Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

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.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Letting Go, Just a Little Bit

At the dinner table last Thursday, William asked to go skiing with several friends over the long President's Day weekend. My heart dropped into my feet as I mentally covered the list of reasons why the trip was a bad idea: 1. COVID 2. Potential skiing injury 3. Lack of ski gear that fit 4. Loss of upcoming swim season (injury) and 5. COVID. We gave the parental answer equivalent to "I'm temporarily speechless" otherwise known as "maybe."

Over the next two days, William provided details such as the phone number of the adult who was accompanying the teenagers, the link to ski rental, the detailed itinerary and food he would need to bring. His organized mind saw only the plan and its potential, whereas my paranoid brain processed mostly the negative "what ifs." But the plan was ultimately solid and so we let him go, our senior who is almost eighteen but whose freedom has been seriously curtailed by the pandemic. 

We outfitted William with my old snow pants, Rob's ski jacket, helmet, goggles and gloves. It's been several years since he skied, due mostly to swim season as championship meets usually occur in February and March. Our kids learned how to ski when they were little, and as I watched William don the adult gear, my mind swooped back to memories of our six-year-old on short skis, rolling over moguls and diving down "blacks." I hoped he didn't aspire to those feats after such a long layoff with his foot or more of additional height throwing off his center of gravity.

While I was on the phone with my sister yesterday, discussing the rough draft of my book, William Snapchatted me to say that his ski day was over and there had been "no injuries, just lots and lots of fun." I put Karen on speakerphone so I could read his message and text back "hooray, hooray." I'm sure my flood of relief came through the phone and irritated my son to no end, though he responded with a picture of his smiling face.

Just as we're beginning a long-delayed and downsized process of letting go of our senior, I have to start letting go of the book I reviewed with my sister. It requires more editing before I release it to non-family beta readers, but ultimately it has to leave the safety of my hard drive and fly out into the buffeting winds of public opinion. For the first time, I will try to find a "real" publisher for a piece of my longer writing. Having only self-published before, that statement feels like a declaration of war - on my sanity, self-worth and security. But moving forward means letting go, and exploring new terrain, as William did yesterday, on skis in a foot of fresh powder. 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Mother Nature Left the Freezer Door Open

 "Global warming is the long-term heating of Earth's climate system observed since the pre-industrial period (1850-1900) due to human activities, primarily fossil fuel burning." 

"Climate change is a long-term change in the average weather patterns that have come to define Earth's local regional and global climates." - NASA Climate, 2/13/21

"Climate change is no longer considered to accurately reflect the seriousness of the overall situation; use climate emergency or climate crisis instead." - The Guardian, 2/13/21, referring to changing terms in its style guide

It took a while to convince my Masters swimmers and co-coach to cancel Friday morning's 6am practice, despite the fact the temperature was predicted to be 10 degrees F. When I woke up on Friday  the thermometer on my watch said 3 degrees, and I was particularly glad that we had canceled. Did I mention that we swim outside year-round? On the coldest days, water splashed on-deck freezes instantly and people's bare hands freeze to the ladder rails when they climb out. Sliding across a sheet of ice to the building can be precarious even with copious amounts of salt thrown down by coaches in wool socks and boots.

Today the mercury has dropped further, registering a negative 2 degrees at 7am (I sleep in on weekends). My brother in Chicago has similar temps and my mom, in northern Montana, is even colder, at negative 6. The outrageous mood swings of the polar vortex brought freezing temperatures to much of the country, further confusing people who still call the monumental issue of our time "global warming." 

Though the atmosphere is steadily warming due to the emission of greenhouse gases, the changes we see are not always "warm." The current harsh winter conditions are actually caused by increasing temps in the Arctic. "Rising temperatures in the North Pole are causing parts of the polar vortex to split off and move southward, leading to the possibility of a particularly harsh winter in the US, Europe and Asia." (The Hill, 2/13/21.) So while it seems counterintuitive that we're freezing our bottoms off in the lower 48 due to a warming atmosphere, it's true. It's as if God - or Mother Nature - left the freezer door open.

The Guardian also evolved their language in reporting on climate issues because "climate change" is no longer an adequate way to address the seriousness of the situation we're in. They have instituted "climate crisis" or "climate emergency" instead. We should all try to use these terms; it's the only way to raise our collective consciousness. There's no do-over on protecting our livable climate or our planet. When we call something by it's true name, we're more likely to respond with action.  If your child was locked in a car that was rapidly overheating, you would certainly break a window to get her out. That's what people do in emergencies, they call "fire" and they take every available measure to save the situation.

