Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Day Shiz Got Real

Zoe has NEVER been one to mince words, yo!
Once upon a time, when Zoe was about a year and a half old, I decided to go to Corning Wegmans, just Z and Me.  We were both kind of bored at home, getting on each other's nerves, and we needed some supplies from the store, so I figured, what the heck?  Let's go!

And Zoe was at that age where she'd just started to get really good at talking, so she was able to articulate her distaste at being told what to do, so she was Not Happy with me as we barreled down Rt. 49 in my red Grand Cherokee that day.

Truth be told, I was having second thoughts, third thoughts about venturing all the way to Corning Weg on my own with Zoe as I drove.  I was used to venturing out only when I had someone with me, if Zoe was along, so one of us could keep the forward momentum going with the shopping cart, and one of us could see to Zoe's needs.  But that day, I felt BRAVE!

Zoe was in a mood, though.  She didn't want to be in the Jeep.  She didn't want to be in her carseat.  She didn't want to go to Wegmans.  She kept wailing and kicking the back of my seat.  She wasn't hurt.  She just didn't want to be doing what we were doing. 

I didn't want to listen to the cantankerous caterwauling from the back seat, and I really didn't cotton too well to having the back of my seat kick-kick-kicked like that, so as we got to the spaghetti of interchanges just outside of Painted Post, I told her that if she kicked the back of my seat one more time, I was going to pull over and give her a spankin'!

Quick side note: I never relied on A Spankin' to keep Zoe in check.  I'd been one of those parents who said "never ever will I spank my child!" before she was born.  Once she was a toddler, I learned a more nuanced approach to parenting than "all the spankings or none of the spankings."

Well, as we whooshed onto the Riverside strand of road-spaghetti, to hit Bridge Street from what becomes Dennison Parkway, Zoe gave the back of my seat a big, defiant "So There!" kick, and my hackles stood up.  I pulled over onto the shoulder just before the Benjamin Patterson Bridge and started unbuckling my seatbelt.  I was angry, but I don't think I really planned to drag my surly nineteen-month-old from the Jeep to spank her butt alongside the road like that.

However, I heard from the backseat in a little helium-balloon voice:
"Uh-Oh... Shit just got REAL!"

Well, I had to hurry out of the Jeep right then, because my chest had lurched with one of those peals of laughter that wakes up a person's long-dead ancestors, didn't it?  It had been such a tense drive to that point so far, and I was stressed, and anything would have tripped my laughter trigger at that point.  But also, it was forbidden laughter, because I didn't want to encourage Zoe in such a precocious use of Anglo-Saxon language derivatives, BUT- it sounded so hilarious coming from her little cookie-voice, and she had the words and music down pat far more deftly than I've heard from some adults.

I knew Zoe was watching me with rapt attention from through the dark-tinted back windows of the Jeep, so I had to make it look like I was being shaken with shudders of anger, instead of trying to snarfle down laughter as I tried to compose myself.

When I finally did, I opened her car door and saw her big brown eyes were huge in her head.

"Mommy, I'm sorry!  Please don't spank me!  PLEASE!" she begged.

I put a stern look on my face.

"Do you know what you did that made me so mad?" I asked her.

"Yes, I do," she said, nodding solemnly.  "I kicked the back of your seat after you told me not to kick the back of your seat!"

"You gonna do it again?" I asked.

"No, Mommy!" she said, shaking her head no for emphasis. 

"Okay.  Are we going to have a nice shopping trip at Wegmans today?"

"Yes!" she said. 

So I leaned in and kissed her cheek and we got on our way.  True to our words, we had a nice shopping trip at Wegmans.  If I remember right, she got a little something from the overpriced trinket aisle. 

I know there have been myriad other times since that day when Zoe has recognized that "Uh-oh- shit just got real!"  She's a smart kid.  In addition to having a solid command of the Dark Language Arts, she also displays great wisdom in when not to demonstrate it.  And in that respect, the Apprentice has surpassed the Master. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Emotional Savagery and the Art of Closet Purgin'

Believe it or not, this is AFTER I culled a big bag's worth of clothes out!
Last summer, when we returned home from a few days away in St. Louis, I opened my closet door and saw that the thing had imploded.  Seriously.  The white vinyl-dipped builder-grade closet shelf/hanging rod had unanchored from the drywall and collapsed on the closet floor.

Tidy, but still too many clothes!
I can only imagine what a noise that must have made, echoing through the empty, shut-up house!  It was back during that hellacious Heat Wave in Late July, and that is only important to throw in because it helps to explain why my temper went nuclear when I saw the imploded closet.  I wasn't mad at the closet, either.  I was mad at myself for having so many clothes that it pertineer brought the house down.

I figured I'd have to handle all those clothes to get them back hung up once the closet was fixed, so in the hot heat of my bedroom, which had been closed up tight for the week or so that we were gone, I grabbed one of those 33-gallon clear recycle bags and went to town, culling every piece of clothing I hadn't worn in a while, that I was too fat to fit, that I just didn't like, that I wondered why in the hell I bought that thing.

It took me under an hour to fill that bag.  I was armed with righteous indignation, pent-up rage, ice-water (to stay hydrated!), some serious emotional savagery, and a will to lighten that poor closet bar's load.

The pictures attached to this point are the AFTER pictures.  Holy heck.

Yesterday, I opened up my closet door, looking for one of my hoodies from undergrad, so I could participate in Orange and Maroon Days.  I found the hoodie, but also saw that the closet is STILL overcrowded to the point of being overwhelming.

"Other-trucker, I'm gonna clean you out!" I announced to that closet, and I started wiggling each hanger a little bit, to see which article of clothing I was touching.

I broke a few of my velvet-flocked slimline plastic hangers, reefing and pulling to extricate them from the closet.  I pulled out a few items and definitively decided to get rid of one navy blue-and-white striped tunic that fits me like a tent.  The stripes are horizontal.  It never flattered me, and I can't remember why I thought I had to have it, except for a few summers ago, I had a brief and torrid love-affair with acquiring those LulaRoe Leggings that everybody was selling, and I needed tunic-tops to cover my ass in those leggings.  Guess what.  I hate wearing leggings.  They're too hot.  They're too tight.  They have no pockets.  They're too stretchy, and I'm too undisciplined to be trusted with such stretchy pants.  My jeans will at least punish me a little bit to keep me on track with eating right.  Those leggings are just like a force-flex garbage bag, and that's what I'd look like if I made it a habit of wearing stretchy leggings as though they're real pants and stupid tunic-tops.  The tunic-tops don't look well with my boot-cut jeans.  They make me look like I'm hiding under clothes.  Which I am.  But I don't want to be that obvious about it.

Where the heck did all that come from?!

Anyway.  That one epically unflattering tunic-top was all I managed to pull from the closet to get rid of.  There are tons more things in that closet that either do not look great on me or I just don't wear.  Intellectually, I know this.  But in this time of Pandemic Purgatory, there's been so much out of my control that I've let go of- routine, certainty, freedom- that it seems like a bridge too far to voluntarily get rid of stuff, even ugly, ill-fitting shirts.  What if I regret putting those things in the donation bag?  Even that striped tunic-top that did nothing for me?

This won't last forever.  The emotional savagery will come back.  And when it does, here's hoping that the hang-bar in my closet gets far lighter.  There's a time to acquire and a time to hold on, and a time to Release.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Living Dead Girl

I think I could just sleep.  All the time right now.
I used to buoyantly refer to this time we're currently living through as "Sparkling Isolation."  It doesn't seem like too long ago.  Twenty days ago, as I look at my calendar.  A month ago.  It was still easier to maintain a good sense of humor back then.  Smiles felt natural, still.

It's begun feeling like Pandemic Purgatory.  

The edges are starting to feel like they're fraying around here.  Zoe has started complaining as much about home-school as she did about school-school. My husband has done up many of the home-fix-it projects he hasn't had time for over the last while.

Maybe the grind is a little more concentrated for them because there's no getting away from it.  When you GO to work, you get to LEAVE work.  When you GO to school, you get to LEAVE school.  When you're working or schooling at home, there's no leaving.  You're always there.  You see the same walls.  You hear the same sounds.  You smell the same smells.  If you're like us, you fall into a rut of eating kind of the same stuff, over and over.  You do the same stuff, over and over again.  

One day runs into the next.  

Even before Pandemic Purgatory, Home and Work were the same locale for me.  Things sort of ran together.  I felt like I ran in the background, unnoticed, and I certainly felt as frayed around the edges as my daughter and my husband are starting to seem.  But at least there were the external routines that reminded me what day it was.  Now it feels like: Saturday, Tuesday (my husband is allowed to practice at his office on Tuesdays for true emergency patients), Saturday, Saturday, Saturday, Saturday, and Saturday.  I don't really leave my house.  There isn't anywhere for me to go, and no reason for me to go there.  

