Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Flooded with Possibities

Lately, I’ve been feeling identity fog. All my life I’ve been able to answer the question, “What do you do?” or “What are you doing these days?” with a sentence or two. I’ve been able to respond with “I’m in grad school” or “I’m working as a blank at blank restaurant” or “I run a business.”

I intentionally took some time off from defining myself that way, hating the question every time someone asked it of me. But my break is over. I’m ready to move on. I’ve had a few interim jobs, places to hang my professional hat, during the last few years. I’ve been totally open, saying yes to lots of things. I intentionally spent these past years actively releasing myself from the need to define myself for the sake of answering the proverbial, “What do you do?” question. But lately, I want to answer the question for myself. I want to feel more focused, more rooted. I want to be able to answer that question for myself.

I am a curious person. When I go to Costco I think the people who work there look happy and I wonder what it would be like to work there. When I walk in the park and see rangers giving little kids tours of the waterfowl I fantasize about doing that job. Every time I go to the post office I can see myself in knee-length blue shorts and a matching baseball cap delivering mail. I dream of working in health care, real estate, finance, and baking. 

As a result, I am flooded with possibilities and the feeling is exhausting. I imagine a flooded street after a hurricane or heavy rain — lawn chairs, couch cushions, picture frames, cars, teddy bears bobbing around a flood-formed river. All of these lost items floating somewhere near their home but undiscoverable in the flow of the water. These items cannot be restored to their rightful owner until the water recedes and the lost objects stop floating.

I have lots of possibilities right now — potential roles I can fill, jobs I might take, that will make me feel like I am on more solid ground, out of the flood. And that’s part of the problem. All of these possibilities are floating around inside. For some reason, I’m unable to claim any particular one of them and hold on to it. 

I remember reading about a woman who had a beloved, prolific heirloom tomato plant that was returned to her after a flood. Someone in the neighborhood had recognized the pot and returned it to her. She was so happy to reunite with this plant that she’d grown and cared for and loved. She nursed it back to health and celebrated its new harvest. 

I find myself waiting for something to stick. I want one of these ideas that are bobbing around in my brain to stop moving so that I can attach to it, welcome it, and engage with it like that woman with her lost tomato plant. 

This morning I realized what’s missing. In an attempt to follow my curiosities I’ve sped up my daily pace and, as a result, neglected a daily contemplative practice. Only a few months ago I had a years-long daily meditation practice but in my busy-ness, I’ve let that go, replacing it instead with activities related to my searching. 

I will stay flooded until I make way for the waters to recede, for the sun to come out. I know myself and I know how to do this. I have to be quiet and still. I have to resume my daily meditation practice and make way for the flooded waters to drain. I know some of the ideas and possibilities will wash away as the water drains; other ideas will remain. 

Once I see what is left, I can assess the situation. I will be able to look at what remains on the street in front of me. I will pay attention to what calls out to me the loudest. Which of the items do I want to run to, to scoop up and hold onto, to dry off and nurture like that woman nurtured her heirloom tomato plant? I hope the answer will be clear. I am ready to be out of the flood. 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Hurricane is Coming: This Time I'm Not Evacuating

Last weekend I held the second annual Mother-Daughter Clothing Swap in our backyard. We hosted the first one a year-and-a-half ago, just before the first wave of the COVID Pandemic. 

In January we held it inside, taking for granted that this was normal and okay.

Then, in March of that year, everything changed. Inside living became verboten and, if we gathered at all, we scrambled to find ways to socialize outside in the fresh air where the germs would not spread as easily.

We are now chugging up the long mountain of COVID’s Delta Variant in a shaky little gondola, puttering up the top with no idea when we will get there. We have the return of the mask mandate and an alarming number of COVID cases among the unvaccinated and vaccinated. School is in person and we’re going ahead with much of normal life as if we’re going to be okay, even though we have no idea what the height of this wave will look like.

At the same time that all of this is going on, Hurricane Ida is raging on the gulf coast. My partner Nancy is from New Orleans and most of her family and many of her friends live there. She is in constant communication with them about the impending storm and their evacuation status.

Nancy said that growing up her family evacuated many times for different hurricanes. Often the efforts of shuttering up the house, packing the car, and driving several hours north or east were for naught. The storm passed over and their evacuation had been unnecessary. 

