district, all of the teachers and staff will be fully vaccinated and safe two weeks before they bring the children back to middle school and high school full time, to finish out the school year with a semblance of normalcy.

So this anniversary marks not only our sorrow at a troubled year but our perseverance in conquering its obstacles. We helped those in our communities, we celebrated health workers who toiled beyond the limits of human endurance to help us, we elected a new administration and embarked on a more hopeful path. Every person reading these words has struggled through difficult days, clawed his/her/their way out of bed when bed seemed like the only safe place, and made the world just a little bit better for those around them.

As we mourn those we've lost, as we recognize the trauma felt by a nation, we can also celebrate our strength and collective determination. We can proceed with caution, with masks and distancing, even as we allow the bubble of hope to swell within us and buoy us through the remaining struggles of the pandemic. 

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Tears at Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's employees are some of the friendliest folks you will meet in public, especially during the pandemic. The cashiers and baggers never fail to say hello, ask how my day is going, or comment on my food choices. The gluten free chicken tenders always get a comment, I think one young man has told me three times how he likes to eat them in a sandwich with the gluten free waffles.  So I was surprised yesterday when the women checking and bagging my groceries talked furiously to each other and failed to notice me for several minutes.

After filling a bag full, the blonde lady at the cashier looked me straight in the eye and said, "I'm sorry - how is your day going?"

Reassured that our regular programming was now on track, I replied that my day was fine, the weather was lovely, etc.  Then my cashier said, "My youngest son just surprised me in the checkout line."

Her friend, who was bagging the groceries, added, "She didn't know he was coming. He just surprised her with a visit from California - showed up in her line out of the blue."

Blinking back tears, the blonde said, "I haven't seen him in over ten months. He's the baby of the family, and when I first saw him, I almost didn't recognize him. I mean, I wasn't expecting to see him!"

Now all three of us were in tears. I exclaimed over her wonderful surprise and expressed my wonder that she was still at work. Her friend said, "I keep telling her to go home!"

We laughed, wiped our eyes and looked back down at the groceries or payment kiosk.  "I haven't seen my mom in over a year," I said to them. 

"Me either," said the woman putting my bananas on top. 

It's a solemn thing, to tolerate the absence of our loved ones, and a joyous one to reunite. As my family members start to get vaccinated, we all hold on to hopes of a gathering this summer. As my brother says, "I miss us. I need my mom's real hug." I hope we can all feel those arms around us soon.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The 7 P's

 "Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance." - British Army Adage

My dad spent two years in the United States Army and one legacy of his time in the service was his favorite phrase, the "7 P's." Not surprisingly, Dad was a big advocate of proper planning, famous for his organized manila file folders, his predilection for being at the airport at "O dark thirty," and his ability to get five children into the car on time for church, with clean fingernails, no less.

Mom reminded me of the phrase today when we were talking about school districts and their preparation for in-person teaching. Both my sister's district in California and my children's district in Colorado are trying to bring kids back into classroom for more in-person instruction. There are major differences, though, relating to planning and preparation, or lack thereof.

Here in Colorado, kids in K-5 have been in school five days per week since August, with a brief time in remote instruction between Thanksgiving and Christmas when community spread was horrendous. Students in middle and high school have been in person two days per week, except for that same holiday timeframe. The last step, which the administration hopes to take when all teachers and staff have been fully vaccinated, is to bring back the older kids four or five days per week, perhaps for April and May.

Our district did a terrific job of planning. They assessed buildings and revamped HVAC systems in the summer, mandated masks for everyone at all times on all campuses, drafted the cohort policy for the older students, and have basically followed the best science and data at all times, forging a clean pathway when none was provided by the CDC or the U.S. government. Unfortunately, our superstar superintendent will retire after this school year. (Our district will be one of five in the state looking for a new CEO). It's likely that naysayers and negative feedback played a role in his decision, though he's done everything possible to help our kids, teachers and community.

On the other side of the planning process lies my sister's district. None of their kids have been in school all year. To be fair, they adjoin a county that has seen horrendous numbers related to COVID for months. Teachers have done heroic work, shouldering full-time remote learning, emotional support, parental conferences. They learn of shifting criteria and decisions late, or not at all. In some cases, class parents tell my sister about new upcoming developments because parents were emailed before teachers.

I'm bothered by the fact that my sister has not yet had her first shot, and her kids are supposed to come back March 15. The timing is off, and so is the decision to evaluate air quality and circulation at her school just this past week. They learned in February that several of her windows are painted shut. The HVAC hasn't been touched. None of us are sure what the superintendent has been doing since August. Are we at a "piss poor performance" yet?

