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Notes from Coronavirus lockdown

Hey there unvaccinated friends! I’m really trying to write this from my most generous place of empathy and kindness. Let’s start off with the basic assumption that we share a mutual desire for the pandemic to end. We both want to be done with lockdowns, which have been economically and psychologically devastating for lots of people. We also want to be done with masks, which can be uncomfortable and inconvenient. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough people vaccinated yet for the pandemic to end — and when hospital capacities become full, lockdowns become necessary to slow the spread of the virus.

With the hyper-transmissible delta variant, which may be able to spread in as quickly as 1 second of indoor close contact, we are heading straight toward another lockdown unless we a) resume widespread mask wearing and b) get more people vaccinated.

I know several friends who have told me they haven’t yet been vaccinated due to their concerns around auto-immune reactions. I’m sure many others don’t want to be vaccinated because they don’t want to be told what to do, or because they don’t trust the pharmaceutical industry and/or the government.

If you’re concerned about getting vaccinated for health reasons, please have a consultation appointment with a physician to discuss your concerns. Please seek the opinion of an actual medical professional and don’t base your medical decisions based on things you’ve read on Facebook. I can empathize with your concerns — I have an autoimmune disorder as well as a potentially life-threatening shellfish allergy. My body identifies many things as an allergic threat.

Still, I got the COVID vaccine as soon as I could. I wasn’t worried about an allergic reaction, because they monitor you after the vaccine for an allergic reaction — and I knew that in the extremely unlikely event I had an anaphylactic reaction their staff would be prepared and I would be fine. I did not have an allergic reaction, or much of a reaction at all to either of my two vaccine doses.

I really wanted to get vaccinated because I knew that it would help protect my family as well as bring us one step closer to ending the pandemic. For my sake and for the sake of all the other kids and parents out there, I want with every fiber of my being for the schools to stay open. I cannot even begin to tell you how devastating the effects of another round of school closures would be to my family personally and to countless other families out there. Children under age 12 are still unable to be vaccinated — and although kids in general haven’t gotten as sick from previous variants of COVID, we’re not sure yet how the delta variant will affect kids. Schools may not be able to stay open if community transmission is too high. And children may get sick and die from COVID because we as a community have not done a good enough job of protecting them.

Please consider getting vaccinated as way to protect yourself and the children in your community. If not — I respect your right to your own medical decisions. But please respect my right to keep my children safe, and understand that we may not be getting together until after my children have had the opportunity be vaccinated. We’re all in this together, and I wish you the best.

Love,

Ursula

I wish this post could be about something else. I wish I could stop talking and thinking about the pandemic, like so many other people seem to be doing right now. And I get it — the pandemic has felt long and difficult, and lots of people are ready to throw away their masks and move on regardless of vaccination status.

But I can’t stop talking about it. Why? Because of my kids.

I can’t stop talking about the pandemic because my children aren’t old enough to be vaccinated yet. I can’t stop talking about the pandemic because another child in my son’s kindergarten class was hospitalized last winter with a severe case of COVID. I can’t stop talking about the pandemic because the lockdown was too traumatic for me as a parent to just suddenly act like nothing has changed, and there continue to be super-contagious new variants spreading that put us at risk of future lockdowns if we don’t act proactively.

I want the pandemic to be over just as badly as anyone. In fact, I would argue that the reason I continue to be cautious and wear a mask in indoor public places (in addition to being fully vaccinated) is that I so very badly want the pandemic to end. If my running a marathon, or giving up ice cream permanently, or shaving my head would end the pandemic, I would do it.

Why?

To save lives. Yes, I’ve heard over and over that 99.5% of the time, it is only the unvaccinated who are at risk of severe illness and death. So why should I care about the lives of the unvaccinated, some may wonder? Because, my children are not yet old enough to be vaccinated. Because all children under age 12 are unvaccinated in the U.S. Because the vast majority of people around the world have not yet had the opportunity to be vaccinated.

As of July 18, 48.6 percent of the U.S. population was fully vaccinated, leaving the other 51.4 percent vulnerable. 26.3 percent of the world’s population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, with only 1 percent of people in low-income countries having received one dose.