Yesterday Nancy’s brother sent his two teenage kids and their grandparents (his parents) to Dallas to escape the storm. They will play it safe and hunker down in this place away from the storm where they can wait out the danger of it. 

Nancy’s brother would stay put with the two older kids and hope for the best. He, like many of Nancy’s friends, will shutter up his home, make sure he has enough food and water, fuel up the generators, and have faith.

The clothing swap yesterday felt like the last hurrah before people start evacuating away from COVID. I was aware that this might be the last gathering for a long time. The feeling I had yesterday as fifteen mothers and daughters gathered in my yard, stepping into the basement room with all the doors and windows open to try on clothes, was a sense of elation that bordered on mania. 

I actually felt like I was under some kind of influence; like I was drunk or stoned. The happiness and excitement to be gathering like this were profound because I knew this might be the last time for a while. Every sensation in my body was amplified. I was jumpy and giggly; I felt an explosion of energy, a rush of blood to my chest and head. I felt like I was on the upside-down loop of a roller coaster with both arms flying high above my head. 

In March of 2020, when COVID first hit, I was petrified. I feared COVID. It became enormous, a killer, a death wish. Following this fear, I evacuated with my family into the safety of our home, away from the virus. I didn’t trust that we’d be okay if we lived our normal life, even masking and social distancing —  I would never have held that clothing swap last year.

But this time I’m not evacuating. There are some changes in place that make this an easier decision for me. All of my family and friends are vaccinated and in our city vaccination rates are high and COVID rates are comparatively low. That doesn’t mean a storm isn’t coming, it just means that I’m more like Nancy’s brother this time, staying put, trusting that I’ll be safe, having faith in a positive outcome.

I’ve read the headlines and I know the Delta storm is building strength, that the eye has not yet touched ground, and it’s scary. But this time I feel more confident, braver. I’m not going to evacuate. I will metaphorically board up my windows by wearing a mask in public and keeping social distance. I will be prepared with daily vitamin supplements, a healthy diet, and plenty of sleep to keep my body healthy. I will get a vaccination booster when it is offered to me.

But I won’t evacuate my life this COVID go-round. I won’t live in fear. I can’t do it again. The storm might be bad but I can’t hide out like I did last year. I feel different. I feel more resilient, stronger, more capable. I know what I need to do to stay safe. I know that I don’t have to run away from the world to protect myself.

It’s more a state of mind than any kind of action. This time, as I watch the path of the COVID storm, I’m going to stay put, trust what I’ve learned, use what I know, and have an occasional, very safe, outdoor clothing swap. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

I Kind of Want to Die

Last week I went for a walk with a friend. We’re old friends and have gone in and out of seeing each other for the past thirty years. As we walked through the arboretum talking about all of the hard, sad things in this world right now I said something I would only say to a longtime friend.

“I kind of want to die,” I said to her. I am not suicidal at all and feel grateful that I don’t have any acute mental health concerns right now but I look with envy at my ninety-three-year-old stepfather sometimes. He’ll surely die before this world becomes truly unlivable.

“Me too!” my friend exclaimed, “I totally get where you’re coming from. We’ve lived a good, long life and we could be done.”

A few days later I was talking to another close friend. As always the conversation turned to the lamentations of our upside-down society and tortured planet. “Sometimes I really just want to die,” I said to her.

“I’ve felt that way,” my friend said, “last month when I was camping and I imagined having to pack up all the gear and all the food I thought to myself, ‘if I died now I wouldn’t have to do this.’” She continued, “Really, I would be okay dying now.”

She told me that her husband never feels this way but she knows that another friend we share does. 

When I got home last night I told my partner about these conversations. “I’ve felt that way,” she said, “I understand how you feel.”

I deliberated a lot before I started to write about this “I kind of want to die” attitude. But hearing my friends and learning of this shared experience of feeling the “I kind of want to die” bolstered my confidence to write about it. 

I am a mother and a wife. I have a large extended family and a huge community of people I love and care about. But some days, even on days when I am not aware of the ins and out of the news, the bad outweighs the good.

I’m just being honest. The intensity of the sadness, loss, division, racism, infighting, pollution, and denial is greater than the joy and delight that come from the daily interactions I have with the good parts of life. I can remember a few years ago, right after I sold my business, I was floating in a happiness bubble. Everything seemed to be coming up roses. My family was good. My friends were abundant. There was no COVID. Life was good and all was well. 