I've passed the point of wanting to accomplish Great Things during Sparkling Isolation- I had read that Sir Isaac Newton came up with Calculus while working from home during the quarantine during the Plague of 1665-1666.  I started to feel fairly optimistic about my creative prospects.  I have learned what I honestly already knew.  I'm no Sir Isaac Newton.  I'm not even Lady Fig Newton.  

I think I feel most like Living Dead Girl.  I still get up every day at the same time I did when school was still running.  I still get stuff done.  I think I've done an impressive job of keeping the laundry folded and put away.  This is the best my laundry room has looked for the longest stretch of time I can remember.  I actually think I could probably go in there and organize it up like a Pinterest Fail version of those Pinteresty laundry rooms, at this point, since there are no baskets or piles of clean clothes indefinitely on deck for folding.  But that's the "Living" girl part.  "Living Dead Girl" still gets the work done, but I swear, I could just lie down on the couch and sleep for hours a day.  That's what I'd really like to do, truth be told.  

I've read that that isn't so abnormal right now, either.  There's a lot of intense emotional information for us to process right now, whether we're aware of it or not.  There's a lot of anxiety and worry.  That tires a person out.  Maybe in order to feel less like Living Dead Girl and more like myself, I need to spend a few days sacked out under my gravity blanket on the couch.  I'd like to think Living Dead Girl isn't just who I am from now on.  I hope not!  

This won't last forever, Friends, even if it feels like it has, is, and will be forever.  We all have to do what we need to do to get through each day.  I'm right here in the trenches with you, appropriately distanced, although you wonder, was there appropriate distance with trench warfare?  I guess there is during this trench warfare.  Take care of yourselves, Friends, especially if you're also feeling like Living Dead Girl.  

Monday, April 27, 2020

It Seems Like a Whole Different Life

Sunrise in Philadelphia in October 2019.  
I happened to glance at the calendar this weekend and think that a short six months ago, it was the last weekend of October, and during the last weekend of October, our school was on "Fall Break," which meant Friday and Monday were days off from school.  

We took our sensational second grade daughter to Philadelphia for the weekend.  We saw friends we hadn't seen in ten years.  They'd never met Zoe!  We saw Independence Mall, Old City, the Liberty Bell.  We took a double-decker bus tour.  We stayed right on the Avenue of the Arts, South Broad Street.  We took the subway and went to Reading Terminal Market and went through our old neighborhoods.  We drove her through Temple Main Campus and Health Sciences Campus.

She was dazzled by the City of Brotherly Love.  Enchanted.  And we remembered what we loved so much about the city while we lived there.  We also remembered why we love living where a traffic jam is more than three cars stuck behind a farm tractor or Amish buggy.  

That trip seems like an impossible dream from a different lifetime.  And it was only six months ago!  Now I couldn't imagine just hopping in the Jeep with luggage and heading down to the southeast corner of the state.  Heck.  I can't even imagine hopping in the Jeep and just casually running across the border to Wellsville right now.  Or Corning.  Or anywhere, for that matter.  

It's not that I was a huge runner outer, Before.  I've gone long stretches of time without leaving my house.  But I did like the freedom of deciding if I wanted to stay at home or if my boot-heels wanted to go a-wandering.   

I never thought I'd look back at a time when I could just go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted and wonder to myself if I went enough.  If I knew six months ago that we'd be here on hold, would I have put some more silly miles on my Jeep, going places just because I could?  I honestly don't know.  But I wouldn't have believed you if you'd told me back in October that in the next six months, nobody would be going far from home, if they went anywhere at all.  

I don't have any more insight than that, Friends.  Other than to just say this is so weird and I just can't get past how weird it is, today.

Tomorrow will be a new day.  The sun still always rises.  Thank goodness for that!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

See Ya Later, Neighborhood of Make-Believe

Zoe rides away on a train to Grownupsville while the Neighborhood kids and I wave from the platform.
Back in February, after school one day, Zoe was very snappish and we got into a row over her homework. So my response was to sing a song from Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood that fit the situation.  It went "When ya FEEL so mad thatchya wanna ROAR: Take a deep breath... and count to four!"

To get the full effect, you need to hear the song for yourself.  It's pretty great.  In fact, sometimes when I feel so mad that I wanna roar, I take a deep breath and count to four.

She was having a bad day... a BAD day, the latest in a chain of bad days. I'd had Enough of the storminess that I was seeing, without taking into account the factors that caused the clouds to gather for her in the first place.  I hoped that that little ditty from "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" would snap her out of it and that she'd join in and count to four by the end of the song, like she used to when she was younger.

Lightning snapped in Zoe's dark eyes.

"STOP IT!" she shouted. "I don't like Daniel Tiger! That's a stupid show for BABIES, and I AM NOT A BABY!!!"

And she stopped me in my tracks, because she was right about the part where she's not a baby. Still.

"Oh, Honey, no," I said, as though she'd just said she wished someone dead. "No, don't talk like that. You don't mean it!"

She meant it in the moment and we both stormed off. I sank down in my chair and thought about all the good times we'd had, learning all the lessons Daniel Tiger and his friends had to teach- when something seems bad, turn it around and find something good; when you're feeling frustrated, take a step back and ask for help; when you're sick, rest is is best; sayin' 'I'm Sorry' is the first step: then 'how can I help?'. I think I always loved Daniel Tiger because it reminded me of my soft spot where I'd land growing up- Mister Roger's Neighborhood. (It's a spin-off.) Zoe loved Daniel Tiger even more than I did, because it's Mister Rogers, but with bright colors and animation and catchy tunes that speak to her generation.

So as I sat there singing "It's okay to feel sad sometimes... little by little, you'll feel better again!" (From the ep where Daniel and his friends have to take the baby duck they hatched back to the farm), a less-stormy Zoe climbed over me and curled up next to me in my chair.

"Mommy, I'm sorry I was so mean a few minutes ago," she said. "I've been havin' a bad day all week."

"I know, sweetie."

"I like Daniel Tiger," she continued. "It's just... I've grown up, and he's still the same."

"Believe me, I know," I said.

For days afterward, when I was alone in the house and it was all peaceful and I had nothing but my won thoughts to keep me company, I shed lots of tears over that whole exchange. Not Stormy Zoe. I can handle that. It's the "I've grown up, and he's still the same." And while I'm not quite as "the same" as Daniel Tiger is, I haven't changed as much as Zoe has since we had started watching Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood together. I have the unshakeable feeling that Zoe's on a train on her way to Growing Up, and there I stand on the platform with Daniel Tiger and Miss Elaina and Oh the Owl and Katerina Kitty-Cat and Prince Wednesday, and we all have happy tears streaming from one eye, because we're so happy Zoe's growing up so well, but bitter tears pour from the other eye, because there we stand, left behind as Zoe speeds into her Future.

I've been wishing that Daniel Tiger's mom had a song for this particular feeling, to be honest.  

But I did some art therapy, which I included at the top of this post.  It's a silly little picture I drew, of a Very Grown Up Zo on a train, heading off to wherever she's going to be a grown-up.  She's changed a lot in my drawing (especially because I'm not a super-rad draw-er, especially when it comes to rendering future versions of a face I want so desperately to Just Stay This Way for a While Longer).  And there the kids from Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood and I are, on the platform, just the same as we were when Zoe was a year and a half old, and when she was four, and when she went to kindergarten, and maybe when she goes to high school (I plan to gracefully fight aging, by gum).  We're waving "see ya later" through sad smiles and tears.  

I showed the picture to Zoe when she got home from school the day I made it.  At first, she thought it was pretty neat.  Then she asked why I was standing on the platform and why I wasn't on the train with her, and I told her that as she grows up, she's going to have to go some places on her own, without me, because I've already been through there, and I can't go back. But I will always love her, and I'll meet her at whichever platform I can when she comes to her stops.  

She looked a little sad and reflective, hearing that.  She gave me a kiss on the cheek and sat with me the whole evening.  She pulled me back from the brink of feeling obsolete in the moment.  She needs me right now. And I'll always need her.

As far as this is concerned, this Sparkling Isolation and the ensuing school closure doesn't strike me so bad.  I get to have Zoe Home with Me.  She's a pretty easy kid to deal with.  

What isn't very easy to deal with when I'm in a certain mood, is watching her grow up right before my eyes.  But I'm darn proud of the person she is and the person she's growing into being!

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Personal Effects and Writing About Closure

Zoe and her creation Elexa the Shoebox Robot, back in February.
Well, Friends, on Thursday, I ran up to the school to pick up the things my daughter left at school on the last day it was open.

