Friday, September 18, 2020

A Relocation and a Reset

Holy shit, 2020.  

My last post was in April, and it was hopeful.  I take that back - not hopeful, but bittersweet.  Writing about the things that I miss and yearning for normalcy again.  Dreaming about a return to my gym and throwing a massive party and going to concerts.  At that point, in April, if you would have told me where I would be today, I never would have believed you.  

I don't yearn for those things so much anymore, I guess because they feel so out of reach.  Concerts?  Large parties?  Crowded indoor group fitness classes?  I don't even consider it, perhaps because its too painful.  I've learned in the past few months not to think too much beyond the short term, and those things are so far off that it seems futile to consider them.  So I don't.  

Instead, over the past months, I've been surviving on a week to week basis.  And in retrospect, my time in quarantine wasn't half bad.  In April, I formed a "quaranteam" with two other families, and we all saw each other multiple times a week.  We had a lot of fun, actually.  We played trivial pursuit and made cocktails and ended the night with dance fests.  In May, we rented a house on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and had what felt like a legitimate vacation.  

At the end of June, we relocated to our home in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, and it was a godsend.  The air was clean, the vistas were beautiful, and it felt as close to normal as possible for these times.  Absent constant mask wearing, the summer felt like many other summers - we had visitors and ate oysters and went to the beach and dined outdoors.  The covid numbers remained extreme low (there have only been 7 cases of covid in Wellfleet since the pandemic began).  It was a perfect escape, and escape it was.  Because looming in my mind all summer was a return to what - normal?  Who knew what we would be returning to?  I started the summer hopeful that the fall would look similar to our regular routine, with some adjustments of course.  Kids in school, with masks.  Zoom gym classes.  Socially distant get togethers.  Something, anything, better than the spring.  Because as much "fun" as I've managed to have since March, it wasn't all butterflies and rainbows. 

Home schooling could not have been worse.  I decided to retire my youngest from kindergarten in April, and he spent much of the rest of the school year on screens while I tended to my older ones.  My middle child ghosted school for a week, unbeknownst to me until I received an email from the teacher.  My oldest one had a series of meltdowns and panic attacks, and what was I to tell him?  Sitting on a computer for 6+ hours a day alone in your room in 5th grade is not okay.  And when he would demand to know when things would be normal again, I had no answer for him.  

In April, our dog Cous died.  Those that know me know that she was a constant thorn in my side, but I loved her all the same.  She had been declining for months, but it was still a shock when it became apparent that we had to put her down.  Because of covid, only one person could accompany her to the vet, and that person was me.  It was a surreal, spiritual, eye opening, devastating experience watching her die in my arms.  To be alive one second and dead the next - how does that happen?  I had a brief existential crisis, which was only partially saved by getting a puppy 10 days later, that we had reserved at the beginning of quarantine before Cous's health had declined.

Our last picture together - April 26, 2020.  (And yes I had pink hair)

In June, before we left for Cape Cod, the world started opening up a bit more.  And with that came some crippling anxiety.  What's okay to do?  What's not?  Where is the fine line between paranoia and appropriate caution?  I really grappled with how to live, and sometimes, my choices left me with regret and anxiety and the feeling that my throat was scratchy and I must have contracted covid.  My parents canceled their trips to the Cape, and still remain in isolation - we haven't seen them since December.  My best friend aborted her trip to visit us after her entire family actually contracted covid (they are all fine).  I broke my big toe mid-summer and stopped working out.  And then, in mid- August, our school made the announcement that they would not be going back for in person instruction in September.  

This was a gut punch, and a reminder that the world was still turned upside down, even if I was living in denial in the impervious enclave of Wellfleet.  And even though I had thought about it several times during the summer, that day I first said it out loud to my husband - that maybe we should relocate here, where the elementary school is going back full time in person - it seemed surreal.  For how long?  For the fall?  For the year?  Who knows.  Like I said, I think in short terms now.  

It seemed like a crazy proposal.  Because for a long time, my husband and I have been on a pretty predictable course of life.  He works, I pick the kids up from school, we take scheduled vacations according to the school calendar, we have a regular Saturday night babysitter - rinse and repeat.  A couple of years ago, if you would have asked me where I would be in a year, I could have told you with certainty, and I would have been right.  So to do something new again - enter an unknown, uncomfortable, uncertain scenario?  I haven't done that in a long, long time.  