Now I feel like I scrape together happy moments like puzzle pieces, trying to create a full scene of goodness that I can step inside of like Mary Poppins’ chalk drawings. I try to breathe in every moment of a satisfying conversation on a walk with a friend. I intentionally slow down the family dinner, fully appreciating the precious time of everyone being together. I meditate quietly, closing my eyes to imagine what will feel good today. 

I’ve reached a new threshold, a higher level of tolerance for bad shit than I’ve ever had. It’s okay. I know things will probably get worse before they get better and then better again before they get worse again. I’m learning that this is life. The older I get the more I know and the more I know the harder it gets. 

 I have always been privileged, comfortable. I have always had enough, more than enough. I live in a country free of (for now) dictatorship, in a safe neighborhood. The critic in me scoffs. The gall of it — me saying, “I kind of want to die.”

The truth is that I feel liberated when I say, “I kind of want to die.” It unlatches a tight, little, bursting at the seams Pandora’s box in my chest. Life is too much sometimes and I want to escape. Saying the words is my permission to honor that experience of too much-ness. And it helps. Just saying those words, confiding in a friend about how big the feelings are, eases the pain. The box opens and a little bit of sadness hisses out so I can close it again and carry on. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Things We Carry

Yesterday morning I went down to our local COVID test site to check my status. It’s my fourth test this month. These are the times we’re in. Every time I get a cold or scratchy throat I go do a nasal swab. At least the testing trailer is in a beautiful place. It’s only about a mile from our house and sits right on the lake next to a park. 

Yesterday I brought my dog and after the test, we walked around the park next to the site. While I was walking I noticed an older woman, about my age, walking quickly with a heavy pack on her back. She was tan and healthy-looking and her gait was one of intention and determination. I wondered for a moment if she was homeless and I started crafting the story of her life in my head.

Then I saw her stop, drop her pack, and do standing push-ups on the park bench next to the restrooms. “Ah,” I thought to myself, “she must be in training for something.” In the Pacific Northwest, it’s not uncommon to see people in training for long hikes like the Pacific Crest Trail or some other big hike in the area. 

As I wandered around the park with my fat, slow dog I watched the woman put her pack back on and walk strongly away. I wondered how far she’d walk today, how long she’d carry that heavy weight on her back.

Lately, I’ve been feeling heavy. A lot of this weight is rooted in our return to worry and fear with the surge of the Delta Variant. The norms we established sixteen months ago are coming back — no hugging, no traveling, no inside socializing. I know I can do this because I’ve done it before, but it’s heavy. I feel the burden of it.

This distance in my daily life makes me miss my faraway family even more than I already do. I only see my parents, and my sisters and brothers, and their families once or twice a year as it is, but somehow COVID makes the distance feel even greater, more pronounced. This unfulfilled longing is adding to the heaviness I carry.

I have no control over COVID other than to follow the guidelines and get tested when I have any kind of suspicious symptoms. And I have no control over this distance with my faraway family members. We live on opposite sides of the country. We have for years. Yet I carry the sadness more in these times we’re in.

If only I could just accept that this is what life looks like now. If only I could embrace the present moment as I’ve trained myself to do with meditation and yoga for decades. I try but I still feel the weight. It’s with me. I’m carrying it.

Yesterday, as I watched the woman with the backpack, I felt admiration for her fortitude and intensity. Her gait was strong and deliberate. Her long steps were directed and intentional. She walked as if she could go for miles and days. She carried that heavy weight in preparation for something bigger, something special, a goal, a dream, a line item on her bucket list. 

Maybe I can reframe this weight I’m carrying into something different. Maybe I am training myself, in preparation for something bigger, more significant. Of course I am. I am in training for life. Life isn’t easy, nor is it linear or logical. 

This heaviness I carry is training me for whatever comes next. I think of that woman, her serious, resolute face, her long, strong limbs putting one foot in front of the other, marching on. I can do this. I’ve done it before and I can do it again. This heaviness I carry is building my strength and resilience. I just have to keep on walking, carrying this pack, putting one foot in front of the other.

Friday, August 20, 2021

I’ve lived over half a century. I’ve had eighteen years of formal education, dozens of jobs, lived in two countries, four cities, and sixteen different homes. I’ve made friends from school, from traveling, through other friends. Over the years I’ve formed friendships with neighbors, parents of my daughter’s friends, people I volunteer with, play sports with, and take workshops with. If I made a list of friends I’ve made over the years — and I’ve tried — it would be hard to capture everyone.