Of course, running a marathon and shaving my head won’t stop the spread of COVID. Vaccination and mask-wearing are the two best tools we have towards ending this awful pandemic. Make no mistake — the decisions we make in this precarious moment will have lasting impact.

I’m reminded of the words of Jesus, recorded in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” I’m also thinking about the parable of the Good Samaritan, which Jesus told to expand upon the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

I have a sticker on my water bottle. It says:

“Love thy neighbor
Thy immigrant neighbor
Thy black neighbor
Thy atheist neighbor
Thy Muslim neighbor
Thy depressed neighbor
Thy Asian neighbor
Thy LGBTQIA neighbor
Thy disabled neighbor
Thy indigenous neighbor
Thy Jewish neighbor
Thy political neighbor
Thy elderly neighbor
Thy homeless neighbor
Thy Latino neighbor
Thy addicted neighbor
Thy millenial neighbor
Thy ______ neighbor”

And who is your neighbor?


From one of our nature walks this month.

Here’s what I’m into this month.

New Year’s Resolutions/Goals:

I set two personal goals for the start of the new year. 1) To start a movie discussion group. Check! We had our first meeting (via Zoom) a few weeks ago and we discussed the film Birdman. Birdman made for an interesting discussion but I can’t say I enjoyed watching the movie. It’s too dark, and life is bleak enough as it is right now. So we selected Lady Bird for our next meeting in February, since I’ve seen it before and knew it was funny. Apparently we’re going with a bird theme for the moment. Anyway, I’m trying to maintain sort of connections with friends and the movie group is my organized attempt at this for now.

My second goal is to run a 10K. I’m not planning to register for an actual race, just to train and run that distance on my own. Running has been an important coping mechanism for me throughout this pandemic, and I wanted to challenge myself to build endurance. So this month I started following a training schedule. I run 3 days a week, and do yoga and walk our dog on the other days. It’s going well and I’m hoping to be up to 6 miles by March.

Podcasts:

Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us has been my favorite podcast throughout the pandemic. Recently I’ve also been listening to Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard, he has a lot of interesting guests, although he swears too much and goes onto tangents that are sometimes off-color. Today I started The New York Times podcast Nice White Parents, about white parents and their role in shaping the inequities in public schools.

Books:

I just finished reading The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes about packhorse librarians in Appalachia during the 1930s. This book was a fun, lighthearted novel about friendship and romance, with some courtroom drama thrown in. I’ve also been slowly reading Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. This is an important read, but I have to go through it slowly, because the contents is quite intense. Next up may be Fast Girls: A Novel of the 1936 Olympic Team, by Elise Hooper. Someone left it in our little free library and it looks interesting.

TV:

I am on Season 2 of Schitt’s Creek. I appreciate that it’s silly and lighthearted and the episodes are only 20 minutes long. I’ve also watched the first two episodes of The Queen’s Gambit. I don’t know if I’ll keep watching The Queen’s Gambit even though it’s a good show — I just don’t enjoy watching stuff about addiction. And I could not believe that the orphanage was giving tranquilizers to children. So sad.

Cooking:

What better hobby to focus on than cooking during a cold and wet winter in quarantine? I’ve been trying some easy new recipes. Today I made a lentil and chard soup for lunch, and earlier in the week Spencer and I made a yummy leek and potato soup. This week my meal plans include chicken taco soup, lasagna, and perhaps a clam sauce pasta. Last week Paul and I made blueberry banana bread muffins, and I made stovetop popcorn for the first time (easy and nice to be able to control the amount of butter and salt). Thankfully, Spencer is a great cook so he treats us to a lot of good meals.

Nature Explorations:

We went to the beach on a beautiful sunny day last weekend and had a picnic. We’ve also gone for a family bike ride in the west Eugene wetlands where we watched a great blue heron and a golden eagle. And we also enjoy going on walks around the neighborhood.