Post Script, 2/19/21 - The situation in Texas has horrified the nation this week as power outages robbed millions of light and heat, and ruptured pipes required additional millions to boil water (or snow) for drinking. The electric grid in Texas fell prey to inadequate preparation and the hazardous weather generated by the climate emergency. Natural gas, particularly, was likely to freeze and remain ineffective for days.  As a nation we must update our power generation and our power grids so that more people aren't caught in suffering. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Texas as things hopefully return to normal this weekend.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Bullfrogs & Butterflies

"If  you sing this song ("Bullfrogs & Butterflies") or sing "Have patience, have patience, don't be in such a hurry" you will either see a flash of recognition on a person's face or a really odd look as they choose to ignore your weirdness."  - Robert Brouhard, (2/10/21)

What happens when you add existential angst to chronic impatience? Spontaneous combustion, or perhaps just a restless inability to sit still. Neither option is good for a mother or a writer. When I shared my growing frustration with the pandemic at our outdoor Sunday school last week, my fellow adult leader quipped, "The first year is always the worst." Funny, ha ha.

 I expressed my rising angst to my mother and she reminded me to "have patience," quoting a family-famous line from the Christian album "Bullfrogs & Butterflies: God is Great" (link). My younger brother, John, and sister, Karen, and I used to play this album on repeat, dancing around the basement to its lilting tunes. We played the album, and quoted its songs, so often that our visiting cousins were convinced that we were deeply religious. 

They asked me at another brother's wedding - more than twenty years later -  if we were still so connected to our faith, at which point I stared in confusion. "You were always listening to that album," my cousin, Justin, explained. My brow cleared and I assured him that we listened because we liked the catchy tunes, and the related dances were easy to choreograph. While still church-going, we fell short of the faith level he envisioned.

But when I looked up the album, and specifically the song "The fruit of the Spirit: Patience (Herbert the Snail) (link), I was astonished to: 1. find it, and 2. realize that I still knew every word.  We must have played that cassette tape until we broke it, and I'm sure the subliminal messages did sink in, though none of us proselytize in the present day.  Apparently the album was quite popular in the late 1970's and early 1980's. According to Brouhard, some of the albums sold over a million copies and went Platinum.

That means many adults reaching the mid-century mark are familiar with Herbert the snail and his exhortation to have patience. I have to confess that "The Fruit of the Spirit: Patience" was my least favorite song. Having frequently been reminded of the need to have patience does not, in fact, make one patient.

But we do have one piece of good news as a family that I can sit with today: my Bullfrogs - procuring mom receives her first vaccination shot! She will finally join the ranks of the protected few and be able to venture into her local Super One without trepidation, though still double-masked and eyewear-protected. The news makes me want to sing and dance around the basement to "This is the Day," giving thanks for this special bit of progress, and for discovering our childhood soundtrack.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Wills, Wine and Wind

 Chronicle of Life in a Pandemic: Day 322

Inspired by the thought of our imminent demise, Rob and I recently updated our wills and power of attorney. Working virtually with a lawyer, we have ensured the safety of our offspring and our assets in the event that COVID carries us off. To conclude the process, we had a few friends over to witness and notarize the stack of documents. Blessed with Colorado sunshine, we planned to meet on the back porch around the fire pit, with beer, wine and White Claw on standby. 

The weather had other ideas, throwing 20 mph wind gusts into the mix. For the record, wind and will-signings are incompatible. Hastily reconsidering our process, we removed the cars from the garage and set up shop in that more protected environment, dragging lawn chairs and plastic tables into formation. Social distance was observed, and less alcohol consumed than one might think.

A White Claw was required after I followed procedure and explained to my close friends and witnesses that I do not care to have any extreme measures employed to save my life, insisting that I was in sound mind and able to make such a judgment. Rob mumbled something under his breath which may have expressed doubt in my sanity, but my friends blithely put pen to paper and all loose ends were tied with a bow.  As wind gusts buffeted our gate and sent gales of dust through the garage, we had a thoughtful discussion about where we wanted our ashes to be scattered.