But here we are.  In Wellfleet.  Two of my kids started at the local elementary school two days ago. My older one is in the room next to me as I type, doing distance learning.  And I'm still in a bit of shock.  

I tried to frame coming here as being an adventure, and in a way, it is.  Relocating to a small town where we know no one?  I mean, it's definitely different!  The Wellfleet off season is not the Wellfleet I know from the summer.  The K-5 elementary school has 86 students (and only one class per grade).  The restaurants are starting to close down.  The local population in the winter is approximately 3000 people.  It's going to get cold.  And dark.  And we are here alone - no family, no friends (as of yet).  

But I think I need this.  We need this.  

Over the past six months, even though we've been having our fair share of fun, it was mostly out of the need to distract from reality.  There was a lot of self medicating going on, and I will fully admit I've been drinking and eating way too much.  My kids have been on screens more hours than I'm willing to share, and we've eaten take out for almost every meal.  Bed times became non-existent.  My husband and I lost each other a bit.  My life became a series of diversions.  What can I do to forget what is really going on?  I became quite good at this, if I do say so myself.

But here in Wellfleet, in the off season, there are much fewer distractions.  No friends, no trips, very few take out options (and soon to be none).   I'm on day 5 of a Whole 30 and have cut out alcohol.  I'm back to exercising.  I've started cooking. Here I am writing another blog post!  And for the first time since March 13, we are getting into a routine.  I get to drop two of my kids off at school, and pick them up.  My older son follows a similar schedule, and around 3pm, when we all regroup, the kids get one hour to be on a screen and that's it.  We eat at home.  We go to bed.  And every night, I'm filled with gratitude that we are all healthy, that we are all together, and that we are so fortunate to have the options we have.  

I'm thankful for this reset.

When will we go back "home"?  When will things be "normal"?  I don't know.  Nobody does.  I've tried to embrace and lean into the uncertainty, because that's what 2020 is about.  Uncertainty, anxiety, angst, dread, and above all, perserverance.  Here's to rolling with the punches and facing it head on, for who knows how long.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Things I Miss

I miss the gym, especially the camaraderie of doing the group fitness classes.  Of sweating and seeing other people sweat and feeling like a rockstar for a brief moment when the class is done.  I miss running on a treadmill and people watching and seeing my "gym" friends - people that hadn't necessarily crossed over into social friends.  When this all ends, I'm going to make that happen.

I miss driving.  Obviously I can still drive, but there isn't really anywhere to go except the grocery store.  I miss driving downtown to do my mediations - with traffic, it was usually a 45 minute drive.  I would listen to music the whole time and sing loudly and zone out and think about things.  I miss waiting in the carpool line at school - that 25 minute forced solo time where I would play on my phone or call a friend or listen to more music.  If I got there early enough, I could position myself at the front of the line and spy on the kids playing on the playground, occasionally finding one of my own children.  I loved getting that brief secret view into their lives, when they didn't know I was watching.

I miss concerts.  A few weeks before lockdown, I went to a White Ford Bronco show - it's a DC based band that plays 90's music.  I went with a group of 6 or so, three of my best friends and two of my oldest friends and my sister.  I knew every single word to every song.  When they played "I Would Walk 500 Miles" by the Proclaimers, I jumped up and down and legit peed my pants.  It was a result of too much to drink and a lack of bladder control after birthing three children.  The next day we all laughed about it on a group text chain and made plans to go to another show in April, that wasn't to be.

I miss shuffling my kids to all of their various activities.  I would often complain about our Saturdays, how my husband and I would have to divide and conquer and even at times get a babysitter to get the kids to where they needed to be - band performances and basketball games and soccer games and rock climbing.  The truth is though, I liked being busy.  I liked watching my kids have fun with their friends.  I liked catching up with the other parents.  I liked feeling like part of a community.

I miss childcare.  Specifically, I miss Michele - I call her a babysitter, but really she's a member of our family.  She has been watching my kids since Colin was born, six and a half years ago, and my kids ask for her daily.  I joke at times that they like her better than me, and perhaps they do - she engages with them in a way that I don't often do myself- playing board games with them, getting on the floor with them, really being present.  Way back when I started this blog, I wrote about Betty, my childhood nanny who I still love and adore.  I always wanted to find a "Betty" for my kids, and somehow, by some miracle, I did.  I know Michele will be in our lives for the long haul.  But in the meantime, the kids miss her desperately.  So do I.