But I am out of touch with many of these friends from over the years. Where have they gone?

I am lucky that I have a partner who is present and engaged. We are often home alone together with the dog and that is a great comfort and security to me. I talk to my mom almost every day and I have a solid group of local friends who I see or talk to regularly. 

But I feel out of touch, a little bit lonely. I am in sporadic touch with my four siblings and I miss them. There is no malice; everyone is just busy parenting and working. My sixteen-year-old daughter is off on her own adventure most of the time and when she is home she is aloof, our interactions cursory. 

Sometimes when I have a free moment, often in the early morning by myself drinking coffee, I wonder where all of these people in my life have gone? I wonder if I have done something to make them distant. I feel like a tiny ant wandering in a patch of grass underneath the picnic table, trying to find my fellow ants who are feasting away above me. “What is everyone doing up there?” I wonder, “what’s going on?”

Last night a group of family friends got together to celebrate the departure of two college freshmen who are leaving the nest. It was a lovely gathering with four moms and seven kids, all celebrating the two young women who are flying off on a new college adventure. It was delightful and connecting. We were a bunch of ants all together, snacking on a big hunk of chocolate cake. 

My daughter, always with other plans, made an effort to be there but I could feel that she had one foot out the door. I felt insulted. Why wasn’t she more engaged, more present for this celebration? I took it personally and I wondered if she was angry with me for making her come to this gathering. I felt myself feeling hurt by her lack of participation. 

And I realized that this is often how I feel about my siblings or old friends with whom I am out of touch. I think I have done something to cause the space between us, that somehow I am to blame for the distance and lack of communication. But when I thought about where my daughter was mentally and emotionally I was able to find peace with how she was acting. She is sixteen. She was sitting on the edge of her seat halfway in because she had a party to go to, an outfit to plan, mascara to apply and friends to text to finalize plans.

Recognizing this — that my daughter’s dharma right now is to find her place in the teenage wonderland she inhabits — helped me. The distance I felt with her had absolutely nothing to do with me. I was, and often am, a microblip in her world. 

This realization helped me understand some of my other long-lost relationships. The world is big, geographically and metaphorically. My family and friendship realm alone spans far and wide, and each of the people in that field has their own networks. So really, we are all microblips in each other’s worlds. There simply is not the amount of time, connection, or energy to feel truly connected to all of these people all the time.

The relationships I have that feel close and connected are the ones I pour regular, dedicated energy into. I suppose, if I wanted to I could try harder —  make more phone calls, send more letters, travel around the country more extensively. 

I read once that each of us only has a certain amount of willpower every day. We only have that specific amount and then it is gone. That’s why it is hard to be on a diet and study for the LSATS or start a new exercise regime and start meditating at the same time. We just do not have enough willpower bandwidth to do that much. 

I think the same is true with relationships. We each only have so much to give. Once we’re relationally tapped, we’re truly empty, devoid of energy to give another person. 

The loneliness is real. And with the pandemic, it feels amplified. I do miss the people in my life that I am out of touch with and I reminisce about the times when we were closer. But I no longer feel responsible for the distance. I can see that I haven’t done anything to cause it, it’s simply a function of living life in a big, wide, open world with finite emotional bandwidth.

Half a century is a long time. And I’m healthy so I think I’ll probably live a lot longer, making new friends, maybe having grandchildren and great-nieces and nephews. I’ll have more jobs and more neighbors and more friends. And I’ll be close to some of the same people for a long time and some of them I’ll lose touch with. My daughter will come back from teenagehood at some point. My siblings won’t always be so busy. 

We are all tiny ants in a very big world. Sometimes we find each other and sometimes we wander, looking for our friends. We are all in this together, doing our best with what we have. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021


Last month we talked about Pre-pandemic times. We talked about how we were getting back there, how we might be there soon. And then we stopped. It was like getting to the top of the waterslide ride — ker-chuk, ker-chuk, ker-chuk. We could feel the anticipation and excitement of getting to the top of the slide, then over the hump, of finally shooting down to the joyful splash of the plunge pool.