One of the things I needed to retrieve is the robot she made out of a shoebox.  It's a Second Grade Tradition.  Whenever I'd go into the elementary school library for a school board meeting, my eyes would go right to Zoe's shoebox robot, and it would make me grin a little bit.  It's a cool robot.

Zoe was fairly anxious to get her robot back.  She worried about Elexa the Shoebox Robot being lonely in the library with the other Shoebox Robots, but without kids to visit them.

That really got me, Friends.

So on Thursday, I made sure that shoebox robot was secured safely in the Jeep so it could come home and be Zoe's companion in her bedroom.  I also was handed a large, clear plastic garbage-drum liner full of folders, papers, pencils, a math workbook, craft projects, and pictures taken of Zoe and her classmates over the course of the shortened year.  That got my pickle-lips going, and I was glad to be hiding behind my procedure mask.  But the people at the school also offered me a flat of eggs.  Our school has been distributing flats of eggs to families.  It means a lot to us.  That little extra touch of "We Care" had my eyes watering as I buckled the eggs in.  I had just enough time to get strapped into the driver's seat before I burst into full-on tears.

What's that?  Well, yeah, I buckled the eggs in because I think if I had to stop quick, the timeworn "Mom Arm Safety Restraint System" would have made a bad situation a whole lot worse, and I don't want to know how easy it is to clean shattered eggs off the surfaces on a Jeep JL Sahara.  I was told you can just hose the interior of that thing out, but I don't want to have to try that out on egg bits.

The eggs and robot and personal effects made it home safely, by the way.

As predicted, Zoe was delighted to see Elexa again, and the robot stands on her dresser in her bedroom. 

The bag of SchoolYear was something else.  We pulled out the first few items, she and I.  There was a paper chain of rainbow colors with a pot of gold on the bottom.  Second Grade was gearing up to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, after all.  What a lifetime ago.  We hung that up on the mirror in the dining room.  We got out her Brag Tag Necklace, which is Second Grade's way of combining classroom high-fives with a charm-bracelet concept.  Every time a student meets an accomplishment or is caught doing good or anything else positive, they get a brag tag on their necklace, and they can flip through and remember all the good they did over the course of the year.  It's a very personal item.  It's something those second graders are very proud of. 

So ended the emptying of the Bag of SchoolYear upon getting out that brag-tag necklace, for the time-being, at least. 

We picked it back up yesterday, when I was feeling stronger.  Zoe- she's pretty resilient.  She likes our loosey-goosey home-schooling schedule, which is to say I'm not killin' it as a homeschooling mom.  Not even close.  She did get a little pensive when she saw the pictures of her and her classmates that her teacher included in her bag.

"I miss them," she said.

"So do I, Kid," I said.  I miss it all.

It put me in a certain frame of mind, though, to finally write the Closure Edition of the Panther Pause Newsletter, which is the elementary school's monthly newsletter that I write.  I won't say I was procrastinating, but I was definitely dragging my feet and finding lots of other things to do like painting down in the gym and putting my kitchen spatulas in rainbow order according to shape.

I won't talk too deep about that newsletter issue until it's published on the school's media outlets.   But last year when I wrote the final edition for the year, I focused on giving the sixth graders and their parents a sendoff, because they'd be headed across the parking lot to the High School in the fall, and in my little school district, this is a Really Big Deal for families.  And I veered toward the nostalgic and maybe maudlin, urging parents to tell their kids to remember everything they could about their classmates in those final days of the year, the way the sun hit the playground at recess, the way the cafeteria and art room and classroom smelled.  Remember the way their friends' voices sounded in those moments, because Next Year would be Different. 

It was a cry for Closure without saying so, because at a normal end of the school year, you know it's coming, and you start winding down and wrapping up loose ends and providing your own closure.  This year, everybody boarded their buses on the afternoon of Friday, March 13, sort of sure they'd be heading back to school the following Monday, and we learned school was shut down for two weeks starting that afternoon.  The news dropped before most kids were even home from school.

You were here for it.  Time went on and hope of returning in the two weeks dwindled.  The Closure Can was kicked out another couple weeks, to the 9th of April, which was supposed to be a half-day for Easter break anyway.  Weird day to pick to open school back up, but good.  We'll be back at it soon.  Shortly thereafter, we found out the final curtain had fallen on the 2019-2020 school year, and here we are. 

Our principal asked me for a short 1 to 2 page editorial to close out the newsletter for the year.  I just emailed him 4 pages and a note saying we can cut anything he wants cut.  In the push for closure, I could have spooled out 10 or 20 pages, once I got in the frame of mind.  I had to actively put the brakes on at 4 pages. 

It's hard not to feel alone while we're self-isolating.  For a while I was calling this "Sparkling Isolation."  Then, you see, Babies, my roller-coaster got stuck upside-down in the tunnel where it's dark, and everybody's screaming, and I was screaming, too.  Last week.  I couldn't even take the week one day at a time.  I put myself on a self check-in schedule every quarter-hour.  I felt alone.  I don't think I was.  We're all just kind of hanging in.  Doing the best we can. 

We're all grieving something right now, and grief looks different on different people.  Someday, COVID-19 Sparkling Isolation will be a story we all tell, the way our grandparents talked about the Great Depression and World War II.  Right now, we're searching for closure and finding its best approximation at the bottom of a Bag of School Year Artifacts packed with care by our children's teachers and delivered to the sidewalk out front by familiar faces half covered by masks. 

But heads up and wings out, Friends.  Deep breaths. Brighter days are ahead.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Paint It Black

My Gym, My Haven:  I call the color scheme "Murder-n-Mourning."
Well, Friends, I took on a Project the other day.  If you're on my crazy-train over on the Facebook, you got a front-row seat.  If not, you'll get the commentary today.

I took it upon myself to paint the cupboards in my gym a hip-n-happenin' black and red.  They were white, as you can see in the pictures.  My Grandpy built me those cupboards for my bathroom in the old house we lived in.  When we moved to our current house, there wasn't a place for the cupboards in any bathroom, but they make excellent storage for my gym.  They just needed some sprucing up, is all.

Don't you know I figured on this being a project that would take a couple hours at most, once I got all the junk out of those cupboards?  I started just before noon on Wednesday, since I knew I'd have a Rest Day and not need to use the gym at all yesterday.  I had to run to school to pick up Zoe's personal items and be home in time for tele-therapy, and thought the Rest Day would be a good opportunity for my paint to get good-n-dry.

Don't you know that I was feeling very disheartened when I glanced at the clock to see 2:00 PM, and I didn't even have any black on the pieces yet?  I was still fiddling around, getting the red good and covered.  I had some pratfalls with my paintbrushes.  I ended up with more red paint on my white Tyvek suit and also on the cement floor than I actually got on the shelves, I'm pretty sure.  At least the paint covered a lot better on my suit and the floor than it did on the surfaces I was trying to cover!

I was super-past the Point of No Return, though.  I'd already torn my gym up.  There was stuff from the cupboards strewn all over my floor-surface.  The insides of the cupboards were already painted and tacky, so I wouldn't have been able to just load everything back in and blithely gone about my workout Thursday morning.  Also, the outsides of the cabinets, which I planned on painting black anyway, looked like they were extras in a slasher film, with all the red paint spattered all over them.

Seriously- I am the most slather-ass painter in the history of forever.  I *had* a dropcloth put down to protect my vinyl floor tiles.  I should have had a dropcloth the size of a circus tent to protect everything else.

Once I had the black paint out, I decided that the green sheetrock wall behind the shorter cabinet was so fugly I couldn't look at it another day, and I learned from watching Christopher Lowell in the '90s on HGTV that if you want to make something disappear, you paint it black.  So I elected to paint that wall black before I even did anything with the cupboard outsides.

That little enterprise earned me some gorgeous jet-black glossy freckles on my face and neck and also in my hair just a little bit.  That was the fact after which I remembered the Tyvek suit had a hood.  I'm book-smart, but sometimes I'm tragically short on common sense.

Anyway.  That wall covered in glossy black paint, which doesn't let any of its sins hide, actually looked pretty darn good.  Good enough to give me a second wind so I could loop through and get the outsides of those cupboards turned from white to black.  It was a multi-step process. I had to let the paint dry enough between coats so that my brush wouldn't pick the last coat back up, but my need for instant gratification and for this project not to take so far over a "coupla hours" had me painting the outside of one cupboard, moving to the next, giving the Formerly Fugly Wall a little roll with the paint, then I'd start again with the first cabinet.  I had all my Breeze Matrix fans blowing on the wet paint.  It was latex paint.  I thought it at least dried to tacky satisfyingly quick.