I miss plans.  People that know me often joke that I'm always over scheduled - I have weekend plans filled up for months out.  But that's just how I roll - I love having things to look forward to and having game nights and making hard to get dinner reservations and planning trips.  Oh, how I love planning trips.  We were supposed to be in Japan at the end of March - a trip that had been in the works for years.  We were supposed to go to Cape Cod for the summer.  We were supposed to go to Spain (sans kids) in October.  Maybe some of these trips will happen?  I don't know.  I'm not counting on it.

I miss my innocence.  On March 11, three friends and I took an Amtrak up to Manhattan to see the taping of a podcast with Andy Borowitz and Alec Baldwin.  About two hours into the trip, the show was cancelled.  We were annoyed, but still determined to have a fun night, and we did.  We went to dinner and a piano bar and stayed up way too late, making for a painful early morning train back to DC the next day.  On the morning of March 13, I went to yoga.  A few hours later, I got an email that my kids' school would be closed the following two weeks.  The shit storm had begun.

I miss my kids' innocence.  For the first couple of weeks, I think the kids looked at this as spring break.  They sat on their iPads and watched a bunch of TV and seemed to be oblivious to the world collapsing outside of our house.  But then distance learning started, and they realized something was different.  And wrong.  And the tears started.  The questions.  The anxiety.  There is no doubt that this global event will have an impact on their lives, and there's not much I can do about that. And I hate that.  I hate it so much.

I miss my friends.  I miss them so much it hurts.  I know how lucky I am to be with my family right now, to have them here and healthy and be safe.  But it's not enough.  I never realized how much I rely on my friends for happiness until now.  And maybe that's not healthy?  Who knows. But I want to see my friends and embrace them so tight and run away somewhere for a weekend.  I want to get drunk and reminisce and cry happy tears that this is all over.  I've been a zoom slut as of late, jumping from zoom to zoom (and once again, over scheduling myself), and that helps.  But it's not enough.  There's something about physical presence - some energy that you get from others - that just doesn't translate through a computer screen.

When this is over, I want to throw a party.  A huge party.  In our backyard.  With a DJ and catering and the whole bit.  I want all of my favorite people to be there.  I want to fly people in.  I want to celebrate freedom of movement and people being together in the same space.  I want to grab everyone and hug them a little longer than would otherwise be socially acceptable.

I want to dance and pee my pants.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Two Rash Decisions

When this all went down a few weeks ago, there was only one thing I was looking forward to, and that was relocating to our home in Wellfleet, Cape Cod to ride this thing out.  If the kids didn't have school, and my husband and I didn't have to go into an office, why the hell not?  Sure, it's cold up there now, and pretty much everything is closed, but it's just so beautiful there that none of that would have mattered.  There are hikes to be had and beaches to walk and bike trails aplenty.  I have gone there my whole life, and as I wrote about four or so years ago, it truly is my "happy place."  Buying a home there a couple of years ago was a dream come true, and here we are, in this crazy, scary time, and we could make use of it.

But it wasn't to be.  As the news came flooding in each day, it became clear that relocating to a small town with limited resources two hours away from a major hospital might not be the best thing. And, I also didn't want to be met with neighbors carrying pitchforks.  For good reason, local residents in beach towns are urging second home owners, as well as tourists, to stay away.

This realization hit me Saturday morning, and a cloud of depression overtook me.  If we couldn't go to Cape Cod, what was there to look forward to?

Rash Decision #1- Get a Puppy

I know, I know.  Getting a new dog should not be a rash decision.  There should be extensive research on breed and breeders, and you should give it some time to really think it over.  You should have family meetings about it and perhaps even seek out some expert advice on how it would affect your existing dog.  (Yes, Cous Cous is still alive.  Can you believe it???)

Around 10am on Saturday morning I began researching dogs, and by 1pm that day we had sent in a deposit.  Our male labradoodle puppy, whom we hope to name Tater Tot (subject to the kids' approval), will come home with us on May 9 at the age of 8 weeks old.

I actually don't even know which one is ours.

My husband was somewhat onboard.  My kids were overall indifferent.  After I pled with all of them that I needed this for my sanity, they acquiesced.  And yes, I know how much work a puppy is, and yes I know he will be waking me up at night, and yes I know that this will just complicate my already (normally) hectic, chaotic life, BUT JUST LET ME MAKE A RASH DECISION AND BE EXCITED ABOUT IT.

I am so excited for this puppy.  And having something to be excited for in the short term is huge right now.  HUGE.  I've been in a better mood ever since.

