Monday, July 20, 2020

Looking Inward

Parenting a teenager in the time of Coronavirus is a constant exercise in getting your ass kicked. Like most teenagers, my daughter Lucia wants to be free, liberated from my clutches, but the quarantine and social distancing parameters make that hard. I can feel her need for space all the time. I'm forever trying to find ways to engage positively. Last week I read the idea of making a papier mâché piñata Coronavirus cell in the New York Times. I thought this would be a fun activity to do together and broached the idea yesterday morning.

"Hey, Lu," I chirped as she emerged from her basement bedroom, "do you want to do a project with me today?"
"Unnhhhh," she moaned, "What is it?"
"A Coronavirus piñata!" I replied with the enthusiasm my little brother used to have about going to Chucky Cheese.
"Sure," she said, placating me, but within a few minutes she'd made plans with a friend to ride bikes to the pier.

I went ahead and set up my piñata supplies on the picnic table in our sunny front yard. To make the virus I would need three full coats of papier mâché, and time for each of the coats to fully dry between coats. I was grateful for the sunny day and the coats dried in about an hour. Between coats I gardened, folded laundry and hand-painted twist ties with red paint that I would apply once the virus was fully dried and spray painted.

My idea was to fill my Coronavirus piñata with goodies and bash the shit out of it. I've recently taken a temporary job as a contact tracer for COVID-19 and I'm all too aware of how the numbers in our city and country are soaring. Making the piñata occupied my energy creatively and the activity served the purpose of giving me something concrete to start and finish. I've noticed in this time of great unknowns, starting and completing a singular task is hugely satisfying and calming. While I couldn't put my daughter in a bubble and protect her from this pandemic-infested world, I could focus my energy on making a piñata instead of worrying. The time spent making the piñata gave me the sense, albeit fleeting, that I had some control over something.

Our lawn sits above the sidewalk and I can see down to Lake Washington from our yard. I spent the day watching people parking and carrying rafts, paddle boards, kayaks and inner tubes down to the water. I saw and heard throngs of people enjoying the sun and the water.

We're struggling to bash this coronavirus. In this country of free will and infinite choices we are having a hard time being uncomfortable, limiting ourselves to the degree that we need to to quell this beast. As I sat on the picnic bench dipping newspaper strips into flour-water-glue, worrying about my own daughter getting enough social distance on the pier she was sunbathing at, I worried too about the people racing down to crowd the beaches. Many wore masks but many didn't.

What do we do? It's not just the teens that are struggling, resisting the imperative to limit our contact with others. It's counterintuitive in the summer, the precious three months of our year when Northwesterners can roam freely without a rain jacket. We're all experiencing a loss and that's painful. We don't have good tools for moving through grief and loss. But we're all in it right now and there's nothing wrong with any of us. This is just the way it is right now.  I don't have the answer for moving through this grief and loss,  but I know what's worked for me.

In my grief I've had to turn inwards, to ask myself what will nourish me. I've had to find a new way to engage myself. One week it was making masks. Another was taking an online course. Another was job hunting. One week was creating an outside space where we could invite people over to socialize. Yesterday was making a Coronavirus piñata.There's always writing, taking long walks, writing letters and spending time with my family. I remember in my mid-twenties when my dad died, I was in a swirl of grief and I didn't know how to settle. I was closer to Lucia's age; I didn't have the inclination  to look inward. I was focused on what I'd lost, what wasn't there anymore and I was seeking, trying to find connection outside. I'm a quarter of a century older now and I've learned how to look inward from my grief.

When Lucia got home from the pier, we ate a delicious dinner together on our little outside patio. Nancy had made a smorgasbord of summer delights and it felt like a regular summer night. We talked about our days and enjoyed the last moments of the sun. Later on in the evening Lucia and I had a mini-battle about my strictness and my worry.  She wants more freedom and I'm trying to create a bubble. It's easy for me to look inwards because I'm fifty. If I were fifteen I'd be doing exactly what she's doing, trying to bust out. We're both evolving, limping along as we figure out how to navigate adolescence in the time of Coronavirus. I know there will be lots of bumps in the road and lots of beautiful moments too. I can't wait to bust the Coronavirus together. I'm pretty sure that will be fun for both of us.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Fifty Ways that We Love Jenna.

Last night six of my best friends and I (the Posse) celebrated my friend Jenna turning fifty. She's the baby, the last to turn fifty. Because this friend group is wildly creative and super nerdy, we decided to write Jenna a special song to the tune of Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover." Our version would be "Fifty Ways that We Love Jenna." The song was a total collaboration, each of us weighing in on the content and the rhymes. Kate and Amy, probably the most creative of the group, took the lead on choreography and the musical arrangement.

Since we'd only been able to meet as a group on Zoom, we met an hour before Jenna arrived to rehearse the song and dance a few times in person. Molly, our host, also incredibly creative, had arranged her backyard with seven decorated chairs in a circle, exactly six-feet apart. Jenna's chair was decorated as a throne at the center of it all. It was so great to see everyone. Our normal social interactions have been severely curbed by Coronavirus. Some people I see once every two weeks, some once every six weeks or two months. When we first arrived and started rehearsing there was a lot of energy. With such a short time to fine tune the song and dance we were highly focused and engaged. Even though we all wore masks to practice, the laughter was there. We could all see the twinkles in each other's eyes.

