High, Low, Buffalo: Surviving The Spring of the Virus

High, Low, Buffalo: Surviving The Spring of the Virus

We made it through two weeks of homeschooling, two weeks of working from home with two kids around, two weeks of The Spring of the Virus. Even if the Shelter in Place order lasts into summer, into fall?God forbid?it will be springtime in my mind when my future wise self and I look back on this global Coronavirus pandemic. Covid19 shut us all down right as the tulips and asparagus burst forth. The other morning, eerily quiet since traffic has so slowed and Bart is running shorter hours and fewer trains, I heard a flock of Canada geese flying over the house. Heading North for summer? Choosing a different path in quieter skies? It was nice to hear them.

High, Low, Buffalo is a dinnertime game where you share the best, the worst, and the magical parts of your day. Here's my High, Low, Buffalo for the Spring of the Virus

HIGH.?

Things at our house are going better than expected, much better than I?d feared. When we made it to last weekend, I could even say, honestly, that we were doing okay. This after a desperate and depressed couple of days; the shops were overrun with people (but devoid of toilet paper), and I ran into a teacher from my son?s school and we both burst into tears. Governor Newsom had just announced that our kids might not go back to school this year, and that was the reality that hit me the hardest both personally and globally: all these children, for whom school is structure and lifeline, are now floating, aimless, free. My son?s got his best teacher so far, and as Ben put it, we wanted the whole year with him?we needed the whole year!?and we don?t get it. It?s hard not to feel betrayed and devastated.

Except that my kid is, basically, fine.

At ten, he?s both sensitive and oblivious, and nothing if not an introvert. He admitted last week that he?s not much missing anyone, and he?s happily reading, doing his math, shooting hoops, and driving us nuts. The three-year-old seems to be thriving, too, which is confusing to me since he loves his preschool so very much. But he?s easier to be around, less exhausted, more cheerful, sleeping better, and thriving on our makeshift routine: every day at ten, when the morning work shift (mine) ends and I start on kid duty, we cook something together, then have experiential learning time (the endless project of making an Ancient Rome diorama) before family lunch. PE is every day from 2:30-4:00: we scooter, or we bike ride, or we meet up with friends outside and keep a careful six feet away. Or we trek up to Indian Rock and climb around.

There are beautiful things about a life lived more slowly, more purposefully, and in a more contained way, even when it's hard. Share on X

LOW.

The running underlying thread of dread. The confusion and guilt of doing okay: am I faring better than some of my colleagues, than some of my friends? Should I feel bad about this? Is this time the calm before the storm, before the colleges and non-profits close and our income disappears? Will all of our favorite businesses go under? Are the kids who thrived on the routine of school going to back-slide during this time and be forever behind, perpetuating the achievement gap in our city? Will we plummet into a global recession that has consequences so long-lasting my kids will feel them in their early adulthood? And will we get and survive this thing? What about our loved ones?

It?s almost unnecessary to outline these fears. We all have them. Even on the good days, they?re there. It?s like this brilliant quote from that show ?The Good Place,? when the Eleanor character is trying to describe what it?s like being human to someone who?s immortal. ?We humans know about death,? she says. ?So we?re all always a little bit sad underneath.? We humans know about Coronavirus, so we?re always a little bit sad underneath. None of us will ever be the same after this spring of the virus.

BUFFALO.

?It?s good to keep knowing yourself,? says Alicia Keys in this delightful video. The strangest/most magical part of The Spring of the Virus? Really seeing the four people who make up our family in clearer ways than usual. When all the schedules are wiped clean, when we?re the only people we see, somehow I know us all better, and differently. L is shyer than I remembered, and consistently happy to entertain himself. Ben takes deep solace in growing things. I?m alive if I?ve got my early mornings and a cup of tea, writing poems. And little S thrives on being needed, on being cherished, more than ever.

Sending love and light, readers, for your Spring of the Virus. We?ll get through this.

High, Low, Buffalo, similar to Rose and Thorn, is a dinnertime game that was introduced to me by my friend An Honest Mom. Over dinner, you share your day: the high, the low, and the magical, or strange, or odd thing you?re still mulling over: the buffalo.


p.s.