Rash Decision #2 - Order an Inflatable Hot Tub

The excitement about the puppy definitely brought some joy, but I still have to wait a whole 40 days for him.  So yesterday, after receiving a picture from a college friend of mine of a similar purchase, I threw some money at the problem and ordered an inflatable hot tub.  It's going to look like this:

It's ugly.  SO SO ugly.  And God knows how it works and how many rashes or infections we will acquire from it.  BUT I DON'T CARE.  I actually really want to put it in the front yard.  Because how funny would that be?  With all these people taking walks every night, and they walk past our house and there is this trashy inflatable hot tub in the front?  And we can sit in it with cocktails and wave at the passerby and know that while they are quietly judging us, they are secretly jealous.  Wouldn't you be?

Then my sister in law reminded me that it would probably be a liability in that someone could fall in and drown, with it not being fenced in and all.  Damn.  It will go in our fenced in backyard.

I'm not sure this will bring as much joy as the puppy, but it will be lower maintenance and arrives much sooner - this Thursday.

In these trying times, I'm a firm believer in relaxing your internal rules and expectations.  Buy something ridiculous.  Drink what you want.  Eat all the brownies.  Watch all the screens.  Someday things will get back to normal.  Until then, I'll have my new puppy and unsightly hot tub to get me through.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

It's Not a Silver Lining - It's a Revolution

I have an acupuncturist that doubles as a therapist.  Let me explain.  

Her appointments are approximately 90 minutes.  For the first 45 minutes, you talk to her.  Like a therapist.  For the second 45 minutes, you lie on a bed with needles all over your body, the location of which I presume is based on your conversation with her.  I'm not sure, because I've never asked.  
One of my closest friends had been seeing her for years, and had been trying to convince me to go, but I was hesitant.  I've done therapy, and I wasn't particularly in need of more at the time (little did I know).  And I'd much rather get a massage than lie on a bed with needles in me for 45+ minutes. To me, that just sounded boring.  

But it was one of my 2020 resolutions to try new things, and so I made an appointment.  The appointments take place in her home, in one of two rooms she has set up with two chairs, and then the bed for the acupuncture.  The first session was standard and not particularly noteworthy.  The first 45 minute "talk" session was slightly awkward, and I wasn't quite sure what I was supposed to talk to her about.  I gave her a general overview of my life history, and when she asked why I was there, I was stumped.  I actually wasn't sure why I was there, or what it is I wanted to get out the whole thing.  I think I muttered something unauthentic and generic like "anxiety" and "trouble sleeping."  Which doesn't make me all that different than the rest of the population.  

She put the needles in and I laid there for 45 minutes and that was it.  I went on with my day.  And then something weird happened.  

I started getting anxious.  Super anxious.  And I hadn't even been anxious prior to the appointment! I had just said "anxiety" as a BS answer that seemed explanatory enough for why I showed up at this woman's home for therapy and acupuncture.  And over the next few days, it got worse.  This general feeling of unease and disorientation as to what the fuck was happening to me.  I would start crying at odd times.  My heart would start racing which was only exacerbated by the heart monitor on my Apple watch, which would actually provide evidence that it was doing just that.  And in a cruel twist of fate, I started having trouble sleeping.  Go figure.

By the time I ended up back in her home the following week for my second treatment, I was a blubbering mess.  A crying, blubbering mess.  The kind of cry where you are crying so hard you have to cover up your face with your hands because you're embarrassed about the ugly contortions your face is making.  

She didn't seem surprised.  Instead, she seemed pleased, and said something like:  This means the treatments are working.  Your heart is starting to open.  This is part of the process.  

I didn't take solace in that, and I couldn't even pinpoint what it was I was sobbing hysterically about. But in retrospect, I think I was just really scared.  Because something was shifting, or at least beginning to shift.  

She gave me a tissue to hold while I went through the second part of the session, the lying with the needles.  And I needed the tissue.  I cried for 45 minutes straight, by myself, on the heated table on the second floor of this stranger's home.  It sounds strange, but it was this weird, poignant moment. And it felt good.  Being in a room, by myself, lying down, and just letting the tears fall.  Even if I didn't know what they were about.  

After that I felt lighter.  Better.  Hopeful. The anxiety symptoms went away abruptly (though they would eventually return, intermittently).  I just felt at peace.  

This was in January, and I have gone back every week since.  