After a few pauses for being dramatic and documenting the bloodying of my Tyvek Suit for The Book Of Faces to see, I dragged my butt up the stairs at quarter past six in the evening.  The paint wasn't dry on my cabinets, but at least there was new paint on them.  They looked pretty sharp.  The Formerly Fugly Wall looked pretty sharp.  I was sort of pleased with myself for a Job Well Done that I started and saw through to the end, even if the paint fumes had started to get to me a bit.  It was latex paint, but still.  That's some smelly stuff.

Even though I underestimated how long painting a couple cabinets and a small wall would take me, and I overestimated how much I'm capable of doing in a few short hours, I really needed a victory like deciding to do a project, taking steps to get the project done, and seeing the project through to the end.  I accomplished that.  Last night, I got everything back on the shelves, minus a garbage bag full of junk I was keeping in there because I don't even know why.  It was easier to hang onto it rather than throw it out, I guess.  I have extra shelves now!

I wound up with my hands and forearms to my elbows covered in red and black paint, which, in my heightened state from the paint fumes and my outsized sense of Over It, I dubbed the paint scheme "Murder and Mourning."  I think it's hilarious.

I don't think I'm going to take on another Paint Project anytime soon, though.  They're like at least two big projects in one, because you have the mess from unloading whatever you're painting, then the mess from the painting, then the waiting to get things put back together, and finally executing getting things put back together.  I do need to attack my pantry cupboard in the kitchen.  Well, the kitchen cupboards in general need a blitzkrieg to rip through them and jettison anything out of date or that doesn't serve me anymore.  I have a lot of damn stuff in this house that I've been holding onto because I thought it was too much trouble to go through and make decisions on getting rid of.  I think I could get through going through the kitchen with less drama, because there's just the mess of dragging everything out, then putting what's left back in place.  I could make the Point of No Return smaller.  Leave every segment of the process on a high note, so I'll want to come back and do more segments.

It's all about managing my own expectations, Friends.  Estimating that a job will take twice as long as it really does. That way I won't think it's quite so tragic when my hour-long project turns into an all-dayer.  If you take on any Big Projects today or this weekend, learn from your pal April's mistake and manage your expectations about how long it will realistically take, what you can realistically do.  Accept that that's Enough.  And get crackalackin'!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Hiding Behind a Smiley Face Mask

This is me.  Will the people who loved the smiley face on the right still love the person on the left?
The other night, I was watching TV and a commercial came on for some kind of antidepressant medication.  The woman who was the main character of the commercial walked around with a hand-drawn smiley face mask that she'd put up over her regular face...

Usually I don't pay much attention to ads on TV, but this one kind of got me.

It felt like someone was following me around and making a commercial of how I've been going through my life for years.  I plaster that damn smile on my face and just go, even if I don't feel like it.  I throw the smile in my voice on the phone, even if I've been bawling myself hoarse moments before I picked the phone up. 

I don't think I'm quite like the woman in the commercial.  I know why I'm not buoyant like a helium balloon on a string most of the time (I have my moments of buoyancy, though.  I have flashes of true happiness.  I can feel them.)  It's easier to plaster the smile on my face or straighten my shoulders and put a little sparkle in my voice than it is to answer "what's wrong?"

I've realized that I don't actually fool everyone as much as I wish I did.  I have one particular friend who can tell if I'm faking a smile even if we're talking on the phone.  And they let me know they can tell the difference, every time I do it.  The first time we had the conversation about my slipping into the Rainbow Brite Sprinkle version of me, I was unsettled, and I saw it as a bit of an invasion.  How dare they?!  But it got me asking myself why it's so important to me that people only see or hear the smile. 

Well, you know, I have a reputation.  I'm told I'm high-energy, and I am... most of the time.  I'm told I'm sunny, and I can be.  A walking glitter-bomb (who can sling an f-bomb better than you can, Dearie).  It took me so many years to accept that people actually DO love that version of me, the perky, sunny, happy-happy-happy proto-Poppy-the-Troll because for a very long time, I was convinced that I was tolerated in this world, at the very best.

I only just recently accepted that people might like or love me, so why would I want to go effing it all up by letting people see the hurricane of hurt swirling in my eyes?  Are people still going to love me even if they know I cry in the shower, in the Jeep when I'm alone, that I curl up in a ball and bawl while my daughter is off at school, that the reason I resist taking off my dark glasses, even when it's not really appropriate to be wearing dark glasses is that I've probably smudged my waterproof eye makeup because...tears?

Will the people who loved me when they thought I was Tigger still love me when they realize that I'm more Eeyore than they ever knew?  I mean really?

The thing is, I understand that I wasn't giving anybody a chance to love the real me.  Just my smiley representative.  It wasn't fair to people or to me.  People have a right to know who their friend is.  I have a right to have the kind of friends who can see through the fake smile even if they aren't even in the same ZIP code, but who love me anyway and who will just sit with me in the dark when I can't find the light-switch.  Because even Sparkly Me would do the same for them.  And I hope I have proven this.

And I'm working on Why I'm So Sad.  I talk to a therapist online, and she's helped me understand that while I do hurt my own feelings, I do have an avalanche of legitimate reasons for walking around with so much pain.  Me.  This is not an altar-call for mental health, but I feel like I wouldn't be very genuine if I slopped this all over the table and let you think I can handle it all on my own.  I tried for years to, and it's too much.  So I got help.  I have zero shame in talking about this.  I do not think this makes me weak at all.  If I had an earache, I'd visit my physician.  If I blew out my knee, I'd see an orthopaedist.  Why would anybody try to DIY something as complex and mysterious as the human psyche?  Why would I try to DIY my own mental health anymore? 

Anyway, Friends, I'm not Tigger to the bone.  I'm more like Eeyore with Tigger skin. I haven't changed.  I've just gotten so tired of the projection.  I'm working on bringing the Smiley Face and My Face into closer alignment.  I do better like the sparkly, high-energy version of Me far better than this blue-blob-feeling incarnation.  Maybe there's somewhere in the middle we can meet.  I don't know.

I've worried that this will be the jumpin' off point for some of my people.  The going has gotten tough and is going to stay that way for a while.  But I have enough faith in humanity and enough faith in my friends to believe that I will still have friends who stick with me, and love me even through the messy and the unpleasant and the difficult to love.

Just.  Be kind to the people you meet, Friends, when we go back to being able to meet people again.  You never know who's just holding themselves together with silly putty and duct tape and popsicle sticks.  It's probably those you'd suspect the least.  I have a feeling there's a lot more of us right now, with the way things are.  Hold on, keep on, and just love.  Please.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Keepin' on Keepin' On

Red sky in the morning means... time to get stuff done!
This is nothing new, but it seems to be a lesson I have to learn time and time again: it's a lot easier [for me] to deal with heavy schtuff when I've got something kind of menial and not very mentally taxing to do, rather than sitting around lamenting the sorry state of my place in this world.

Last week was a heckin' dark, rough one.  I'm not going to lie.  I was a little worried about myself, to be honest.  And instead of keepin' on keepin' on, I wallowed.  It wasn't a matter of consciously resting to recharge and heal myself.  It was allowing myself to swirl down a bad sequential vortex of negativity.  There were lots of tears.  Lots of impatience.  I couldn't get a good breath.  I couldn't concentrate on anything.  And I wallowed in it all.  

As I've mentioned before, I'm talking to someone about all my schtuff, and that's a tremendous help.  If you're Going Through Some Schtuff, I highly recommend seeking out a mental health professional and talking to them.

So.  Talking through with a professional a bunch of poison I've been carrying around for decades helped me feel a lot lighter.  Besides that, I decided I needed to get back to Doing.  The laundry is always a rich source of Things To Do.  Dishes, same.  I think before This Is All Over, I'll probably end up giving my house a good going-through.  That's only about 13 years overdue.  I feel better Doing.  

It's good to be useful as well as ornamental.

That's not to belittle the importance of taking a rest when you really need it.  There's a time to keep on keepin' on, and there's a time to rest.  Some of us feel like we should be KILLIN' IT!!! every day of this quarantine.  Sometimes I feel like I should be KILLIN' IT!!!  And when I try really aggressively, I end up HITTIN' THE WALL REALLY HARD!!!  The thing I've got to remember, and maybe you need to be reminded of it, too, Friends, is that right now, all we need to do is survive until it's all over.  It's okay to balance days where we KILL IT REALLY HARD with days where we just laze around on the couch reading magazines or doing origami or whatever you might dig for self-care.  

Before All This, I think we can all admit that we were all a little out of whack with the work/self-care balance.  We might have overvalued working until we just dropped, glorified lack of rest.  It all goes back to the fable of the ants and the grasshopper.  But if you think about it, the ants worked so hard in the summer so they'd be set for the winter, when they naturally had to lay off their workaholism.  

Being too committed to a life of leisure isn't all that happenin', either, though, Friends.  At least not for me.  If my hands are idle for too long, my thoughts turn themselves up to eleven and do a number on my psyche.  