Need some recipe ideas while you?re stuck at home? Check out:

Vegetarian Dinners That Don’t Suck

How about a good book?

Must-Read Memoirs

Plug: Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder

**And remember that it?s very likely that your local, independent bookstore is doing online orders. Mine is! Amazon will survive this crisis. Your local bookstore might not. So buy your books indie, friends.

An End to Rationing Joy

An End to Rationing Joy

A few people reported that they found my last blog post depressing. “Is it just the end of hope??” one asked, but that wasn’t what I meant, not exactly, and I’m sorry if you, too, found depressing the idea that normalcy is a fallacy. I hoped that by calling out our lives for what they are?unpredictable?that maybe we could make peace with it. I know that when I hold too tightly onto the idea of something being a certain way, when I hold too tightly onto joy, I feel that much more bummed out when it goes awry. A little lightness can help. Witness: when that flood happened, and Ben and I were both minorly freaking out, I noticed that when we had a quick conversation about it, accepted the fact that our house was going to be in chaos for a few days (ha! Try weeks), and hatched a clear plan for what to do next, we both felt a lot calmer.

If life is short, why do I constantly ration happiness and joy?

But the comments I got on my last post made me see how a mantra of “life is unpredictable” could quickly become something like “life is unpredictable…so you should live each day like it’s your last.” And, you’re right?I do find that depressing. That carpe diem thing always makes me feel panicky. Am I living my best life? It makes me wonder. Could I be doing a better job? Answers: a) probably not, and b) yes, of course I could be doing something better. And then what happens? I take up skydiving because I think I should, because I might get hit by a bus tomorrow? What bugs me about the carpe diem mentality is it seems steeped in, among other things, white privilege. And class privilege. Uh, how are you supposed to live every day like it’s your last when you’re poor? Or, in my case, when you have two annoying but adorable kids, plus a very adorable gecko with very specific temperature needs that are stressful to meet?!

But hear me out. Because I’ve had a revelation.

I’m not going to take up skydiving, but I DO think that if life is so unpredictable…I should try a little harder to chase joy. In January, while I was on school break but things were in minor chaos at my house, I found myself feeling like I was wasting every day, not eeking enough enjoyment out of things and not having enough, well, fun. Part of this is the reality that mothers are never really “on vacation,” because even though I wasn’t working I had to rally the kids and make lunches and whatnot and whatnot and whatnot. But when I teased Ben that if he had an entire month off he’d be going on ski trips and day drinking and riding his bike and meeting me for lunch?and he eagerly agreed, and this is one of the things I love about my husband?I realized that I kind of have a hard time relaxing, being on vacation, even just accepting the abundance of my life and the many wonderful things about it.

I have a hard time accepting joy.

I know how that sounds, sort of Marie Kondo-esque, kind of woo-woo, very first-world problem-y, but it’s true: I am constantly rationing pleasure. If I wake up on a rainy Saturday and decide, you know what, I’m going to spend all three hours of Sammy’s nap time watching Project Runway re-runs, because I’m an adult, dammit, and I can make that kind of decision, partway through, I feel intensely guilty and go do some laundry. If I plan to do something frivolous of a Wednesday?say, meet a friend for some day shopping?I temper it by admonishing myself that I’ll have to get up early to write. If I’m sick and decide to read trashy novels for days on end, I get so depressed at not being up and productive I can’t even enjoy them.

And it carries into my work life and makes me worse at what I do. For example, right now I’m really, really trying to make a big mess of things with the poetry collection I’m writing, but every other day a stern voice urges me to stop playing, to stop creating, to start tightening the language and putting it together. Get serious, Suz, the voice urges. Work harder. Even though I know, in some other rational part of my brain, that I haven’t finished the writing/ideation phase yet, that it might be another six months or even a year before I’ve really worked out the kinks, and that NOT approaching it with too much seriousness is exactly what I should be doing.

Why do I do this? As penance? Because I’m so driven by guilt that I just can’t allow myself any reprieve? Because I don’t believe that I deserve the creative process, deserve joy? I’m not sure, but I know that day after day, I’m consumed by guilt. I’m constantly putting myself on cleanses or rationing my wine, curtailing my spending, feeling tight.

There’s a lot of joy in my life. A lot of space. A lot of stuff to be grateful for. And I am.