Prayers:

That the schools would reopen! Pleeeeeaaaaasssse. That our country would experience healing and unity. “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This has been a year like none other in my lifetime. It’s hard to put all of the feelings and experiences of 2020 into words, so I’m picking a song list to express some of what this year has meant to me. If you’re a sensitive soul like me, you might want some tissues by your side while listening to these songs and let yourself have some good catharsis. But I’m also throwing in a couple of silly songs too, because we have to find things to laugh about.

  1. If the World was Ending by JP Saxe. “I know, you know, we know/You weren’t down for forever and it’s fine/I know, you know, we know/we weren’t meant for each other and it’s fine/but if the world was ending /you’d come over right?” This had to make the cut, since it’s a love song about the apocalypse, and it’s been getting a lot of radio play this year. This song was a hit last fall, and they didn’t even know what was about to hit us.
  2. How to Save a Life by The Fray. “Where did I go wrong/I lost a friend/Somewhere along in the bitterness/And I would have stayed up with you all night/Had I known how to save a life.” This is a song about suicide prevention, but it could also apply to other ways that lives are saved including the very real heroes in the healthcare industry who’ve been on the frontlines of this pandemic. Most of us have been taking extreme precautions this year in order to save lives — that’s what the lockdowns are for. Additionally this has been a really tough year for many of us in terms of mental health, and we all need to have and to be those lifesaving friends who would be willing to stay up all night with us if needed.
  3. Lockdown by Anderson Paak. “Sicker than COVID, how they did him on the ground/Speaking of COVID, is it still goin round?/Oh won’t you tell me bout the lootin, what’s that really all about/cause they throw away black lives like paper towels.” A song about the Black Lives Matter protests.
  4. Let Go by Frou Frou from the Garden State soundtrack. “There’s beauty in the breakdown.” We still found some joy and beauty this year, even though our world turned upside down and we lost normalcy.
  5. I See Fire by Ed Sheeran. This song is from the soundtrack to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Such a beautiful and sad song especially in light of the tragic month we had with wildfires in September. I will never forget Labor Day 2020, when my phone kept beeping with emergency alerts as the McKenzie Holiday Farm fire burned out of control and smoke filled our skies, giving Eugene/Springfield some of the most dangerous air quality in the world for more than a week. (Read my post from September 2020: The air outside is poisoned).
  6. Trampoline by SHAED. “Wait if I’m on fire/How am I so deep in love/When I dream of dying/I never feel so loved.” Another one for our wildfire season, and the general apocalyptic feeling of this whole year. But this is also a song about love — which is all we have left when everything else is lost.
  7. Together by King & Country. “If we fall, we will fall together. When we rise, we will rise together.” Literally a song written about COVID, and the music video was filmed in the artists’ homes during quarantine. Bringing hope to a very dark time.
  8. You’ll be back from Hamilton, performed by Jonathan Groff. It was fun getting introduced to Hamilton this year after it came out on Disney +. And Jonathan Groff’s performance of a sociopathic king was so spot on. I am including this song in honor of the political climate in this crazy election year.
  9. Man in Black by Johnny Cash. “I wear black for the poor and beaten down/living in the hopeless, hungry side of town/I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime/but is there because he’s a victim of the time.” I’m including this song in honor of my son Paul, who is a big Johnny Cash fan. This is a song about fighting for social justice, and this is fight that needs to keep on keeping on, especially during a time when so many people are suffering.
  10. Someday from Zombies. I mean, why not add zombies to the mix this year to make it into a zombie apocalypse? We discovered the Zombies musicals on Disney+ this fall and my kids loved them.
  11. Resilient by Rising Appalachia. “So what are we doing here?/What has been done?/What are you gonna do about it when the world comes undone?/My voice feels tiny and I’m sure so does yours/But put us all together/we make a mighty roar.”

Really there should be 12 songs on this list for each of the twelve months. What song would you nominate for number 12?

Here we are, eight months into the pandemic and Oregon is entering another lockdown. I’ve never been superstitious about Friday the 13th, but it strikes me that our schools originally shutdown on Friday March 13th and have not yet reopened. Then last week, on Friday November 13, Governor Brown announced another set of lockdowns for a “two week pause.” Seeing how the last Friday the 13th lockdown announcement turned out, I can only surmise that our two-week pause will turn into a two-month pause, easing up slowly as a vaccine begins to roll out for essential health care workers.