We ate take-out burgers in our chairs and drank canned wine so no one had to cross-pollinate. As we sat in our circle, I found myself feeling awkward, like a teenager at a party with people way cooler than me; a party I wasn't sure I should be at. I felt irritated and there were moments I just wanted to be home, back in my cave. I was aware of how rusty my social skills had become. I couldn't find a groove, an ease. After dinner everyone but Jenna got up to perform our surprise song. Amy turned on the karaoke background music and we all took our places. We did our song, solos and all, and we rocked our dance moves. Jenna loved it. And then we did it again so Jenna could video it on her phone. I felt so happy, so free, so connected. Even at our six-feet-apart spacing for the performance, it actually felt like we were all holding hands or linking arms. I could feel each of them so completely.

At the end of the song we sat back down in our respective chairs and the helium slowly seeped out of my happy balloon. I was back in the awkward. I love these friends so much. They are, as the millennials might say, "everything," but as we sat in our socially distanced circle, I couldn't feel them the way I had when we were singing and dancing. I wanted to feel that energy. When it faded, a melancholy took over and I just wanted to go back to my hibernation.

When I got home at 8:30pm I put my pajamas on. I checked in with my family and curled into bed to read. I felt sad. And happy. My sad came from a longing for those days of leaning into a friend on the couch and talking about something crazy that happened at work or the big hug you give one of your best friends when they turn FIFTY! And happy because I'd had a taste of that goodness, even without leaning or hugging. The singing and dancing, the collective energy that came from creating the song for Jenna and then performing it was such a profound reminder of what it used to feel like to be that connected.

I'm not a super touchy-feely person and I haven't missed hugging as much as a lot of people, but last night activated a visceral reaction. The contrast of the joy I felt one in moment with the longing I felt in the next was intense. I crave connection with these women I love so much. I don't know how long this six-feet apart, don't hug, don't lean, don't touch will last, but I know that even for me it's taking a toll. Dancing and singing and completely nerding out with my posse served as a temporary antidote to the weight of this longing. I'm so grateful for that experience and I'll hold onto the image of that night for a long time. Happy Birthday Jenna.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Trump the Coyote

There have been a flurry of daytime coyote sitings in my neighborhood. I've seen them at 8am and 2pm, and neighbors have reported them all over the place, at all times of the day. I'm terrified of the coyotes, not for me, but for my little 21-pound dog Freckles who walks almost exclusively off leash. Freckles is small and chubby and slow. He would be an easy target for one of the hungry neighborhood coyotes. I used to be mainly worried about night walks on the dimly lit streets around my house, but these days I'm worried about Freckles at all hours.

The coyotes are wild. They've always been in Seward Park, and neighborhood folks know to be careful with smaller dogs in the forest during certain seasons, but this sidewalk coyote fear is new. It feels directly related to the imminent threat we are living under with an insane president. Despite a serious pandemic, the president, and many local leaders in our country, are advocating for behaviors that are literally killing people. 

The other morning as I walked down to the lake, a coyote crossed in front of me on an arterial to Lake Washington Boulevard. She was sauntering, comfortable in the broad daylight, on a widely human-trafficked sidewalk. I had a moment of fear but then settled when I remembered that Freckles was safe in our house. But that moment of fear, that threat, felt so familiar. I experienced a surge of adrenaline and my heart started pounding. I felt briefly disoriented, not sure what to do with the coyote so close. As I neared the coyote she had made her way across the street and disappeared into the overgrowth in a derelict lot. I continued on my walk and though the coyote was gone my heart was still racing.

That feeling I had with the coyote was like a burst, a momentary amplification of what I've felt every day for months. As I watch Donald Trump misinform people and encourage dangerous behavior, driving our country into destruction, I vacillate from incredulous to petrified. He is like a coyote on the loose, unchecked, sneaky and predatory. Coyotes are said to represent tricksters, but they also represent a revealing of the truth behind illusion and chaos. 

The progression of COVID-19 is the truth behind Trump's trickery and lies. His made-up stories are becoming less and less believable in the face of this pernicious virus. Behind his smoke and mirrors is the truth, that people continue to spread the virus, that people are dying from it. The neighborhood coyote sitings have helped me to make sense of my fear of Donald Trump, to put it into a larger equation. The coyote is a symbol of our times, a symbol of the truth. The fear we feel is real and, if we use it well, it can be our guide to the other side. My fear of the coyote eating Freckles reminds me to keep him close and mind his wanderings. My fear of the virus (and Trump's negligence) keeps me vigilant about wearing a mask and maintaining social distance. 

The coyotes are just doing their job, finding food for themselves and their pups. I am growing used to their presence in my neighborhood. But Trump is a bad coyote, a bad man, who's not doing his job. And I will never get used to him.

Freedom

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