Today was the first day back to work and school following the break, and absolutely no one felt ready. Actually, I thought that I was at peace with it and Kristin thought that it would be awful, but then today came and went and Kristin was celebrating the fact that she got through the day and it wasn’t terrible, and I on the other hand found myself really craving the freedom to sit in front of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle for hours (the one that I started several days ago and have yet to finish). The kids moaned about school but actually seemed fine when the time came (Jonah actually seemed very enthusiastic about a new student teacher in his class when he learned that they share a love for the Harry Potter books).
Around 2:30 this afternoon Jonah asked me to build a fire because he wanted to work on LEGOs in front of it, and Jude and Vivi curled up with their audiobooks and I could tell that we were all wishing we had a little more unstructured time left.
I’ve been feeling more grinchy than usual this season and I’m not really sure why; I love Christmas. Last year I remember feeling very on top of all of my prep: I had ample gift ideas for everyone, some of my shopping was done and my Christmas cards were ready to mail by Thanksgiving weekend. This year I feel very behind the curve despite having put up our tree on November 27th. I’ve felt guilty and overwhelmed by the things I have yet to do, and a part of me feels like there’s no good excuse. It’s not as if we’ve been busy going anywhere or doing anything. Kristin wisely pointed out that I also have absolutely no alone time, and that puts a serious crimp in my ability to think and plan and feel inspired. I put the lights up on the roofline in early November because it was warm out, but somehow it still feels like I’m moving through something viscous.
Thinking about everything I have yet to do has felt overwhelming rather than exciting. Vivienne has been dying to bake cookies and as we approached this weekend (when I’d promised to do it) it just felt like a messy chore on my to-do list rather than a fun seasonal tradition. Then I felt guilty and awful for feeling that way and the spiral deepened.
He’s been counting down the days for ages, all three of them have, maybe because a birthday feels so different than the every-day-is-the-sameness that COVID life brings. A week or two ago he said, “I’ll try to sleep in on my birthday so that you have time to set up.” Set up? Birthdays aren’t usually something that I go overboard about, even though emotionally they mean a great deal. Maybe it’s because I always find myself greiving a little, wishing they’d stay small for so much longer.
I take their pictures because I don’t want to forget all of the ways that they are that will soon become were. It happens so slowly that we hardly notice it, until I look at a photograph from a year ago and find myself shocked by what babies they were. So slowly and yet so very quickly. Time bends and warps in parenthood. I don’t know how he can possibly be eight.
When we got our stimulus check earlier in the year we casually said that maybe we’d use it to refresh the kitchen a little bit. Our kitchen has always been totally functional for us, lots of storage, a peninsula where the kids eat every meal, and one of my favorite features: a large open space between the peninsula and the coffee bar (aka the cabinets and counter on the far wall) that is often used as a dance floor.
But the finishes were never our style. The counters were laminate in two entirely different colors: cream for most of the countertops, dark green marble effect on two others (with a big seam between them where water from the sink splashed and caused them to warp).
2020 has clearly been the spookiest year even without embellishment, but the thought of Halloween not happening this year because of COVID was pretty crushing for me. Halloween was my favorite holiday growing up, and it could be argued that I’ve carried more traditions down for that holiday than for any others. For awhile it seemed like trick-or-treating might not happen, but I began costumes in earnest in September because I needed to hang onto something.
I think that this is week four of school but I’m not entirely sure. Everything is tough to juggle right now. Today I was in the middle of a work meeting when a friend came to pick Vivi up for an outdoor play date and I realized I had no idea where she was. I excused myself so that I could yell her name from the front yard like a crazy person and eventually realized that Kristin told her she could go to the playground. Kristin then had to leave her work meeting to go to the playground to find her. A few minutes later I heard Jonah’s therapist say (as Jonah carried the laptop through the house), “Do you think you could find somewhere quiet for us to talk?” so I excused myself from my meeting again to suggest a new location. When I returned to the meeting a colleague asked me, “so where’s Jude?” and I had to admit that I had no idea. They’re raising themselves, honestly.
So for my own sanity, because reflecting on good things is grounding, I’m returning to Five Things Right Now.
When we were on vacation in Clark Lake my sister taught me how to take beautiful long-exposure sparkler photos. Somehow I’d never quite figured it out despite the hundreds of sparklers we’ve waved through the night air. On that trip we also learned our school district’s official options for students and began to weigh the pros and cons of each. No matter which option we chose we would have a minimum of nine weeks of fully virtual school in our future, possibly more. Before the week was out I had a spark of inspiration for another long-exposure photo I wanted to take: I imagined myself sitting at the table in the mudroom where I work, this time with laptops and school supplies strewn about, with the kids moving about me as they might on any given day, blurs of motion and activity while I try (often in vain) to focus.
There’s an article that I absolutely love, I probably link to it almost annually, called The Myth of Quality Time. When I read it years ago it shifted the way that I think about family vacations, especially those with extended family. I used to worry a lot about whether I was making the most of our time together and more specifically whether it felt like “quality time.” That article helped me to see that brilliant moments of joy and connection weren’t something that I could facilitate through appropriate activity choices. It’s about showing up, spending time together.
Somehow it’s already mid-July. Time feels hazy and confusing, but even though our days and weeks don’t feel terribly different than they did in the spring, the march towards fall and the unpredictable school year that lies ahead is bringing a sort of dread. Somehow I’m simultaneously confident that we’ll be fine in the long run, while also expecting the logistics of managing online learning for three small children while working full time, possibly with no second adult at home (since they may send her back to the school building) to be a hellscape unlike anything I’ve juggled before.