But I sometimes squander the good things in the name of some kind of Puritanical belief that happiness is for the weak. Share on X

So. I’m trying to change this. I’m trying to allow myself some space. Some joy in the lovely process of writing poem after poem in the early morning dark, and not pausing to ask whether they’re any good. To take breaks. To drink a fancy cocktail after a tough day without guilt. Because like is short, and I might get hit by a bus tomorrow.

I’ll let you know how I do. And I’d love to know: do YOU ration joy, in your work, in your life? Comment it up, friends.


p.s. You might also find joy in one of these:

What ‘Carpe Diem’ Means to Me

Spring Break is For Lovers, OR: What I Learned About Wisdom When I Had a Few Days Off 

p.p.s. Know someone who would enjoy this post? Please forward! 

Domestic Bliss

Domestic Bliss

I’m interested in what you might call the domestic.

This interest is both personal (I garden, I make jam, I like to decorate, I got a little obsessed with Marie Kondo a couple years ago) and intellectual (read this). At a terrific?conference on motherhood a year ago, I was fascinated by a discussion of how motherhood isn’t all about the domestic noise?or domestic bliss?we think it is, not necessarily about the diaper genie and spitting up and sleep training (I know, I know). No, said the three amazing mother-writers: it’s also about the way time and space and identity close up, spread out, open, and morph when one becomes a mother. Memory fails. Projects go unfinished. Sleep deprivation turns ordinary occurrences into the stuff of magical realism. In other words: motherhood is about the diaper genie and spitting up and sleep training?but very much also about how we relate to those mundane things and still keep our sense of self.

Is this a struggle? That’s an understatement.

Now, dads change too?of course they do?but mothers are frequently hit with a tsunami when their kids are born: a tsunami of love, sure, but also the invasion of?a new kind of physicality that isn’t, always, welcome. Your body becomes something other the minute you get pregnant, in service to another human in a way it’s never been before. And this changes women. I know new moms who left academia after their kids were born, who realized they were in the wrong field entirely, moms who hated being mothers, who deeply resented breastfeeding. On the other end of the spectrum are the moms who, before they had kids, swore they would be rigid and scheduled and ended up soft, pliable, co-sleeping and nursing til their kids were three, all in a haze of domestic bliss.

Who knew?

But in some ways, the largest change when one has kids is the way one relates to the space at home. It may be that before having kids you were out every night, and your preferred dinner was takeout. You may have sent your laundry down the street. You may have worked in the evenings. Or slept until nine every day. You may have scarcely been home.

Once kids are on the scene, though, the center shifts drastically.

To the kitchen. The kitchen is like the eye of the hurricane.

I spend so much of my life now on simple food prep, it’s astounding.?I’ve always been into cooking and eating well, and I’ve worked a bunch in the food industry, but food prep became something else entirely when I had kids. Sometimes, when I see myself pumping one breast with my left hand?while shoving a sandwich into a reusable sandwich bag with the other, while reminding B not to forget the lunchbox of leftovers in the fridge as I pause to lift?a bite of cereal into my mouth, I have to laugh just a little. Into a bottle goes the milk, into a lunch bag goes the sandwich, into the backpack goes the grownup lunch, there’s a mad flurry to leave the house?and then it starts all over at dinnertime.

And then there’s the laundry. Oh boy, the laundry.

How one baby can make the laundry multiply four-fold, I don’t get. Granted, we do cloth diapers?most of the time?and that is a labor of love. But even without the dipes, we’re folding and hanging and dryering and putting away all. Day. Long. Perhaps it’s the spit up. Perhaps it’s that the baby’s arrival coincided with L’s penchant for wearing a new pair of pajamas every damn night. Probably it’s about the drool on the sheets and the bibs and the spit-up cloths.

Is motherhood all about the diaper genie and sleep training? Is it possible to find happiness and domestic bliss? Read on to find out.

Oh, and the sleeping.

Sometimes, at night, I feel the energy of the four of us in our various corners of the house, like we’re breathing sleepy life into the space between the walls. It’s a funny sensation, one I didn’t have when L was a baby. This past year, at various times we’ve slept in many different?configurations:

  • Baby S and I in the bed together,?nursing all night long.?B on the couch.?L in the lower bunk is his room.
  • Me in the lower bunk, L in the upper,?baby in his crib, B in the bed.
  • B back on the couch. Baby all by himself in the bedroom, L and I in the lower bunk together.

