Archive

Notes from Coronavirus lockdown

At least it’s not January anymore. Can we all agree that January is the worst? It’s cold, dark, and we don’t even have any holidays to distract us. Combine that with the omicron surge, and well, it’s been a bit of a downer.

(I will caveat that and say that summers are also hard for me as a mom. Last summer felt particularly long and hard as I waited for full-time school to resume for the first time in a year and a half. Summer school should be a regular thing, especially after all the school that kids missed out on during the pandemic.)

I was actually feeling pretty good for a good portion of January, but then something shifted and I felt exhausted and overwhelmed. What changed?

  1. I had been starting my mornings with 5 minutes of meditation and I stopped to accommodate some longer yoga sessions I’ve been doing in the mornings. So, I’ve been getting more exercise — but could the meditation really have been so significant that it’s altering my mood throughout the day? Something to consider.
  2. Getting fixated on negative self-talk and worry loops. For one thing, I allowed myself to get caught up in worries about my children’s current lack of participation in sports. Despite the fact that I don’t even like sports, I think I have a perception that a good mom has kids who are involved in sports and other extracurriculars. I have reminded myself that it seems valid at this time (due to covid) to not be participating in extracurriculars.
  3. Reality not meeting my expectations. I think for one thing, I had hoped that my kids getting fully vaccinated in December would lead to much more freedom from the pandemic for our family. Due to omicron, this has not been the case, although certainly I feel less concerned about the pandemic than I probably would otherwise. But really, my kids got vaccinated and then the pandemic got worse and things felt more restricted than they had been.

So, it’s been a hard month. Who knows what’s coming down the pike, but at least January is over and the omicron surge is receding. I’m looking forward to the days getting longer as we head closer to spring! I’m also trying to focus more on gratitude, as this helps me get unstuck from negative thinking patterns.

I am thankful for the sunny weekend we just had and some good hikes I’ve gotten in during the past month. I am thankful for the crocuses I’ve seen starting to pop up, and the walk I had with a friend yesterday. I’m thankful for my kids and the “date night” table the set for my husband and I last night, next to our fire pit.

What is something that you are looking forward to?

We’re entering our second pandemic winter, and like many people, I was hoping that pediatric vaccines would bring about a greater sense of normalcy. Spencer and I are boosted, our kids have had both doses, maybe we can start doing some more things — but wait! There’s a new covid variant that may be able to evade vaccines. Maybe you’ve heard?

It seems as if every time we get our hopes up that things are getting back to normal, we have bad news about a new covid wave. Over the summer my office had just a couple of weeks without a mask mandate before the crushing Delta wave caused the mask mandate to return.

I’ve been thinking a bit about optimism bias. Optimism bias is the overestimation of the likelihood of positive events happening to you, and the underestimation of potentially negative events. According to an article I just read from the BBC, about 80 percent of the global population has some degree of optimism bias.

And don’t we all believe that we’re just a bit more special than the average person? And if we have kids, aren’t they a bit smarter and more spectacular than other people’s kids? I remember visiting some friends who had a newborn daughter a few years ago, and the dad was telling us about his plans for her to become a tennis player. But don’t we all do that sort of thing with our kids? I bought Marie a dress up doctor coat when she was in preschool, and a T-shirt that said “Future President.” Last spring I deliberated carefully about where Paul should attend first grade, and we considered both French and Chinese Immersion schools before deciding to keep him at his Waldorf charter (emphasis on the arts, nature, and Spanish).

Optimism bias is one of the reasons why my job as an early childhood special education teacher is challenging. One of my colleagues has said, “No one writes in their baby book that they want their child to be receiving special education services. These families don’t want to need us in their lives.”

Optimism bias is also, I think, one of the reasons why the pandemic has been and continues to be so hard. It’s been so much worse than most of us could imagine. We keep imagining that it must be over, and yet — it is not.

Having an optimism bias makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. We’re hard-wired for hope. We need hope to survive. The payoff at the end has to be greater than the cost of survival.