I'm always looking for the lesson I'm supposed to learn.  I'm searching for the lessons I'm supposed to be learning from this pause that's been thrust upon us all.  It shook some things loose that I couldn't handle on my own, so I learned that asking for help doesn't make me weak.  That was the low-hanging fruit, the easy thing to pick out.  This is a huge Thing.  There's got to be more lessons to be found and learned.  

So here I am.  I'm going to keep on keepin' on and find those lessons.  Thank you for being here with me, Friends, even if we have to be far apart.  I'm grateful.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Past, Present, Future

I've been told that if you dwell too much in the Past, you get depressed; if you dwell too much in the Future, you get anxiety; and if you live in the Present, you're at peace.

I think I've been told this because I have a tendency to have one eye on the Past and the other eye on the Future.  This makes for a life experience that's something like an Ice Cream Sandwich of Misery, with a cold, cold, jittery anxiety-flavored filling sandwiched between two wafers that are made from a sense of sorrow for the golden times from the Past that I'll never get back again.  Sometimes it's the sense of sorrow that's the filling and the anxiety that makes up the outside.  The order isn't as important as the ingredients, here.

This is what I do, though.  I remember a lot of details about things that happened way back.  One of my "favorite hobbies" when I can't sleep is to drag out conversations I had as a pre-schooler, or a 10-year-old or young adult, and replay them and pick apart all the things I said wrong or that I shouldn't have said or maybe I should have said and didn't. That delightful little hobby has enabled me to stay up around the clock more than a few nights!  What a helper!

Or I'll look at a calendar and think about something that happened years ago, On This Date and the happy memories that initially rush in will start to oxidize around the edges as I notice the memory of people who have passed away, or friends I've lost.  Or, more recently, I'll see pictures of my daughter as a baby and lament the fact that she'll never be that little again.  

On the flip, I spool out my "What If" far into the future and get myself all scared or hopeful or otherwise anxiety-ridden about a bunch of possibilities that are nothing more than speculation.  A neighbor of mine calls this "Trying to control the weather."  It's an exercise in futility. It's an exercise in worrying for the sake of worrying, too.  Not good stuff if you want to spend your mental energy on anything else.

This idea of living in the Present bringing a kid peace is very intriguing to me.  It's really all about not worrying about the Past- that happened and you can't change it.  The past is ghosts.  And it's about not spooling your worry out into the Future.  It's okay to have a vision for the Future, or a plan, but borrowing worry and hurting your own feelings over stuff that really might not even happen.  At least, it hasn't happened yet.

But living right smack in the Present... just focusing on the tasks at hand.  Staying busy living in the Now.  

I don't think I can do a darn thing about World Peace, especially not right now, Friends, but I can bring peace to my very own world by trying to stay focused on the here and now.  It's a journey, though, Friends!  But I'm going to try!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Sometimes I Wish I Could Turn It Off

I've been Quite Emotional my whole life.  I feel all the feels, and I feel them Big.  Really big. 

I'll cry when I'm happy, but I'm also someone who cries when she's frustrated and just so angry.  I laugh so hard tears run down my face.  And when I'm sad... when I'm really sad, I just can't cry.  But I'm stormy. 

I laugh with my whole soul, too.  I love way too hard.  I want to belong, and when I don't, I take the rejection personally.  Words can break my heart.  And they really do.  Knowing that there are words that should be said, but they never are kind of kills me, too. 

I've been told I'm too thin-skinned, that I read too much into what people say and do or don't say and don't do.  I've been told that I'm over-sensitive.  Unable to take a joke.  Too emotional.  High-strung.  Neurotic.  That I'm a walking raw nerve.  I care too much about what other people think. 

It has always felt like a liability.  My buttons are right out there for everybody to see and push, and off I go. 

I really wonder about the people who can be stoic and self-contained and self-possessed.  Those are the people who are the ones people admire.  It's harder to come up with ways being stoic and self-contained and self-possessed is a liability.  I can't even imagine the way it must be, to sail so high above as to not be affected much or at all by the bumps, bunny-hops, moguls, and potholes that trip me up every day, multiple times a day.

And I wish I could turn all of it off, you know?  Just flip a switch and go from Feeling All Feels So Big It Takes My Breath Away to Not Feeling At All.  Or if it's a dimmer-switch, feeling just enough not to be a jerkface.

Man, I'd hate to go through life being a jerkface.

But I can't help but dream about going through life less emotional than I am.

Back during Ted Nolan's last stint as the Sabres Head Coach, he was giving an interview one time and he mentioned that he was "a really emotional person," and instantly, Ted Nolan became a Friend in my Head.  Here was this big, tough, sports dude who had played ice hockey of all things, and who coached a team of other big, tough sports dudes, and he was okay enough with himself to say in an interview, "I'm a really emotional person."  I noticed that people generally didn't use that against him, being "a really emotional person."  There would be snotty social media comments about the team and his coaching style and a disconnect between the team and his coaching style and lack of results and wins.  But I don't remember seeing any criticism that "Nolan is too emotional to be a hockey coach." 

It shifted my perspective just a little bit so I can at least be okay enough with also being "a really emotional person" to tell people that I am one.  Kind of like a warning label, if the red hair wasn't enough of one of those. 

I still do wonder if life would be easier and if I'd feel like less of a liability in it if I could just turn off feeling all the feels, have a thicker skin.  But on the flip-side, just like I happened across Ted Nolan casually commenting that he's a really emotional person, maybe I just haven't found all the members of my Tribe yet, and when I do, it'll be like the Bee Girl from Blind Melon's "No Rain" video finally finding her Bee-ple. 

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Big Yella Cavalry

A glimpse of the Normal on such a Weird Day!
It snowed pretty darn good on Friday night.  The picture attached to this post is from this late snowfall, in fact.  It threw a lot of us for a loop.  Everything is already so weird that having a 4-6 inch snowfall on April 17th was just one twist too odd for many of us, myself included. 

Usually when it Snows Like That, I can count on seeing trucks from the Big Yella Cavalry (PennDOT) barreling down the two roads that make up the intersection in front of my house.  They're a comforting sight and sound.  I love seeing the amber flash of their lights as they clean the roads.  I spend a lot of time here at my house alone, and seeing the PennDOT trucks has always made me feel connected. 

Friday night, though, I wasn't sure what to expect.  It snowed pretty heavy.  It was the wet, slippery kind of snow.  Like everything else, PennDOT has cut the size of its Big Yella Cavalry down to Lockdown Levels.

But while I was out with my dog, in the snowbound hush, I could hear a low rumble coming from down the road.  I thought, "could it be?!"  And I stuck around outside, camera-ready, just in case.  It sounded like it was slow going for a bit, ad then there it was.  A Big Yella Truck, plow installed, amber lights flashing. 

It gave me a Bit of a Moment, Friends.  I shed some tears, and I'm not quite sure even now what flavor those tears were.  Maybe wistful.  Relieved. 

I was definitely glad to catch a glimpse of something so commonplace and ordinary on an absurdly strange day, in these ridiculously odd times.  That PennDOT truck really felt like this spectacular gem.  A celebrity passing through the neighborhood. 

I'll tell you what.  Even in Normal Before, I was a big fan of PennDOT and the Big Yella Cavalry.  But once we get into New Normal if we ever do, and I have places to be on time to, I will never again gnash my teeth at having to wait for a road crew fixin' the roads.  I will never take the sight of a full crew and their yellow trucks for granted again!

If you know a PennDOT employee, tell 'em thank you.  I'll tell 'em, too.   Thank you, PennDOT!

Saturday, April 18, 2020

When It Snows in April

"This stuff again?!" - Jeep Sahara, 4/17/2020
Hey, everybody!  It snowed yesterday!  I mean, a real, actual, honest-to-Frosty snow that had to be shoveled off the deck and sidewalk and made me consider trying to use my mower deck like a snow-blower to clear the snow from the driveway. 

The mower deck got put on a couple weeks ago and the plow blade was taken off.  Because a couple weeks ago, it was April, and we figured we were past such weather shenanigans as accumulated snow by that point in the calendar.  

2020, am I right?

Anyway, normally this kind of thing would really cramp my style, but I figure we're all under quarantine.  Nobody's going to be coming up my driveway anyway!  Problem solved.

Also, because it IS April, and the beginning of the end of it at that, it's going to be warm again next week.  This giant sno-cone isn't long for the world.  

It's a rare opportunity to get to play in the snow in April.  Or if you're me, it's a rare opportunity to get to ooh and ahh at the wonder and magic of the snow through the window, while cuddled up to the space heater in April.  

But magic and wonder and sparkling isolation aside, it does seem like a bit of a dirty trick on Ma Nature's part to keep the winter fairly open and then unleash snowy heck past the midpoint of the month of April.  Even my Jeep's a little Over It.  Take a gander at it, rolling its eyes in the picture, right in front of me like that!