But we didn’t get over the hump. We halted at the top, right before the good part. Instead of going into Pre-pandemic times we are in Re-pandemic times. Some things have changed. Kids are going back to college. A lot of adults are returning to their offices. People have relaxed their mask-wearing outside.The general level of fear has decreased. But I can feel the pandemic energy ramping up. Conversations are back to, “Wait, can we meet inside?” “Do you have a mask?” “Do you think school will start in the fall?”

During the first round of the pandemic, I was intermittently okay. I found a sense of equanimity and opportunity. I was one of those annoying people who thrived in the isolation. I sewed masks, started healthy new habits like diving into the cold lake every day and walking five miles each morning. I found work as a contact tracer and wrote every morning. I relished the time at home with my family and told myself that I didn’t really miss my old life — not at all.

But now we are back. We are in a Re-Pandemic and I don’t feel the same way. I was ready to reenter Pre-pandemic life. In these last few months, I have gotten used to riding in the car with whomever I want, having dinner with friends inside, and letting my teenage daughter wander around the city with her friends without the fear that she will contract and spread a deadly virus.

This Re-Pandemic period weighs heavy on my heart. I cannot find the joy, the Pollyanna attitude that came to me so easily a year ago. I used it all up and feel empty inside. The thought of reentering pandemic life makes my chest tighten and my arms go numb. 

While we were all getting vaccinated, when numbers were going down and things were moving right along and we were ker-chuking up the waterslide, it was exciting, thrilling, completely joyful. Being here now, in this Re-Pandemic time, the sense of disappointment is too much for me to manage. I think about the horrible stories I’ve heard like the gambling addict parent who takes all the kids’ presents from under the tree, leaving the sad children with nothing on Christmas morning. Or the long-awaited mother-son reunion that is aborted because the mother cannot get a visa. The sadness, the defeat, the grief is overwhelming.

I know myself and I can feel what is happening. In response to this sorrow and disappointment, I am preemptively closing in on myself, shutting down so that reentering pandemic life will not be quite as difficult. But, in doing this I am prolonging the torture of waiting at the top of the waterslide. I am adding harsh cold winds and sleet instead of experiencing what is actually here now. 

Right now at the top of the slide, it is actually sunny around me and the fans of the ride are gently spraying water on me to keep me cool. We are in a Re-Pandemic but we’re still on a path, going somewhere. Things are improving. In the mid-sized city where I live vaccination rates are high and COVID cases are relatively low. All arrows point to school starting back up in a few weeks and businesses staying open.

We’re not moving as fast as I’d like, but we’re still moving right along. Re-Pandemic sucks. I have to acknowledge the sadness and fear that are bubbling up inside me again. But I know we won’t be stranded at the top of this waterslide forever. Someday, I hope sooner than later, we will jump the hump at the top, raise our hands above our heads, and holler with delight as we race joyfully all the way down, plunging into the cool, clear water with a giant splash. 

Friday, August 13, 2021

Sharing Gratitude: The Antidote to Despair

This morning I woke up with a terrible headache. My throat was raw. When I looked outside, the sky looked gray. Naively hoping for some rain I peeked my head out to see if the pavement was wet. But the sun was a bright orange orb so I knew that it wasn’t a cloudy sky I was looking at. It was smoke from fires burning from our Canadian neighbors north of us.

Shit. We’re back here. The temperature is record-breaking high in the Pacific Northwest and we smoke season has returned. After a month of respite from the pandemic, the Delta variant of COVID has reared its head and I can feel myself and those around me sneaking back into hiding.

Where do we go when it feels like there is danger all around us — literally. In my house with no air conditioning, we have to close all of the windows so no smoke gets in. We can’t go outside to escape the heat. We can’t go to a friend’s home to retreat because indoor socializing is again unsafe. 

The truth is we are materially fine. We have a cool basement, plenty of water, food, technology, and reading material. Psychically though, I worry. I feel like Princess Lea in the trash compactor scene in Star Wars. The walls are closing in and I don’t have the strength to push them back out. All of these things — the temperature, the smoke, and COVID are out of my control.

After closing the windows and setting up fans to cool the house for the day I called my aunt.

“Hi!!!,” she said enthusiastically when she answered. “Laura, it was so great to have you visit last month. I really loved it!”

My daughter, her friend, and I visited my aunt and cousins a few weeks earlier, a time that felt much further away. 

“That trip felt like the last hurrah,” my aunt said, “things feel dangerous, and I’m so glad we got to have that time together.”