Either way, it doesn’t affect me much as I haven’t been participating in any of the activities that are now banned, such as eating at restaurants — or socializing with groups of more than 6 people. No, the only piece of lockdown that significantly affects me is the ongoing school closure. With COVID numbers rising exponentially, this is not likely to change anytime soon, obvi.

We are entering the worst phase of the pandemic, but I do feel like we’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m feeling optimistic that my children’s schools will reopen in a hybrid model this spring as vaccines become available. Perhaps by next fall, life will be more or less back to normal. Seeing this light at the end of the tunnel puts me in a much better psychological space than I was last spring.

The school closures have been the aspect of this pandemic that’s been most unbearable for me personally, but at this point we’re in a routine with online school and it’s going okay. Online school now provides us with a fair amount of structure, something we didn’t have from March 13 until school began in late September.

Something that’s been surprising for me is that I haven’t particularly struggled with feeling isolated during this pandemic. Probably because I have a very busy and chatty household! Emphasis on the chatty, my children literally will not stop talking. I also see my parents regularly as we swap Paul back-and-forth (which is a necessity for my survival). But I’m surprised at how connected I still feel to friends just through occasional texts, phone calls, zooms, and rare outdoor in-person visits.

Maybe another way to look at it is, I was already used to being isolated in my life as a mom. Now most people are experiencing some form of isolation, so I’m less alone now compared to everyone else. Either way though, quarantine doesn’t have to be a completely lonely time, and you can get a lot of connection with others just through a simple phone call.

Since my firstborn was a few months old, getting out of the house has been my number one survival strategy as a mom. I was constantly planning outings in an effort to avoid feeling depressed and isolated. Frankly, I was not cut out for being a stay-at-home mom. During the years I wasn’t working, I lamented my lack of career, and whenever I was working I lamented that my career-trajectory was not “successful” enough. Now I find my world has flipped, staying at home is now a survival strategy, and the chronic stress of trying to manage work and parenting during the pandemic has proved beyond my capacity to manage.

I look forward to the time when schools reopen and I can slowly piece my life back together. Hopefully many of us will have grown stronger and gotten to know ourselves better through this process. For one, I know that I need to be pursuing my own goals. Living my life in service to my family is pretty much a necessity for this season, but in the long term I need to balance this with my own life.

“The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of its parents.” — Carl Jung

I have some big career decisions to think about, like whether or not to pursue a return to teaching. And if I don’t want to return to teaching, what are my long-term goals? And what are my goals with writing? Am I content with just writing this blog where I process my thoughts for a small audience of friends and family? Or do I actually want to pursue writing for a larger audience?

Meanwhile, we just need to survive this winter. I think one of our regular activities during semi-decent weather will be family soccer practice. We took the kids yesterday morning to practice soccer on a turf field near our house, and Paul invented the “owl swoop” wherein he runs and dribbles in a large arc before swooping into make a goal.

We also might buy a fire pit for some socially distant outdoor gatherings. And I’m reading Lord of the Rings aloud to Marie. What are your plans to get through this hardest of winters?

This has been a dark year, and with the switch to daylight savings time, we now find ourselves rapidly losing daylight. So our physical environment now matches the psychological and spiritual darkness we’ve been experiencing these many months. Now is the time to increase my Vitamin D intake, and find the happy light I purchased on Amazon last winter. The lack of light can have a big impact on mood, and this year it’s already hard enough to have a positive outlook.

I think it’s important to be able to name the things we’ve lost and grieve them. My children have lost 5 months of in-person school and counting. This includes my son’s last year with his preschool friends, and the beginning of kindergarten. We’ve lost birthday parties, playdates, sports, visits with relatives. My favorite special occasion restaurant in Eugene went out of business. I’ve had to take two months of leave from my job to help manage things at home.

But — I’m continuing to feel cautiously optimistic about the future. For all that’s been lost during this pandemic, it’s given me an opportunity to focus on the things I still have. Much has been lost, but perhaps some things have also been gained.