And yet, optimism bias can be harmful too, if it leads us to take on too much risk. So for myself, I’m trying to be aware of my bias, and check my perceptions. In terms of the pandemic, I’m starting to believe that we might be in this boat a lot longer than we want to be. As I’ve read several times recently in the NY Times, right now is probably as good as it’s gonna get. Yep, I’m not telling my kids, but I think we’ll be dealing with this for several years to come. New variants, booster shots, and KN95 masks. Vaccine mandates and protests about vaccine mandates. Anti-vaxxers will continue getting sick with new variants and clog up our hospital system. Trump will declare himself president for life, which thanks to biomedical engineering, will last several decades until he escapes earth to start a space colony. Mark Zuckerberg will become our global ruler and we will all live in the meta-verse.

By the way, can you separate the fact from opinion in the paragraph above?

For now though, we just need to get through this one pandemic winter. I’m going to look for joy in little things this winter. Lavender steamers from the Hideaway Bakery. Bouldering at the rock climbing gym. Ted Lasso reruns. Brené Brown podcasts. Helping families teach their toddlers to talk. Family popcorn and movie nights. Taking Albus for walks. Curling up with a book and a blanket (Currently: Cloud Cuckoo Land). Trying ice skating with my kids. Connecting with friends in ways that feel safe.

From Ted Lasso:

Keeley: So the product you’d most like to promote is joy?
Dani Rojas: I like to give away joy for free!

How will you find joy this winter?

“It was early, which has always been my hour to begin looking at the world
and of course, even in the darkness, to begin listening into it,
especially under the pines where the owl lives and sometimes calls out
as I walk by, as he did on this morning. So many gifts!

What do they mean? In the marshes where the pink light was just arriving
the mink with his bristle tail was stalking the soft-eared mice,
and in the pines the cones were heavy, each one ordained to open.

Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.”
– Mary Oliver, from It was Early


P.S. Last year in December I published 11 Songs for an Apocalyptic Year. I’m not going to get around to a post like that this year, but I’d like to offer a few songs here that stood out to me this year for one reason or another.

Hello there, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything. I started a new full-time job, so life has been busy. In spite of continued challenges with the pandemic, this fall has been a thousand times better than last, because my kids are able to go to school.

Reopening schools in conjunction with the Delta surge has been a tricky thing. I know a number of parents who chose to keep their children in online school for the fall. On our part (and the majority of parents seem to agree), I knew that we simply could not continue with online school. We were fortunate to have the kids in a school that takes covid safety very seriously, with precautions that include a fully vaccinated staff, masking both indoors and outdoors, and air filtration that makes the quality of indoor air comparable to outdoor air. Additionally, we were able to sign our kids up for weekly covid testing. With those precautions, in addition to having all the adults in our family locally fully vaccinated, we felt safe sending the kids back.

Still, my daughter ended up recently having to quarantine after being identified as a close contact of a positive covid case in her class. In fact, about half her class was out as there were two unrelated covid cases at the same time. It was a bit stressful, but thankfully none of us ended up getting sick. I guess those safety precautions must be working well. The quarantine time ended up going by quickly — compared to what we’d already been through for the past few years— and now she is back at school.

Despite the fact that my kids have to wear masks all day, and are worried about the possibility of covid, they are still so much happier than they were without school. Their school is still new to them — my son is a first grader who spent most of kindergarten in remote learning, and my daughter is a fourth grader who just joined the school this fall. Both of them seem to have been making a lot of friends. Paul has been telling me he co-leads a recess “gang” of 5 boys who make booby traps on the playground. (I think it’s playful and safe — haven’t gotten any phone calls from the teacher yet!) My daughter has already been to a birthday party, been giving her phone number out to other friends and asking me to schedule playdates. We look forward to having them vaccinated so we can feel more comfortable with indoor playdates and hopefully someday having masking becoming less necessary.