My aunt is also in heat and smoke territory and also affected by COVID, but today she was happy. And grateful. We caught up for ten minutes and then said goodbye.

When I hung up I felt better. The world is a mess. I am fighting off despair for all of the things I cannot control on a daily basis. But there are also moments, lots of them, to be grateful for. 

That’s the antidote. It seems so simple, but it works. Gratitude. Just the short exchange with my aunt where she shared her gratitude and invited me to feel my own gave me a pause, a chance to reflect on what is good in the midst of all of this bad.

I keep a gratitude journal and write three things I am grateful for every night. It helps, but in these times where there is bad news all over, maybe I, maybe we, need more. Talking to my aunt this morning helped me realize that we can help each other and ourselves at the same time. 

There are things to be grateful for every day. Instead of storing these gratitudes up until bedtime and writing them in a book that no one will ever see, I am going to make phone calls and send texts to people to share my gratitude throughout the day. It can’t hurt. I’ll report back and tell you all if it helps. I think it will. 

Monday, August 9, 2021

The Earth is on Hospice

This morning when I woke up the first conversation of the day was about the pandemic. My partner Nancy was wondering if she should take back her downtown office or stay virtual. With the Delta variant of COVID so much is unknown. 

At the end of our conversation, I said, “If we didn’t have the pandemic happening right now what do you think we’d be talking about?”

“Climate change,” she said. 

Duh. Of course that’s what we’d be talking about. Through all of this mayhem that’s afflicting humanity on our planet —  the sickness, the death, the polarizing vax-anti-vax strife ripping apart families and communities — the very planet we are living on is dying.

We are back to a place of deep worry and fear about COVID. Our focus is there again — masking, distancing, getting vaccinated, or getting a booster. But while all of this is happening, in the background, the earth is on a respirator. I fear that we are beyond a cure for our beloved planet. The damage has been done and we continue to do it. 

During the first wave of the pandemic, I was among the group of people who believed that the grounding of humanity was a good thing for the earth. Our carbon emissions dropped. Pollution to our waterways decreased. Tourism dwindled, helping ecosystems recover. 

I wondered if the pandemic was our planet’s way of yelling at us humans, metaphorically and literally punishing us by sending us to our rooms and keeping us there until we shaped up. I hoped that maybe this virus was an indirect message to us all that would help us change the course of climate change. But has it?

In the last several years my family has gotten solar power, water cisterns, and an electric car. We’ve subscribed to an additional service that recycles items our local utilities cannot. We’ve stopped buying red meat. We’re trying everything we can to do our part. And I know so many other people are doing the same thing. I know there is good energy and focus going towards curbing the environmental devastation of the earth, but still, it’s not enough. 

The earth is on hospice. All the signs are there — the weather patterns, the fires and floods, and hurricanes and tornadoes, the extinction of animals. Our planet is sick and crying for help and more and more the research is saying that it may be too late. The earth is on hospice, in its final years.

I have a lot of experience with hospice. My father was on hospice many years ago and my stepfather is currently on hospice. When my dad was on hospice it was only for a few months. He had cancer and had tried everything — countless surgeries, multiple chemotherapies, radiation. And then it was clear. There was nothing else to do but accept that he would die. So we called hospice and waited.

We sat around Dad’s bed. We visited. We sang songs, told stories, held his hand, gave him ice cubes and sips of Hawaiian Punch. And we watched him die. Eventually, his breath slowed down. His eyes stopped opening. His body became eerily still. And then one morning he was gone. He was fifty-six. I wish we’d had a little bit more time. 

Currently, my ninety-three-year-old stepfather Al is on hospice. He has COPD and a blood disorder but is otherwise healthy. He is on hospice because he’s very old and because he’s very old, he’s dying. But he has no outstanding illnesses that plague him on a daily basis. There is no cancer in his body eating away until there is nothing left. He is simply old, coming to the end of his life. 

Al has been on hospice for a few years and then suddenly, a few months ago, he was removed from their care. The administrative team deemed him unqualified. They said there was really nothing wrong with him so they took him off of hospice. My mom felt abandoned — she had felt supported and understood by the hospice team. The nurse and the social worker helped her navigate Al’s care. His quality of life improved with hospice at his side and Mom depended on their expertise.

After two months of being off of hospice, they put my Al back on. I guess the administrative team realized that he was still dying and that he could still benefit from their care. 