I’ve managed to fill almost an entire journal with gratitude lists since March, in an attempt to stay focused on the positive.

In July, my family and I took a weekend trip to Central Oregon to stay at a lakeside cabin. We’d been there a few years before, and had fun, but this time I was struck by just how beautiful the surroundings were. I hadn’t realized how beautiful it was the first time I’d visited — but after months of quarantine, it seemed spectacular.

As I write this, my daughter is doing online school at the kitchen table, and I’m thankful for how far we’ve come. My daughter and I both hated the online school experience in the spring — it was just a horrible experience for our family. Now I’m just filled with gratitude that it’s actually working for us on so many levels. I have the ability to be at home with her to help support and supervise. The district provided her with an iPad to do her work on so she has her own device. She’s actually learning and has in fact made fantastic progress in her reading since schools closed in March, and seems to be above grade level in math. Online school is even fulfilling some of her social needs, as they’re providing lots of quick opportunities for chatting.

I’m thankful for the opportunity I have right now to take leave from my job. I’d been trying to just keep going and try to make things work, and suddenly a few weeks ago I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore. I was getting chronic headaches, the kids were watching way too much TV, Paul has been sneaking sweets everytime I turn my back, and my house looked like a disaster zone. So I made a plan with my work to take November and December off (with partial pay). On my first official day off and I spent most of the day doing chores. I tackled the bathroom over the weekend, and am now working on a deep clean of the kids bedrooms (not a project for the faint of heart). I could devote the bulk of my time off to housework, but I’m hoping to be mindful of also taking time for myself for things I enjoy like exercise and writing.

As for my candy-sneaking son, he’s been spending a lot of time with Grandma, which is another thing I’m thankful for. I’m also thankful that he is enrolled in a low-tech, play-based kindergarten program. He only has three 15-minute Zoom meetings per week, compared to my 3rd grader, who spends about 5 hours per day completing schoolwork on her iPad. I think he’s a bit bored and understimulated, but I’m trying to make up for that in other ways. The kids are taking a PE class two afternoons a week this month, so hopefully that will be a positive experience for both of them. I’ve also discovered that Paul loves crafts! Part of his kindergarten curriculum involves a weekly sewing craft, and it is his favorite part of kindergarten. This month I also purchased a package of 16 craft projects for the month from our local children’s museum, and each of my kids will get to do eight of them. Paul and I had fun making a toy watch for daylight savings time and various other crafts over the past two weeks.

Yesterday was my birthday, and to kick off the day Spencer made me a special breakfast — cornmeal biscuits with shiitake mushroom gravy, topped with fried eggs. This was in remembrance of my favorite breakfast place in Portland, where we lived during our twenties. I had a sweet day with my family, and challenged myself to a long (for me) run of 3.5 miles. I also got some new books that I’m super excited to dig into. Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson, The Rosie Result by Graeme Simsion (the end of a hilarious trilogy), and The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow (loved her last book), and Freckled: A Memoir of Growing Up Wild in Hawaii by TW Neal. Dark and stormy days ahead means the perfect time for curling up with some good books.

Are you able to find gratitude in these dark times?

“People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself, and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness.” — Henri Nouwen

Bringing light to the darkness on a lantern walk this week. Lantern walks are part of the traditional celebration of the feast of St. Martin (Martinmas), and a precursor to modern-day jack-o-lanterns. We made lanterns in a Zoom meeting with my son’s kinder class. And — I learned that Martinmas happens on my birthday!

I’m still struggling to come to terms with the events of this year. Seven months into this pandemic and both of my kids being unable to attend school while I work from home, plus a major wildfire crisis in September which caused us to be literally stuck inside our home for 10 days — all of this has left me feeling completely wrung out and depleted emotionally, mentally, and physically. My recovery — and I suspect, our collective recovery — will be a long time coming.

I’ve been listening to Brené Brown’s podcast and she likens trying to rebuild our lives now a bit to trying to fix your house while the hurricane is still shattering the glass on your windowpanes. Meaning, of course, the storm has not passed. I’m mentally preparing to pretty much hunker down for the remainder of fall and winter, as Dr. Fauci has recommended.