That gathering was followed up by a Super Bowl pre-party on Zoom with my mom, siblings and their families. We played Super Bowl Jeopardy, procured and MC'd by my sister, a fourth-grade teacher now incredibly adept at Zoom and Google meeting technologies. Toasts were made, beverages virtually clinked, and questions answered. 

After such festivities, the Super Bowl itself was underwhelming. We watched people in the stands and in the streets of Tampa Bay and prayed that none were infectious. We marveled at Tom Brady's longevity and went to bed praying for our own, wills and trusts be damned.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

"Words with Friends" as Metaphor

I only play "Words with Friends" with a few people: my aunt, two brothers (off and on), my sister and my good friend from high school, Mike.* Mike has three degrees from MIT, and generally kicks my ass in "Words." Surprisingly, the game demands not only a wide range of obscure vocabulary but also mastery of geometry, a spatial awareness of how to extract the most points from the board's special tiles. My occasional wins over Mike mark red-letter days when my ego can temporarily stand up straight and take a deep breath.

Today is not one of those days. Mike has deployed the Z, J, K and X (highest point letters) in our current game, surpassing my point total by nearly one hundred. He has nailed every "triple word" box but one, which remains unusable due to its position after the word "QIS." I'm drowning in his flood of high-point-words, which included "wahoo" for a staggering 54. My mind freezes when confronted by the limited usability of my remaining letters: I, T, T, R L.  Despite my competitive nature, I may have to deploy a pathetic word like "lit" just to end this torture. We can always start a new game with greater hope.

And, just like that, "Words" becomes a metaphor for my week. (I know you could see that coming from a mile away). I've been dragging my heels while spinning my wheels, working hard and hardly working. I did manage to finish a chapter in the book I'm writing with my mom, but otherwise I've been in a slump. The ego hides in a corner, the withering energy looks to chocolate and coffee.  

But there's always tomorrow (or next week, tomorrow's coming awfully quick). A fresh game board with new letters and the chance to play a Z, J or X, the option to merge luck and opportunity.  I will inevitably accept Mike's invitation to play again - and one day my optimism will unfurl from this cold winter ground, alive to new possibilities. New words to play, new games to win (or lose), a calendar open to chance. Wahoo!

*Mom, if you're reading this, I would be playing with you, too,  but I can't find your name on the 'Friends' page. Did you delete yourself?? Also, I apologize for the three-letter word. It had to be said.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

A Good Cry

 "Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts."  - Charles Dickens

I am addicted to Call the Midwife on Netflix. Over the past four months, I have journeyed from episode 1 through season 7, transfixed by the births, deaths, and life trauma visited on its ever-changing cast members. Nearly every episode brings me to tears, and that's probably why I feel better after watching. The events of the past eleven months have so harrowed our souls that grief must line the folds of every organ, and yet we adults have few outlets for our sorrow. My Midwife - induced tears provide some relief for the pent-up angst.

Usually I turn my grief into rage, it's easier to manage and venting is more socially acceptable than weeping. The children don't want to catch me in tears, but they're accustomed to my frustration and anger, at least when it's directed at someone or something other than them.  But they know to avoid me when I'm watching my show, and they pretend not to notice the used tissues on the floor or my faintly red eyes. 

Expectations that 2021 would usher in more positive outlooks and events have certainly been adjusted, if not shattered, by the events of our over-long January. I daresay we're all exhausted. How can regular adults rally to perform our roles when even Saturday Night Live actors are "over it."  The Atlantic's culture writer David Sims wrote on Sunday that "the show's first episode back after a chaotic six weeks in American politics was the equivalent of a giant shrug." (The Atlantic 1/31/21). The show makes its living on political turmoil, and even they can't rustle up the energy to duly comment on our times.

Health care workers and essential workers must experience this phenomenon ten-fold,  working tirelessly and desperately to save people afflicted by the virus. Some of my tears are for them. Some are for our children, struggling to carry out each day's strange tasks in a time of masks, social isolation and hybrid school. Some for teachers and for older adults, some for political leaders around the world who strain to do the right thing. There are plenty of reasons to cry, if we can only allow ourselves the outlet. When my show ends after a cathartic fifty minutes, it's time to stop the waterworks and get on with life, but I know there's another episode tomorrow, a sacred time when I can allow my heart to soften and my tears to erase some of the blinding dust of our time.