When I think about our planet and read the depressing reports on the state of the environment, I sink into a state of paralyzing hopelessness. If our dear planet only has thirty years left where will that leave my daughter? What will happen to her and all of her peers? It’s too much to bear. Once my dad died, he was gone. There was no more Dad, just his memory and the feeling of missing him. I don’t want to accept that fate for the earth, not yet.

To get out of my despair paralysis, I have to have faith that we can make some change to the earth, that we nasty humans can be a force for good, that we can see beyond ourselves to care about something greater. The earth is on hospice. Like all planets, it will eventually die. But I hope the earth’s hospice experience is more like Al’s than Dad’s. I hope we have more time. I know we can’t turn the environmental destruction we’ve created completely around, but we have to try. 

We’re in another wave of COVID and that sucks. After a few months of freedom and ease, we’re back to being grounded. And maybe that’s what we need. The earth is on hospice and it’s the humans who are making our planet sicker. So maybe we should be sent to our rooms again, spend some time thinking about how we can do our part, all of us, to give the earth, and ourselves, a little bit more time. 

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Quarantined Daughter


Last week my sixteen-year-old daughter Lucia went to an academic summer program in Psychology in Boston for a week. It was her first time doing something like this — flying on her own, going to a program with no one she knows, studying psychology, living in a dorm.

When Lucia got home she was exhausted and sniffly. She and her new friends from all over the country had bonded. She told us how the night before she got home she and her friends had stayed up all night watching the second season of Outer Banks and ordering pizza at 4 am. I wasn’t surprised that she felt under the weather.

But that evening Lucia’s best friend from camp, a young woman from Texas, called to tell her that she’d tested positive for COVID. Though vaccinated, she was indeed positive and had similar symptoms to my daughter-- fatigue, sore throat, runny nose. Then it was revealed that Lucia’s roommate, a sixteen-year-old from Florida, who was unvaccinated, was also feeling ill.

Our household went on high alert. Lucia went to her basement bedroom away from us and, in between irate emails and phone calls to the camp, I served her food and drink masked from the doorway until we could get her tested. Her symptoms got worse and my worry grew. Of our family members, I had been the most exposed to Lucia. I drove in the car from the airport and spent time hanging out with her when she got home. My partner Nancy had only seen her for a few minutes so she had minimal risk. Our household was a germ zone-- we were all isolating from each other, sleeping in separate rooms and masking all the time.

The day after Lucia got home was a Sunday and we couldn’t find anywhere to get a test for under $200 so we just rode it out in our masked fortress until Monday morning. We ate dinner outside on those nights before we could all get tested, each of us sitting in an Adirondack chair balancing a plate of food on our knees in a six-foot-sided isosceles triangle.

Besides that, I didn’t see Lucia very much. We’d FaceTime once or twice a day but she was isolated and untouchable. After a week away I wanted to ply her with questions, ask her what she’d learned, hug and kiss her, but I couldn’t. I checked in with Lucia several times a day to see what she needed. I brought her fruit plates and crudite. I delivered popsicles and orange juice. I made her trays of peppermint tea with a side of ibuprofen and a thermometer. I was worried about Lucia being sick but a part of me loved the opportunity to take care of her. 

On the second night of isolation during our outside dinner, Lucia was really chatty. She’d been alone in her room for hours on end and seemed desperate to chat. Though she was still feeling very tired and congested, she opened up about some of her deep thoughts. I imagined her during the day, lying in her bed, bored of TV and social media, all of these ideas, wonders, questions emerging with no one to talk to. 

The sky grew dark. It got cool out and Lucia went in to get us sweatshirts. We talked for almost two hours about topics ranging from her Meyers Briggs profile to her disdain for teenagers self-diagnosing on TikTok. She asked me questions about how I knew when to change careers and why I had made the life choices I had.

As we sat there talking I saw her differently. “You look different,” I said. 

“Mom, I look different because I’m sick,” she replied as she opened her phone and looked at her image. Her eyes were puffy and her cheeks a little bit more sunken than normal. She looked older. But she felt older too.

I had been back in caretaking mode for the past few days — meeting my daughter’s every need like I did when she was a toddler. But as we sat here together, her explaining her thoughts on personality disorders, I saw her as an adult and I felt a pang of so much loss and so much gain at the same time. It was a Freaky Friday moment — I wanted it all — baby Lucia and grown Lucia.

