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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?


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?

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