The snow won't last forever, Friends.  But we can be mad that it snowed or okay with it,  Either way, we're going to have the same amount of snow!                                                                             

Friday, April 17, 2020

A Dream So Weird It Has to Mean Something

Having a baby in real life: It was fun, but I am done!
I had the weirdest dream the other night.  I had this dream where I was at a hospital, having another baby, but instead of having a nice, private hospital room like I had when I had my daughter, it was like we were in an airport.  You know how there's that long hallway, and then the gates are little alcoves where the gates are. 

My hospital delivery airport gate featured dark red carpet (yikes!) and a private bathroom in that I was the only one in the alcove and that bathroom was for my use, but people were walking up and down the big hallway in the middle of the big concourse-like hospital.  There were no doors or curtains or anything.  In fact, as I was being prepped to have this strange dream-baby, a whole bunch of friends and acquaintances who were strolling through the central hall kept sticking their heads in to the LDRP alcove to say, "Oh, hey, April!  Good luck on having that baby!" and then going on their way.

Another weird thing was that the doctor who was "my" doctor was some random good-looking dude who is NOT my doctor, and I knew it in the dream, but he's the one who happened to be on call.  And he didn't really know much of what he was doing.  The nurse who was getting me ready was literally an intake specialist who'd take my insurance card down in registration, and they'd put a lab-jacket on. 

They said I probably wouldn't need a C-section for this Dream Second Baby, but they made a "pilot incision," just in case they'd need C-section access later.  In the dream, I said "That's not how Dr. Lanphere did it when I had my daughter," and I was answered from the "nurse," "Well, this isn't Dr. Lanphere's show, and you had your daughter before Coronavirus.  This is how we do things after Coronavirus."

And at that point, I said to myself, "April, this is a dream.  This is an awful dream.  It is time to wake up."  And I did. 

So I'm sorry I don't know how it all turned out.  Believe me, I'm curious myself.  I can assure you one thing, though.  I'm not having any baby.  Not now, not a year from now.  I've been there and done that.

Here's what I'm wondering, though.  That dream maybe meant something.

When I was in college, when I wasn't writing or in a writing workshop, a large part of my education was analyzing the things others wrote as I searched for symbolism.  In a literature class, the thing in front of you is never the Thing Itself.  You have to dig to get to that.  And dreams are much the same.  They're an acting-out of the subconscious.  So you can't take the things you dream about and interpret them literally.  You have to dig a little deeper through the symbology. 

So in dreams, being pregnant might mean that your subconscious is connecting to something in your waking life that is under development, like a new career, or something new creatively, or a new relationship, or starting a big project.  And giving birth in a dream can mean that all those plans and development are about to come to fruition.  It all revolves around something that's about to give you some type of new life.

I think it's pretty telling that my dream took the time to address "before Coronavirus" and "after Coronavirus."  Before Coronavirus, I decided to go back to school and learn how to be a health and life coach.  After the quarantine started up, I decided to start my blog again... hi there, Reader!  :-)  I was going through some issues Before Coronavirus that are in a messy, kind of painful transitional state right now, During Coronavirus, and I don't know what life is going to look like After Coronavirus, but I know it'll certainly be "new" in one way or another, or in maybe lots of ways.  And I've decided to put some of my own creative work out into the world. 

Taking all of this, ALL OF THIS into account, it makes complete sense that I'd be having a dream about being on the cusp of labor and delivery of a baby.  In a few of these things in my waking life that I have under development, I'm working on it, but I haven't delivered on them yet.  I'm about to get into a messy, highly creative/productive, most likely painful stage of things.  (Labor is a messy and highly productive and painful transition, too.) 

And all I can make of the shit-show that was a labor-and-delivery unit in what seemed like the world's most half-assed mashup of an airport and a hospital, and that odd "pilot incision in case I need a C-section," because that's how "they" do things in the world of this dream "after Coronavirus," it's telling me I'm not going to be able to rely on doing things I did them or being the way I was Before Coronavirus and the Quarantine in my waking life.  I think the reason so many family and friends and acquaintances were peeking in to the LDRP alcove I was in is because I've been fairly public about my plans this time around.  I got the feeling that people were checking in to see how it's going, which is certainly right in line with the way it's been here in this During Coronavirus period of time.  I'm hearing from and interacting with more people on a deeper level than I've been accustomed to in my adult life.  And it doesn't feel like they're up in my business.  It makes me feel more connected than I have in ages.

So I guess I can thank the Manic Dream Theatre in my Head for this super-weird yet thought-provoking dream the other night. 

But I super-assure you.  You will not be visiting me in a maternity unit at a hospital near anybody in the near or far future.  I have been there, done that, bought the stroller, carseat, baby carrier, all the bottles, bouncy chair, sleepy swing... and it was certainly fun while I was in that season of life, but boy howdy, that.  is.  done! 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

My Shorts Are In a Twist

I have really thought and planned this out carefully, Friends.
Now listen, Babies, you can laugh at me all you want to over this, and I am still going to feel it:

My shorts are all in a twist because my Laundry Schedule is all messed up by this sensational Sparkling Isolation we're in.

If you thought Sheldon Cooper was quaint because of his much-ballyhooed Bathroom Schedule, then you can go right ahead and find me Utterly Adorable over my color-coded, carefully-written-out Laundry Schedule.  I am fine with that.  F-I-N-E fine!

It took me years to develop this thing, and I did it because when I just did the wash all willy-nilly like that, I'd wind up having this huge task to do on one day of the week, I'd get overwhelmed by the enormity of it all, and then we'd wind up wearing wrinkly Wranglers wrested from the bottom of a pile of clean wash stacked as high as my head.  I've used a laundry-sorter hamper system since way back, so my wash gets sorted as we take it off, and that was a real time-saver, but it hadn't helped with the Overwhelm.  A piece was missing.

Finally, I studied our laundry patterns and decided on the best days to wash the different loads of wash.  I finally landed on a system around Christmas the year my daughter was in kindergarten.  It took me that long to get a handle on the situation.

Some of the plan had been in place for years.  I'm a creature of habit, and I realized a long time ago that Sundays are the best day for changing out the bedding and towels.  Easy-peasy.  Mondays work great for my daughter's clothes and jammies, because then I can get her favorite clothes turned around and ready to wear again the next week (yesssss, of COURSE during a normal school year, we plan her outfits for the week out on Sunday and stack them in her five-day outfit sorter that hangs in her closet.  DON'T YOU?!) 

I put the "Undies" load on Monday, because if you say "Monday" like "Mondee," "Undees Mondees" just makes me chortle.  And as you've discovered by my other posts, I tend to run high-strung, so anything that I can do to crack myself the hell right up, I'm gonna do it.

Tuesdays and Saturdays are for Pants and Jeans.  I'm nursing along a really rad 14-year-old clothes-dryer that has a drying cabinet up top for stuff I don't want tumbling.  Pants and Jeans, if done once a week, don't really get too dry on the first go, so I gave a great deal of thought on how to optimize splitting them up for washing two days a week.  Tuesdays and Saturdays.  Then I round out Tuesdays with Delicates, which then dry in the aforementioned Top Cabinet of the dryer, and then Darks, which can dry in the tumbler.  No laundry logjam on Tuesdays, because I have carefully planned this the hell out!

Wednesdays are Colors and Whites.  Big whoop.  Except there's a lot of Tshirts in that whites load, and sometimes there aren't enough for a whole load on a week, so I hold 'em til the next week, but somehow having to fold ten or twelve or fourteen white Tshirts just seems like purgatory.  That's something I need to work on.  Embrace the suck, go with the flow. 

Thursdays are for my workout wear.  That stuff needs special considerations, because there's nothing I hate more than putting on clean workout gear only to turn my head mid-rep and smell the ghosts of workouts past, know what I mean, Jellybean?  I use Hex performance detergent, maybe DeFunkify, and let this soak.  Workout bras and headbands go in the lie-flat top cabinet of the dryer, workout pants, socks, and singlets go in the bottom tumbler. One load of five to seven workout outfits is delightfully light work for a Thursday. 

And because I'm in such good, flexible shape, I did not even dislocate my shoulders, patting myself on the back for this accomplishment, in case you were worried about that. 

Fridays are reserved for kitchen towels, which honestly are more of a once-a-month kind of thing because they're small and it takes a while to amass enough to justify turning on the washing machine for them.  But every Friday, scrubs.  My husband is a dentist.  Four days a week, he wears home his scrubs.  They go in their own load and I wash them with hot water, and put that Lysol laundry sanitizer in the machine.  I don't know if it really does anything, but it's peace of mind for me. 