For three nights? L and S in their room together and B and I in our room?together.?(Domestic bliss.)

Aaand, since that didn’t work out so well, now B, S, L, and I in our bedroom, L on the floor, while S works it out in the boys’ room.

It’s musical beds around here, people.

Of course it’s easy for all of this?noise?to seem like the end-all-be-all of parenting. But is there still?intellectual curiosity to be found, that sense of morphing, that sense that the mundane has become something magical?

Yes. Sometimes.

Two nights ago, out of nowhere, L, who’s been moody and teenagery of late, said to me out of nowhere, “You’re my family, mom,” and looked at me in this earnest, loving way.

“Do you want to hear a song about that?” I asked, and then I sang him this.

After?

L crying, pressing his earnest little brown-eyed face, his big mop of blondish-brownish tangly hair into my belly.

“I’m so lucky you’re my family, Mom,” he cried, and then I found myself crying too, telling him, “I’m so lucky. How did I get so lucky to have a kid like you?” The two of us there (in the kitchen! Where else?), embracing, loving one another, grateful. Wow.

And then we went and read Harry Potter with B while the baby slept.

Magic? Domestic bliss? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.


p.s. L is my touchstone.?And read “My Favorite Mommy Blogger, Karl Ove Knausg?rd,” on The Cut.

 

 

 

 

 

The Mysterious Work of Raising Children

The Mysterious Work of Raising Children

A good friend from college and her partner just had a baby, and last Tuesday, I gathered together a bunch of hand-me-downs and goodies and packed them all into a box to send to Boston. That wasn’t the only thing I managed to get done that morning: I sealed up a birthday package for my mom, addressed a few birth announcements, cleaned the kitchen, checked my email, swept. Then I went in and woke up the baby, who’d been sleeping peacefully in his crib, by himself, white noise blaring, for two hours. After a feed and a brief period in which we managed to get out the door to the post office, get me a flu shot, and say hello to my acupuncturist, he took his second two-hour nap of the day. Oh, and there was a third. By 5 p.m. my house was the tidiest it’s been in weeks, dinner was made, emails were caught up on, an episode of Project Runway Juniors had been watched, and a part of me felt completely at loose ends, like: what on earth am I going to do with myself if this kid sleeps six hours every day? The thing is, he’d napped like that over the weekend, too, and I thought maybe, just maybe, he was setting a sleep pattern that would change my life for the better. Dare I say “revisit that neglected novel?”

You know how this story ends: on Wednesday, the baby’s naps totaled a cumulative 3 hours: two 40-minute jobbies in his crib from which he woke cranky and sweaty, plus some afternoon chaos that involved me nursing him into oblivion while lying in a semi-prone position so that we both could sleep, the kind of sleep that, before I had a small baby, I would never have considered “quality” (I mean, it’s okay having someone gnawing on your nipple for 90 minutes while you get a crick in your neck and torque your low back, but it’s not as awesome as some sleep I’ve had in my day). By five p.m. the house was still in shambles, I’d had at least one good cry, and dinner was going to have to wait until Papa Bear got home. Then we had a rough sleep night, too. The day after, same routine, from morning until night.

When L was a baby, my anxiety about his sleep took up about 90% of my brain space. At about six months I invented something called The Sleep Lab, which is to say, I undertook an exhaustive study of his sleep patterns, writing down his every night wake-up on the back of an envelope or a notebook and trying, in the daylight, to make sense of the notes. But because he was waking up every ninety minutes on a good night, and I was so tired I couldn’t see straight, my data just showed that I was completely and utterly?not slated to ever sleep again.

The Sleep Lab

Note from the sleep lab. “Rig” stands for “that crappy rigamarole where he won’t accept the pacifier and won’t calm down, so I’m losing my mind.”