This morning Lucia’s COVID test came back negative. When I opened the scan and saw the results I felt awash in relief. She has one more to go to make sure, but if all goes well she only has one more day of quarantine. Today I will bring her plates of healthy food and check in on her regularly. Tonight we’ll eat dinner outside again. And I’m assuming her second test will be negative too. Then we’ll be back to normal life.

This has been an incredibly stressful time. I haven’t enjoyed the worry or anxiety, but I’ve learned a few things about myself. I love being a mother and I realize through this experience that I miss being needed like I used to be. It feels so easy, so concrete — bring the fruit, clear the dishes, straighten the pillows. 

The sharp contrast to that — Lucia more adult than child during our dinner conversations — makes me realize how excited I am for more of that part of motherhood too. I loved being a mother to a little girl and I love being a mother to a young woman. They are vastly different roles, and both are incredibly fulfilling. During these last few days, I have had the good fortune to experience both of them at the same time. That is a gift. The COVID scare sucked, but I appreciate the experiences that came from it. I am so grateful that Lucia is going to be okay because I really do love being her mother.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Our Bodies are Changing

Today at Gather, the consignment shop where I work, a woman came in and spent a half-hour perusing the racks. She was very thorough, filing through all of the racks-- small, medium, and large. She diligently sorted through the sale rack. In the end, she took only one dress into the dressing room. It's a dress I've been eyeing for months-- a long silk multi-patterned v-neck with bell sleeves. It's a dress that would not suit my body, but I was excited for it to belong to someone.

The woman went into the dressing room and came out to where I was standing. She stood in the entryway to the dressing rooms shyly. "Does this work?" She asked me. She looked stunning. The fitted patchwork of patterns hung perfectly on her body.

"I can't tell," she said, "because my body is changing with...." Here she hesitated. "My body is changing as I get older," she said. Then she pointed to her belly, the part of her body that many women in midlife struggle with. It struck me that she didn't say menopause, though we both knew that this was what she was referring to.

"I get it," I said, "My body is changing too and you really look wonderful in that dress."

Another customer in the dressing room next to the woman's echoed my praises and the decision was made. We chatted as I rang up her purchase and she told me that she was buying this dress to wear to her son's wedding. The original wedding has been during COVID and she had not been able to go-- just the bride and groom did the ceremony in a national park on top of a mountain. Her daughter-in-law's dress had the same colors as the dress she was purchasing and she was excited about that.

We talked a bit more about how shopping for her has changed because her body is so different now. I get it. Most women my age get it. No matter what we do, how we eat, or exercise, changes happen. 

The problem is not that our bodies are changing, it is that the changes are unwelcome. Being young, maintaining that young body status quo is what is expected of us, regardless of our age. But that's crazy. We're done with our reproductive years. Our bodies are getting more comfortable, more relaxed, parallelling the path many of us are on in other areas of our lives. At this stage in life, we deserve a little relaxation and comfort.

Seeing this beautiful woman doubt herself so much made me angry. She was beautiful. The shape of her belly was beautiful. The texture of the skin on her neck was beautiful. All of it. She looked great in that dress she chose for her son's wedding. But what she saw was the subtle change in her body, a change that she probably has no control over, that she's watched happen over the last several years,  a change that she's probably tried to manage with no success.

Menopause happens. Women live twenty, thirty, sometimes forty or fifty years beyond their reproductive years. Our hormones change because we no longer have that biological function. And with these hormonal changes our bodies morph into something different. What I would love to see is a focus on how productive, innovative and dynamic women are during those twenty to fifty years of menopausal life.

Besides humans, Orcas are one of the only other species to experience menopause. Their function in their pods is to help support their families, to gather enough food to support the baby whales. Elephants, don't technically go through menopause but the elder females are an important part of the herd. Where grandmother elephants are present, the babies live longer than when there is no female elder.

I'm starting menopause now. I feel liberated from so much-- the pressure to be as accomplished as I once was, the expectation that I will play the same social roles that I once did. I spend my time doing things I enjoy and seeing people I love. And my stomach isn't flat. 

Our roles change through the course of our lives. The focus of our strengths, energies, capacities changes. And so do our bodies. That's just a small part of menopause. It would be great if we could focus more on the wholeness of menopause instead of just that tiny part. Yes, our bodies change during menopause, but we can still find the perfect dress.

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