But now that he's home all but one day a week, and his scrubs are being washed over at the office now and not even coming home until they're clean and folded, that's thrown my entire beautiful extremely well-thought-out, color-coded Laundry Schedule just completely off.  And guess what.  That is making me lose my shit just a little bit.  (Read: SO HECKIN' MUCH.  SO, SO VERY HECKIN' MUCH.)

The thing of it is, I'm not at all obsessive-compulsive, despite this whole post about a color-coded laundry schedule that I'm losing my shit over CV-19 blowing all to hell anyway, Kids.  If you were to come to my house, on a GOOD day, it would feel cluttered.  I try to keep walkways clear.  I vacuum multiple times a day.  But it's nothing for my house to be a great-big, dusty flustercluck.  If I applied myself on keepin' house in general the way I applied myself on that laundry schedule, I'd probably have me the kind of showplace I've only had when we refinanced the mortgage and I had a judgy Realtor coming in to take a gander at my lived-in abode. 

That's what makes all this Coronavirus Chaos really sting.  I had this one thing I felt Completely and Tyrannically in control of.  My laundry schedule.  And now, I'm having to wash my pants by the seat of my pants, if that makes any sense.  And I realize that this is totally a First World Problem.  But Babies, for right now, I live in the First World.  The small stuff is going to make me lose my shit big-time.  That's just how it is. 

Someday, all this will lift, and I take great comfort knowing that my Laundry Schedule will be one of the firstest first things to get back to crackalackin' like Normal.  Because unlike so many things about Old Normal, my color-coded Laundry Schedule flippin' WORKED!


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Just Breathe

Close your eyes, open your heart-center, and Just Breathe.
Friends, I've been Quite Heavy this last little stretch of time.  I've had periods of breaking down and crying (fairly hysterically) over the last few days.  I had a panic attack on Easter Sunday.  A full-on "I think I might be dying" panic attack.  So naturally, I went and lay down and figured I'd try closing my eyes for a bit and if I felt not panicky when I woke up, then it was a panic attack.  If I woke up and was dead, I'd know I miscalculated.  I'm still here, so evidently, it was a panic attack!  Yay me!

Yesterday started out Pretty Rough, too.  I was feeling smothered and listless, and it was hard to focus on tasks at hand.  I broke down in tears hearing the voices of my school's superintendent, business manager, and confidential secretary when they called for my votes for our school board phone-meeting.  It was very embarrassing for me, even though they were completely compassionate about it.  I mean, I'm not sure a school board member has ever broken down in tears because they were missing in-person school-board meetings, but these are strange times we live in right now. 

And if anybody's going to get Emotional, it's gonna be me.

Later in the day, a good friend of mine called my cell phone.  I was never much of a phone-talker Before All This.  But like social media, the phone has become something of a lifeline for getting me out of my own damn head.  The conversation was enough to bring me back to enough self-awareness to notice the cold, heavy lump in the middle of my chest.  It felt like I had a brick sitting right on my heart.  A cold, stony, kind of rough brick.  I was walking up the driveway from checking the mail, and realized that I was winded from the walk.

Then I noticed what my shoulders were doing.  They were hunched forward.  My ribcage was collapsed in on itself.  The muscles between my shoulderblades felt sharp-tight, and the muscles across my chest felt even tighter.  I realized I wasn't getting good breaths.  How could I, when I was carrying myself as though I had a heavy, heavy backpack strapped to my back? 

In a way, I did.  I've been carrying a lot of heavy, heavy baggage on myself the last little stretch.  Hence the heavy feeling and the heavy posts. 

So when I got back into the house, I sat down on the floor and pressed my back against the wall, to lift my ribcage off itself, so my breastbone could allow some room between the brick in my chest and my heart. 

Right away, I felt a little better. 

I sat up straighter on the floor, criss-cross applesauce (the position formerly known as Indian-Style).  I lifted my breastbone up off my belly button.  I rolled my shoulders up back and down, so my shoulder blades felt planted securely in place.  I raised my chin a bit, so if my daughter would have wanted to, she could have fit a grapefruit between my chin and my neck (but she wouldn't, because... weird!)  And I closed my eyes, and took a good, deep breath through my nose....

I'd like to stop right here and say don't take being able to breathe through your nose for granted, Friends.  Even this year, when we're all hyperfocused on CV-19, there is still the Common Cold and Allergy Season we're going to have to contend with, so if you're still breathing through your nose, you treasure every breath you can take through those nostrils, Babies. 

...Then I let that good, deep breath back out, right through the same nose I took it in with!  And I did it a few more times, each breath melting the cold brick that was against my heart, taking up precious room in my chest.

I'm not 100%.  I still feel like my mind could send my heart and lungs into a tailspin that leaves me gasping for air, even today.  But slowing down to pay attention to how I was breathing Helped. 

If you ever find yourself in the middle of a freak-out, Friends, could I suggest that you also straighten your spine, open up your heart-center by rolling your shoulders up, back, and down so that the blades fall into their places, and let your breath expand your ribcage?  It will not cure all your troubles, but in those few moments, it'll help you get a grip on whatever you've lost a grip on.  You'll be able to think more clearly.  Maybe things won't seem quite so dire for a little bit. 

All we can do is keep putting one foot in front of the next.  One step at a time.  One breath at a time. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Navigating Being Nonessential from a Career Trailing Spouse

This picture is here because sometimes staring into water is good for the soul.
Maybe it's over-sharing, maybe I need the catharsis, or maybe there's someone reading this right now who's feeling something very similar to what I'm feeling and we both need to feel like less Nonessential. 

If I were in a snappier mood right now, I'd put a smirk on my face and say "Oh yeah?  I was nonessential before being nonessential was cool!"

But I'm not in a snappy mood at all.  I've seen the different comments and posts over on the Facebook about how, on one hand, what a privilege it is to be able to shelter in place at home during this quarantine, and then I've seen the others about how being told you're "nonessential" is such a blow to the ego.

The first flavor of post makes a person feel like an utter shit for being thrown for a loop by all this, because at least, hey, you're not having to put yourself on the frontlines as we fight this virus, and you get to ride this out at home.  The second flavor of post, with I've really seen only as stray comments from people, is a painful coming to terms with not being quite as essential as we thought.  I get hit right between the eyes by the first kind of post- when I get whiny and complainy over all of this, someone seems to post a "people should be more grateful/can you BELIEVE the privilege on you people?!" posts that make me feel put in my place.

But that second kind of post.  Those fleeting wisps of stuffed-down emotion.  There's so much more to those words "finding out you're nonessential is a blow to the ego" than a comment on social media can contain.  There's a lot of pain there, and a sense of someone getting a reckoning they don't know how to take.

So like my post from a week ago, where I told you about how I'm a reformed hermit and I had a bunch of tips for you on how I've historically been able to stay home for a long stretch without going nuts, in this one, I've got to tell you, I've spent YEARS coming to terms with just how nonessential I really am.  And I don't have tips for dealing with that.  I just want you to know that I live in this neighborhood.

In fact, I think I'm basically the frickin' MAYOR of Nonessentialton.

I know this sounds like whining from a VERY privileged person.  I know it sounds ungrateful.  Looking at me from the Outside, especially before all this quarantine, I had the world by the tail.  I didn't "have" to work.  I got to stay home with my dog and my daughter.  And before the daughter, just the dog.  I didn't have a lot of material worries.  So how DARE I talk like this?  What an ungrateful bitch, huh?

So bear with me.

Career is a big part of our identities in our world.  Think about what one of the first questions you either ask or are asked when you meet someone new.  "So, what do you do?"  For my husband, he's a dentist, which usually brings up whole entire conversations and takes the heat off me so I can either stand there with my Dentist's Wife smile plastered on my face, hoping they won't ask me, or else answer "I'm a dentist's wife," or "I'm a stay-at-home mom."  Every so often, it'll come up that I have an advanced degree in creative writing, but then that leads to questions for which I have disappointing answers, and I'm left weighing with each person whether it's worth bringing up and having to field follow-up questions, or if I should just admit outright to being a hausfrau and deal with the dismissive nod while they return to rapt conversation with my husband about a twingy tooth they've wondered about for months.  Years ago, my own mother one time referred to me a "kept woman" while I was buying a new duvet at Kohl's, and it just really stuck in my craw and made me feel ashamed for not having a career of my own.  She herself was a stay-at-home mom for the first sixteen years of my life, and maybe that comment was her frustration that she and my dad sacrificed a lot to send me to college, and here I am, hausfrauing it up as though I didn't hold any degree.  Maybe she was frustrated with me that I was buying a duvet that I didn't really need, simply because I was tired of the way the old one looked.  I've been a big spender going way back, and it's a point of contention with everyone around me.  I don't know.