Even with the return to school, my kids seem a bit stir crazy. Yesterday we set our clocks back an hour, and it was perhaps the first time the extra hour in the day was unwelcome. Our weekends still mostly consist of time spent at home with the four of us. This begs, the question, what were our weekends like before the pandemic? At this point, it’s honestly a bit hard to remember. I think we used to stay pretty busy — keeping my kids entertained seemed to reduce behavior challenges. I think our weekends used to be something like: kids’ soccer/basketball game, Girl Scouts activity, occasionally something extra special like going to the ballet, dinner with friends, chores, kid’s birthday party, grocery shopping, church. We have started going to church again, but most of the other fun activities haven’t been happening anymore, or not as often.

I’ve been thinking about the ways in which the pandemic has changed us. Yes it has been tragic and unnecessarily bad on many levels. There have been many traumas and losses. But my dad often used to quote a Spanish proverb to me that says, “No hay mal que por bien no venga.” This means, “there’s nothing bad from which good can not come.” I suppose the English way of saying it is that every cloud has a silver lining.

Does this saying apply in mass tragedies, such as the pandemic? It’s cliché and may not be the appropriate thing to say, and I don’t mean it to minimize anyone’s suffering. But I do believe that God can redeem the dark times in life — although it often doesn’t feel like it.

One of my daughter’s teachers recently had his house burn down. His family narrowly escaped in the middle of the night, and they lost most of their possessions. This seems like an apt metaphor for what it feels like to live in these times. Much has been destroyed, and those of us who’ve escaped with our lives are both grateful and traumatized.

What good can come then from these times? I believe with the loss of our social patterns we’ve been given the opportunity to rebuild. We can reimagine what office jobs look like, for example. Personally I enjoy the ability to now do most of my office work from home and have meetings via zoom. Working from home can be a much more efficient use of time — you don’t have to commute, and you can catch up on chores during your breaks. Depending on the age and needs of your children, they can be at home with you for some of your work hours. This is a huge benefit for parents, and I guarantee that this is the way of the future. Many employees will not be willing to go back to the office full-time. It allows home to be the most important place in your life, rather than the office, and I think that is a positive for a lot of us.

We can also choose to be less busy and have more downtime. Maybe our kids don’t have to be entertained constantly. (Except apparently mine do or they will drive me insane). Unstructured time for kids — time when they are not doing adult-directed activities or staring at screens — is supposed to be quite good for developing their executive functioning skills. (Read this article if you want to learn more about executive functioning and its connection with ADHD).

I do think one of the tragic outcomes of the pandemic at this time is the loss of empathy we’re experiencing as a society. I read a very sad Washington Post article yesterday where a woman wrote about losing both of her unvaccinated adult siblings from covid in a short time frame. She was angry that they had chosen not to be vaccinated and devastated by the loss of two people she deeply loved. In the comments section, many people callously shared that we should not feel sad for unvaccinated people when they die of covid.

Is it not sad when a smoker develops lung cancer, or someone dies of a drug overdose or suicide? I get it — I also have anger towards the unvaccinated for prolonging the pandemic and endangering the rest of us. But hating people will never get us to a better place. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only light can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

We need to focus on loving people. This is a basic tenet of every major religion. Those of us who proclaim to be people of faith, no matter where we fall on the political spectrum, need to get back to the basics of loving one another. And maybe that could be a hidden positive outcome of the pandemic — it’s stretching our ability to love people. The Dalai Lama has said that we should be thankful for our enemies because they provide us with an opportunity for spiritual growth. So…yay for opportunities? Loving people is much easier said than done, and this can be true even for the people you love most in life.

It’s a bit hard focusing on the positives when it feels like our house is still on fire and we’re watching it burn. Still, we have to maintain hope. I’ve been thinking of this quote, from Admiral James Stockdale, who was a prisoner of war for seven and a half years in Vietnam. He said,

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Admiral James Stockdale

Do you think there could be positive outcomes from this time for either yourself personally or for our society as a whole?

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