While I take my hat off to our district and am deeply grateful for the planning, dedication and thoughtfulness demonstrated at all levels, I am so sad to lose our fabulous superintendent. It's hard to accept that his mastery of the "7 P's" was met with blowback strong enough to force his hand. It's also difficult to accept that the poor planning of my sister's district may put her in dangerous circumstances, that in her district, parent wishes trump teacher safety. And of course, we would all be much better off if the ex-President had demonstrated any knowledge of proper planning and hadn't saddled us with the results of his piss poor performance. Perhaps if he hadn't avoided the Army, he would have known better.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Unhelpfulness of Hormones

 I can't decide if it's an indignity or a confirmation of my life force that I still suffer hormonal swings as my fiftieth birthday approaches. Is it bonding or bizarre that my college-age daughter sobs into the phone, "I don't know why I'm crying, but it's probably just hormones" and I have to bite back my own sobs to tell her I'm "right there with you, kiddo"? One wonders just how long the mood swings and acne can continue - isn't (almost) four decades enough?

My answer to this rhetorical question is an assured yes, but I hear from friends who are around the bend of perimenopause that I shouldn't be anxious to venture into that uncharted territory. There lies a world of hormonal replacements and suppositories whose purpose remains shrouded in vagueness. Not better or worse than my current havoc, maybe, just a place with storm clouds and silver linings all its own.

The pandemic renders hormones even more unhelpful. For those of us married couples who have been co-existing in close quarters, wearing the same sweatpants, pullovers and harried expressions for a full year, romance is difficult to fathom. "Mommy porn" fantasies like Bridgerton may serve as temporary replacements for real life, but we all know that Rege-Jean Page will not be appearing on our doorstep in place of the Amazon delivery person. The Saturday Night Live opening last Saturday with Mr. Page explaining "the Duke is just a character, ladies" cuts to the horns of this dilemma.

Mixed metaphors aside, it's not easy for husbands, either. I'm sure Rob would like to get his semi-stable wife back, or at least be allowed to go on a business trip so he could have a few days to miss me before being thrown back into my company. He'd probably also like to throw away the heavily-worn sweat suit I don before bed and wear through the following morning (every morning). The most amorous relationships in our house are between anyone and the cat, who rubs against you and purrs when you feed him.

I'd just like a manual as to what shows are appropriate to watch with my teenagers, and what sentiments I am allowed to express regarding charismatic actors of either gender whose ages fall closer to my children's than my own? How much chocolate must I buy to satisfy the hormonal cravings that perhaps will never end, and when the after-dinner chocolate falls and sticks to the aforementioned sweat suit, how long can it stay before I eat it?

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Pandemic Confusion

I'm not used to constant confusion and I'm not dealing well. Here's what I mean:  

"Cases of the virus have dropped 77% and we're close to herd immunity, so time to lift mask mandates" - state of Montana

"Pockets of COVID have overtaken mountain communities: we're in for another surge due to tourists and skiers bringing in new variants" - Colorado mountain towns

"It's definitely time to double-mask at the grocery store" - random pundit whose name I can't recall

"Double-masking is unnecessary and potentially disrupts the fit of the underlying mask." - random opposing pundit

Now, I'm used to some level of confusion. Every day I wander into a room only to wonder why I walked there so purposefully. The iron law of my life is to write everything down on sticky notes, otherwise I will forget all but the most important information. Each day has its usual chores.

But I'm not used to experts providing diametrically opposed advice (constantly, for the last year). I do like to plan vacations, swim meet schedules and social events, and I usually manage this successfully with the help of my sticky notes. It seems pointless to plan in the present moment, however, because everything I put into the calendar will most likely be moved or deleted. 

We'd like to travel as soon as Rob and I are vaccinated, and I hear vaccines will be available in April - no, July - no, August. Colleges and universities will be more accessible this year due to their financial need for tuition payments - oh, but wait - thousands more students are applying with the same hope of admission and aid. Better luck next year, seniors. Our Masters' championship swim meet will be virtual, or in July, or in October. Our family get-together will be some time over the summer, pending all other events being scheduled.

You're all with me here, I can feel it. Hats off to those who are wading through the murk more successfully than I (99% of you, most likely). I plan to rest in solidarity with the fellow confused parent-planners of the world and ignore all headlines and advice for the weekend. Perhaps that will restore my sanity. It will at least postpone my confusion to Monday, which is my one regularly scheduled day for that mental state.