Here are some things I’m hoping will help see me through this fall and winter.

  • Sweating. This I’ve found to be crucial in getting through the pandemic so far in terms of my emotion regulation. I prefer to get most of my exercise by running and hiking outside, which is more challenging in the rainy season. But thankfully it’s already part of my routine — I’ve been running fairly consistently year-round for the past two years. I have run in rain, I have run in snow, I have run in hail, I have run in fleece pants, I have run in shorts. You get the picture. When I can’t get outside, I like doing yoga along with YouTube videos.
  • Green juice (and other nutritious food). I’ve been making my own green juice in the mornings for the past week. I figured this should help my body detoxify from the effects of the long-term exposure to hazardous air we experienced in September. Moving forward, I’m assuming the better I nourish my body, the better I’ll feel both physically and mentally. I blend 1 banana, 1 rib of celery, 1 small apple, 1-2 leaves of kale, and a piece of ginger with water and ice cubes. Sometimes I add lemon juice also.
  • Lean in to support. I’m trying to start an online support group with some other parents that I know. Relationships are more important now than ever, even if health requirements might mean we can only see each other outdoors with masks, or online via video chat. I’m also trying to use this time to spend quality time with my family (haha — because we’re always together!) and I have some friends I regularly connect with. I am not afraid to be an initiator and a supporter when it comes to friendships — but I’m trying to be mindful right now of focusing on relationships that are reciprocal. I have very limited energy to invest and I need the people in my life to want to be there. I’ve loved meeting friends for walks these past few months and I hope that will continue (I’m ready with my rainproof hiking boots and jacket).
  • Find some good books to read. Actually, I haven’t even had the mental focus and ability to read lately — which is super unusual for me. Anyone have any fun book suggestions? I just finished reading The 10,000 Doors of January to Marie and I need to pick another fun read aloud book.
  • Have some screen-free fun. Ugh, I am so bad at fun even in the best of times! My Enneagram 3 overachiever mentality doesn’t leave a lot of room for fun (for myself — I’ve always tried to plan lots of fun activities for my kids to keep them entertained). What does fun even look like now that we’re so limited in seeing people or going places? I think crafting may start to become a thing for us (Marie is becoming quite the artist, see photo below). Here’s a few fun things I have planned for my family in the coming weeks: kids finishing up soccer season, secret Halloween surprises including a scavenger hunt around town, and visiting the pumpkin patch. In November we’ll find some safe ways to celebrate my birthday and Thanksgiving.
Marie’s artistic rendering of the VP debate last week. I was super impressed with both the art and the fact that she sat through the whole debate at age 8.
  • Practicing gratitude. I have filled up almost an entire journal with gratitude lists since March. It definitely improves my perspective to keep writing down things I’m thankful for. And I often write down funny things that Paul says.
  • Laughter. I really like to use humor as a coping strategy. Sometimes life is just so hard and weird that it’s funny. This SNL zoom skit gave me one of the best laughs I’ve had in the past 7 months.

What about you? What are you doing for fun these days? Have you had any good laughs, and do you have any good book recommendations?

With love,

Ursula

In spite of all the challenges of parenting during a pandemic while schools are closed, I was feeling hopeful about the future during my last post. However, the past week has been extraordinarily difficult. As wildfires rage throughout Oregon, including one only about 25 miles east of Eugene, my community has been experiencing some of the most dangerous air quality in the world. At the beginning of the pandemic, my 90-year-old grandmother, who has dementia and short-term memory loss, told me over Facetime that “the air outside is poisoned,” and now her words are accurate.

Where I live, in Eugene, our air quality has been literally off the charts at above a 300 rating for the past week. It has been unsafe to go outdoors since Labor Day. This situation was manageable for a few days. We did Cosmic Kids yoga. Spencer spent hours playing Monopoly with Marie. We watched some fun Disney movies, like The Sword in the Stone, and the live action versions of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast.

But now, as the National Weather Service keeps prolonging our air quality emergency, it’s difficult to maintain a hopeful attitude. This morning, Paul started wheezing during a tantrum, and I worried that poor air quality inside our house might be impacting him.