This time around, I’m playing things a little smarter. I’m getting B more involved in the night times, and I’m not giving in and giving the baby my boob every time he cries. Baby S is already on a better trajectory at 3.5 months than L was at nine, and that gives me a lot of hope. But nonetheless, life feels like?a game of Jenga: every time I balance one piece, another?goes out of whack. And I’m not just talking nighttime sleep. It’s the whole picture. It’s waking the baby early to nurse so the?pick-up of the seven-year-old isn’t tainted by high-pitched shrieking. It’s the constant question of?whether dinner is take-out or fried eggs on toast or a balanced, healthy meal. It’s making sure L doesn’t feel left out when so much of my time to goes to Baby S. It’s signing L up for summer camp before I even know my summer work schedule. It’s planning for a short-term nanny share while looking for a long-term daycare situation. It’s finding time to call my senators about the Affordable Care Act. It’s the aged car and the ant problem, the writing career mostly on hold until I can predict. One. Thing. About. Any. Given. Day.

I’ve never been great with spontaneity, but I’m doing my best to hold onto what’s solid?both kids seem predictably to be in bed by eight!?and roll with what’s not (the night waking, the naps). And I’m grabbing these little moments every day to blog, to read, to journal, and most of all, to sit with this time?that, I have a feeling, will feel like a simple Jenga game?one I’ll dearly?miss playing?ten years from now.

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Hey! I’ll be presenting at the San Francisco Writers Conference again this year. If anyone’s planning to attend, drop me a line or look me up. It would be great to see you.

Thank you, egarc2 (via Google Advanced Image Search) for the great Jenga picture.

I Had a Baby and All I Got Was This Amazing Poem

I Had a Baby and All I Got Was This Amazing Poem

Hey, friends! I am always trying to increase my readership. If you know someone who would enjoy my infrequent cerebral ramblings on the state of motherhood?and more?please send a link to my blog their way. And if you’re seeing my stuff for the first time, consider adding your name to my mailing list or following me on Facebook or Twitter. Cheers!

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A little less than a month ago, I had a baby, an 8 pound slip of a thing who, in some charmed moments, lies quietly looking out the window from his bassinet:

babys

And I’m tired. In my head I’ve been writing about his magical-yet-crazy birth for weeks now, and about what it’s like to start fresh with a newborn at 43, with a seven-year-old, but hey, little known fact: when you have a new baby, even one who sleeps occasionally, you don’t have a lot of time for things like WRITING. Or showering. Or paying bills, or making dinner, or gardening, or any of the things you used to find gratifying and easy of a day. So the blog post goes unwritten, at least for now.

Which is why it’s so lovely to have a friend like Mike Dockins, who sent this gem yesterday. Mike and I have been writing postcard poems to each other for a couple of years now, but we took a long hiatus last year. Then bam, Mike started us up again with “Postcard with Pebbles & The Bogeyman,” which sums up a lot of my feelings about (re) new (ed) motherhood pretty perfectly: the chores undone, the chores undone, the chores undone?and the boys less little, less little, less little, until one day: gone.

POSTCARD WITH PEBBLES & THE BOGEYMAN

?for L and S

 

Susie, once again you?ve emerged from Ye Olde Creation Workshop to deliver unto us another squealer?someone to keep L company in the blue Berkeley dark, to help him stalk the Bogeyman, someone even with whom to conspire?against you, old friend?years hence, a list of undone chores dangling unreasonably from your unreasonable lip, the boys slouching over chipped Legos, dusty fire trucks, cobwebbed Darth Vaders?the toys of their childhoods sprawled like an ancient star map across the rug?& clutching god-knows-what intolerable species of techno-gadget, good grief, their eye-rolls locking the planet in a terrifying terrestrial wobble. Look at you: nightly rippling the Bay with the Aeolian wind of your Aeolian words, inviting little tsunamis to lap against the lifeless, lifeless pebbles, your autumn hammock no longer lying in a heap waiting for summer, but carrying you, Mama, all a-sway & lovely & wine-dark as you watch Orion?s belt whip the rooftop with barbaric yawps, all cocooned in that perfect & impossible womb, your boys little, less little, less little with each barbaric lash.

? Mike Dockins, 2016

If you want to read more of Mike’s fantastic work, check him out at the Tupelo Press 30/30 project, kind of a poet’s answer to NaNoWriMo, where he’ll be writing a poem a day all November.

And read two of my?postcard poems?here?and here.