From the moment I signed on to life with my husband, I've been the trailing spouse.  I have made a career of it.  I followed him to Philadelphia for graduate school.  My heart was not in my graduate writing program at that university and it was a mutually poor fit, although I found a wonderful job in another part of the university that I could have stayed happily in for years and years.  I earned a Master of Fine Arts- the terminal degree in my field.

I followed my husband back home so he could practice dentistry where he's wanted to practice dentistry since he was twelve years old.  Although I didn't come back without kicking and screaming a lot.  In the end, though, I knew this was the right thing for him and for the people who live in our area.  It's a medically and dentally underserved area.  And the thought was because I was a writer, I could "write anywhere," even though I have not written anywhere.  But I have tried to make the best of it, wherever I end up.  It's just that his type of work is needed where we grew up, and nobody really needs my skills.  So I can either do them or not do them wherever.

As a dentist, in this current climate, my husband's not essential enough to carry on with business as usual, but he's essential enough to have to go in to field emergencies.  Old Dan Tucker died of a toothache in his heel, and people can definitely die of toothaches in their mouths.  It's no laughing matter.   His emergency days are filled as much as they can be with the enhanced safety measures in place, with people who are suffering from true dental emergencies.  And Before All This, he worked a shit-ton of hours every week.  So much so that it's always been a point of contention between us, just how very much he works.  Worked.  With the shut-downs, I've seen him struggling a bit with who he's supposed to be outside of his career. 

And I used to work for him.  I chairside assisted, until it was deemed necessary that we put a little more distance between us than the requisite three feet that an assistant spends away from the doctor, to facilitate the exchange of mirrors, explorers, endo files, and dirty looks during a dental procedure.  I moved out to the Front Desk.  And then because of my sparkling personality and winning demeanor, I was invited not to attend work activities there.  Not even remotely.  For both jobs, there were people who were better qualified and better-tempered that stepped right in and filled my shoes.

How about THAT for a one-two punch of nonessentialness?

From there, because opportunity is sparse for creative writers in my home area, and because I really didn't "have" to work, I embarked on an exciting career of being "gainfully unemployed," which is to say I mooch off my husband.  I also took up ghost-writing, where someone needs something written, I write it for them, they pay me some money, they take credit, and it's like I was never there.  If I really wanted to, I could make a gainful career out of this, but for someone like me who has a bit more ego than I care to admit, and who loves writing and being creative even more than I'll admit, this line of work is soul-crushing.

But I have this thing where I'm pretty sure nobody wants to read any of the shit-thoughts I have.

The irony is neon light in my face right now, Reader.  I know.  I wrote this, you came here without me forcing you, you're reading it... I know.

So the only people a ghostwriter is essential for are the people who need to be haunted, and even then, it's only until the piece is written.  I can be plugged out and another ghostwriter can be plugged into my place.  Seamlessly.  As though I was never there.

Right around the time I really realized how Nonessential applies to me is when I started flying.  Or more to the point, when my husband decided he'd learn to fly, too.  I threw a pretty good tantrum over it.  I remember saying to him that it was utterly irresponsible of him to learn to fly planes, that if he were to go into the trees, he'd have ten employees without work and thousands of patients without a dentist.

But me?  If I went into the trees, he and the dog would be sad for a little while, but life would go on.  And probably he'd have it easier without my power-shopping and power-bitching.  Of course he disagreed with me, but I'm pretty sure a part of his brain that he likes to deny exists saw my point.

I kind of cook, clean, do the wash... but all those things could be hired out to someone who'd do a better job than I do.  Money motivates.  I just kind of hate all kinds of domestic work, and it shows around here.  It shows.  And I truly feel like such a whiny, entitled bitch for saying so, because if those things were off my plate, what would I do instead?  Write shit I'm not going to let anybody read anyway?

I did feel essential while I was pregnant with my daughter.  There was a job nobody but I could do, right up to delivery.  And maybe a little while afterward, but with the availability of Similac, I could have died in the delivery room and she and my husband would have been able to hack it just fine without me and with a nanny or nurse.  And a recurring nightmare of mine, throughout those magical 41 weeks and 6 days of gestation was that exact scenario.

I realize that's all literally up in my head, but mothers die during childbirth every day, and everyone carries on without them.  If this weren't true, women's reproductive health would be a much higher priority than it is, and Disney would have exactly zero storylines.

I really can't point to anything that I do that's essential.  Something that couldn't be replaced by someone else if I weren't here.  That is not as whiny as it sounds.  I tend to be very pragmatic sometimes.  When I take stock of my life and my noncomplishments, the fact is, I am nonessential.  Easily replaced.  I've often wondered if anybody would miss me at all if I just slipped out the back and went somewhere else and didn't come back for a while, if ever.  Or how long would they miss me?  And why?  (I'm pretty sure DiscoverCard and Amazon would notice right quick.)

Here's where it comes in, my being mayor of this neighborhood that you've all recently moved into through no choice of your own (but make no mistake, ALL my own choices put me here, and I have no right to be so whiny):  I understand how you might feel.

At first, it's kind of fun, being nonessential, because the pressure's off.  It's like a vacation.  You don't have anywhere to be, and nothing to do once you get there.  In the case of all of us on quarantine, you aren't going anywhere, either, but hey, I've always wanted to have a bunch of time at home.  There's so much to do at home!  To catch up on!

But after about two weeks, you get kind of sick of that.  The walls start to feel like they're closing in.  If you can still work from home, at least you have that.  You still have your career, your identity.  You're just practicing it from home.  But that presents a different set of challenges, doesn't it?  There's a structure to the workday, a boundary between Home and Work that just doesn't exist when your commute is between your bedroom and your home office.  It really takes discipline and practice to be able to work remotely from home, and under normal circumstances, when you're working from home, you still get to run out to coffee shops and do the shopping or go out where the people are, without getting stink-eye from your homebound neighbors.

But if your job is one that you cannot do remotely, it is a blow to the ego to be "nonessential," even temporarily.  We don't know when this is going to end, and we don't know what the work landscape is going to look like when all the travel bans and lockins are lifted.  Honestly, some of us aren't going to have jobs to return to.

I cannot put words into your mouth, buy in my experience, being a nonessential, being a trailing spouse, the one who "can come along if you want to" can make a person feel a little isolated, even in a crowd.  Even though my husband is the picture of Constant and Reliable, there's always the feeling that you're at the mercy of the whims of someone other than yourself, that you're not quite in control of your own destiny.  Even if you're the breadwinner, displaced right now by the larger Nonessential picture, I think you can tap into this feeling of lack of control over your own destiny, because you are not the one calling the shots on when you can get back to work and being in charge of that.  That's a frightening and frustrating place to be in.

This can bring on some feelings I can only describe as "icky."  And that's not productive.  Feelings are feelings and they shouldn't be sorted into "good" and "bad" bins.  I'd say it's best to acknowledge the icky feelings.  Frustration, anger, weepiness, anxiety, sorrow- they're all like little kids inside your brain.  They just want some acknowledgement, and then they can go do something else.  If you try to stuff the unpleasant-to-hang-out-with feelings this brings up, the feelings will fester the longer you're Nonessential.

Trust me.  I've been Nonessential and stuffing feelings I'd rather not hang out with for a decade and a half. There's a lot festering in me.  It makes me kind of ugly when I'm in one of these rotten funks.  It's why I've finally turned to seeing a mental health professional.  I've tried to deal with the repercussions of choosing a nonessential life for so long that they're too big for me to deal with on my own, and it's like a lifeline, having someone I can talk to over the computer to help me untangle this ball of stuff and work through it.

Even if your situation of Nonessential is temporary, and you know you'll be back to Essential once all the bans lift, maybe talking to someone through your employer's Employee Assistance Program, or if you can swing it, a private therapist or counselor could help you identify and let out some of the uncomfortable feelings you're living with.  It's hard to be in a holding pattern indefinitely.  It does booger with a person's self-esteem.

Self-care is a big thing that can keep you going.  My go-to is spending time in the gym section of my home.  Listening to good music can help, too.  Staying hydrated and getting proper sleep is key, and it can be hard if everything else is out of whack for you.  Control what you can.  Try not to worry about the rest.  Try.  Again, I know this is rich, coming from Yours Truly.

The thing I'm struggling to get to, and maybe you are too, is that the only person who needs to believe you're essential is yourself.  You need to be here for yourself. Everybody else is just window-dressing.

And if we could all be direct with each other, there might be people who think you're absolutely essential, and you don't even know they feel that way.  You might not ever know, but I think everyone is essential to someone and they'd miss you if you were not here.

I don't know what to tell you, Friends, other than Nonessentialton is not an empty ghost town that you're living in alone.  I'm here with you.  A lot of your friends are with you, right now.  Eventually, this will all end, and I hope that when it does, we have a greater appreciation for each other, and for ourselves.