In addition to the poisoned air we’re trying not to breathe, we’re all deeply saddened by the impact of the wildfires on those who have been evacuated or lost homes — which includes people all around the state. It seems as though everyone knows someone who had to evacuate their home, and my mom had conversations with multiple friends and relatives around the state who were under an evacuation preparation warning. The wildfire situation in our state is an unprecedented emergency, and coupled with the COVID pandemic it just feels like its too much to bear. The McKenzie Fire near Springfield isn’t expected to be contained until late October, so it’s possible that air quality may continue to be poor for some time.

Oh, and school was expected to start this week — ahem, “school,” because online school is not quite the same thing. But it’s been delayed another week. As I’ve been learning more about the expectations around online school, I’ve been feeling discouraged by the amount of things that families are required to keep track of. For example, Paul will have a 15-minute Zoom meeting with a small group three days a week. He will also have weekly home visits with a teacher. On another day, he will have a weekly phone check-in with his teacher. There are also two additional Zoom tutorials that parents are required to participate in. This is all in addition to any schoolwork that he is expected to do. And this is just for my kindergartener — last spring I spent hours with Marie every day trying to get her to complete assignments for her second grade class.

So, what can we do expect muddle through this mess, and try to hold our breath until this is over. Because in 2020, we all can’t breathe.

Fall has always been my favorite season, so I can’t help feeling a bit hopeful and optimistic at the moment. Sure, the pandemic is not going to be resolved soon, and both of my kids will be doing school entirely remotely for the time being. True, trick-or-treating won’t be happening this year. Yes, the Pac-12 canceled football (genuinely excited because it means I don’t have to watch football this year!).

These past 6 months have been really hard, and I know things will continue being hard for awhile. But I’m still looking forward to fall because:

  • My daughter will be starting consistent childcare. After a DIFFICULT spring at home (which led me to find a therapist), my daughter spent several weeks at daycamps this summer. Camp proved to be a lifesaver for our family — greatly improving my daughter’s attitude and my own. When I learned that our schools would be closed for fall, I decided that childcare for my daughter was a must. We are very fortunate to have the ability to pay for childcare, even if only for one of our children. I also feel fortunate to have found a childcare spot when there are not many options available in our community. Her childcare will include quiet time and support with online schoolwork, as well as enrichment activities including art and yoga. My heart goes out to all the other families who are struggling through this time, and I’m hoping and praying that they can find solutions that work for them.
  • My son will be starting kindergarten (remotely) at a Waldorf-inspired charter school. I’m super excited about this because they recognize that it is not developmentally appropriate for kindergarteners to learn online. (This should be obvious to anyone who has spent time around 5 and 6-year-olds, but apparently it is not). They are required to offer daily Zoom sessions, but we can opt out of those if he’s not interested, and most of their other work will be offline. Again, we’re very fortunate to have gotten picked out of the lottery for a spot at this school, and fortunate that I applied for this school last winter before we really knew what was coming down the pike. I’m also very fortunate that my mom is willing and able to support him with his remote learning so that I can continue working part-time.
  • We have a new puppy! Yes, and his name is Albus Dumbledore. In my mind, it feels like it was a spontaneous decision, but in reality, we’ve been talking about getting a dog for a few years. I was trying to work through my pros and cons list (cons: fleas, poop/pee clean up, cost, etc), and didn’t feel quite convinced, but Marie and Spencer were really advocating for a dog — so I figured we might as well go for it. He is a 10-week-old charcoal lab. He seems to be helping us all feel more positive in general, so I think it was a good decision. Therapy pup!
  • Fall colors and weather. I love fall when it is still sunny but not as hot as summer. And the colorful falling leaves are great. A good season for hiking.
  • Halloween. My kids get super excited about Halloween, and there are lots of activities that go along with it. Although I’m sure we won’t be trick-or-treating, we can still get costumes, carve pumpkins, put up decorations, and maybe have a little Halloween party with my parents.
  • A simpler schedule than my normal fall. One of the positives of this pandemic for me has been cutting back on some activities. It’s actually nice to have eliminated extracurriculars for the season. In pre-pandemic life, Marie played sports several times a week, and participated in Girl Scouts, and we also went to church weekly (and sometimes had extra church activities). This fall, our only planned extracurricular is a weekly soccer practice for each child.
Our new charcoal lab puppy, Albus Dumbledore the Second.

I’m working on trying to let go of those things I can’t control (most things), and just focus on what I can control (taking deep breaths). I also want to focus on having a more positive outlook. I will choose to be positive and focus on love and joy in this difficult season. But I will also continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing because I want to keep my family and my community safe.

P.S. What do you miss most about your life before the pandemic? Is there anything you thought you would miss and are surprised to find that you don’t?

This summer, the constant background noise of my mind has been the semi-panicked thought loop of, “The schools have to reopen this fall. I cannot have a repeat of the spring.”

Unfortunately for me, this past week our school district made the announcement that fall will be entirely online. I am in a sad/mad/fearful/confused state about this decision. I am angry at the challenges this poses to my family as well as the wide-reaching inequities this exposes — families that can pay for childcare or private tutors will do so. Other families will be left scrambling and be forced to leave kids mostly unsupervised. In many cases, moms will be the ones figuring out how to juggle childcare and homeschooling responsibilities with work, while dads are able to continue working mostly undisturbed.

Children will fall behind academically, but even more seriously, they will be at higher risk for abuse and neglect as support for families reaches an all-time low. Additionally, many kids rely on eating free breakfast and lunch at school 5 days a week. Even when schools continue to provide free meals, families may lack the transportation to come pick up food.

I do take the risks of COVID very seriously, and realize that there is no perfect solution. We can’t avoid risk entirely but we need to minimize it. I adopted mask-wearing in March and wish that everyone would have done so. As one article I recently read stated, “this isn’t rocket science.” We know what we need to do.

I wish so much that I could change the past, that I could wave a wand and our nation could have developed a better response to COVID that would now allow local schools to safely reopen. I wish so much that I could change other people’s choices in the present, that everyone would comply perfectly with mask-wearing and social-distancing so that this nightmare could be over. I cannot change either of those things. I can only control my own response (and sometimes even that seems difficult).

So how will my family get through this next season of remote learning? I’m not sure. Like, really unsure, and because of this, I’ve been praying for help. It’s one of the most basic prayers, “God if you’re listening, please help.” Save our ship.

Since I’ve been praying directly for help more, a few things have arisen. I put my daughter on the list for a fall childcare option that sounds functional, and made plans for my mom to babysit/homeschool my 5-year-old son. I have had a couple of outdoor meet-ups with friends, and just seeing friends in real life made me feel better. A retired K-3 teacher offered to help me with tutoring. My supervisor at work told me they’re looking into ways to support staff with children under age 10.

There aren’t many bright sides to this pandemic, but one idea that’s been resonating with me lately is the Celtic idea of “thin places” — places where the veil between the spiritual and physical world is thin. These are places where we may feel the presence of the divine, or perhaps experience the miraculous.

I’ve been in thin places a few times, or perhaps I should clarify, places that were thin to me. In the trailer where I taught fourth grade at a tiny mission school in northeast Portland, praying with my students daily about their little and big concerns. On a study abroad trip to West Africa, the Holy Spirit seemed almost as present as the smell of diesel fuel permeating the air. Hiking through Mt. Pisgah Arboretum with my family.

Could the idea of thin places also apply to times in our lives, and could this season become one of them for me? Could it for you? I believe that sometimes, when we come to the end of our rope, when our resources are tapped out and we can’t go any farther on our own strength — those are the times when God is able to work most powerfully in our lives.

I certainly feel thinned out, with so much of my sense of control and normalcy missing. What remains when we lose our illusions of control?

Small moments. Great blue herons fishing in the river. Hummingbirds in my backyard. My son giggling. Reading to my daughter before bed. Knowing that I still enjoy spending time with my husband after 16 years together.

Faith, hope, and love.

heron

A magical moment watching a great blue heron fish at Alton Baker Park this spring.