I don't know what it is this woman does, but it's something that taps into something deep.  I've had various groundbreaking revelations in my talks with her - more so than I've ever had with any therapist.  I'm not going to go into detail about those revelations at the moment, because I'm still processing them myself.  But suffice it to say that I always feel good after my appointments with her - ALWAYS. 

I think she came into my life at the exact perfect time.  I was ready.  

She isn't doing sessions at her house anymore, for obvious reasons coronavirus related.  And when the world basically shut down, not being able to see her was one of my biggest sources of sadness and disappointment.  I mean, how can you do acupuncture virtually?  

You can't, but you can talk virtually.  And since that was half of our time together anyway, I jumped at the chance to continue working with her doing phone appointments.  My first one was today.  

Suffice it to say, I feel lighter.  Better.  Hopeful.  

I was discussing with her some of the silver linings of this whole mess.  The fact that I'm spending more time outside.  That we are doing more family dinners together.  That I'm face timing people I haven't spoken to in years.  That I'm texting less and talking on the phone more.  That I'm feeling gratitude for small things - for pizza delivery and outdoor workouts and good music and the fact that my kids still like to cuddle with me.  That yesterday, while driving home from an outdoor workout, I had an overwhelming urge to write on this blog again and did just that.  

She listened to me for a while, and then she said:  It's not a silver lining - it's a revolution.  

What an absolutely perfect thing to say.  And how true.  

I truly believe that the ramifications of this weird world we are living in - this scary reality - will be long lasting.  And maybe they will be good ones.  Having your world turned upside down, and having everyone you know have a similar experience, changes you, and will change the way we operate.  Why do I text friends instead of talking on the phone?  Why don't I always schedule a couple of hours a day to enjoy the fresh air?  Why am I so afraid to reach out to people I haven't talked to in a while?  Why don't we do more family movie nights?  Why didn't I ever hike the Billy Goat trail, when it's only a couple of miles from my house?  Why don't we always eat dinner on our back deck, just the five of us, when it's nice out?  Why did I find the idea of spending just one entire day at home, without leaving, such an awful prospect? 

I, like many of us, have largely been "fed from the outside" (her words) in order to find contentment and satisfaction.  I thrived on being busy.  On going out.  On being out.  On consuming.  What do we do when that outside has been taken away? 

That is all of our challenge, I think.  And it truly is a revolution.  

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

I Used to Write a Blog

For six years or so, I wrote a blog, on a pretty regular basis.  Over the years more and more people started reading it, and on occasion I would get recognized when I was out which was surreal and awesome.  I LOVED that people read it, not because I wanted to be famous or well known (I mean, not that many people read it), but because it made me feel connected to something at a time when I was feeling really alone - stuck at home, changing diapers, dealing with postpartum anxiety, raising three children, trying to find my identity.  Writing into the internet void, and knowing someone out there was reading what I wrote, and maybe related in some way, made me feel part of something bigger than myself.  I needed that then, so much.  It saved me really.

Then the children got older.  And Donald Trump was elected.  I'm not sure why these two scenarios resulted in my abandoning my blog altogether, but a day came when I was just done with it.  Where it felt like a duty and not a joy, and just another thing on my plate.  I felt somewhat empowered by my choice to stop writing, like I was really taking charge of my life and doing what it is I needed, as opposed to what others wanted from me.  I never wrote a "goodbye" post, because I wanted to keep the option open to return, once I had the urge to write again.  And then a couple years passed by, and I never had the urge.

For me, my desire to write goes in cycles, which tend to last a few years.  I've heard a lot of writers say this (and no, I don't consider myself a real "writer," yet).  When its there its strong and I can bang something out without even editing it.  It comes from somewhere deep and vulnerable and honest.

But the last couple years of this blog I wasn't really being honest anymore.  I was trying to be funny and witty and write about things I thought people wanted me to write about.  As my kids got older, I stopped being as vulnerable, worried that they would someday actually read the things I wrote.  And with the election, and the general state of the world, I didn't want to go deep anymore.  I just wanted to keep things surface level.  Maybe it was a survival tactic, or maybe it's just what I needed at that time in my life.

I have been skating along the past couple of years, and I've actually been really happy.  Having come up for air from the baby stages, I made a lot of friends and have had a really active social life. I turned 40.  I traveled a lot - to London, Italy, India, Costa Rica, and almost to Japan (where I am supposed to be right now - a topic for another post).  We built a house in Cape Cod and spend our summers there now.  I spent two years serving on the Executive Committee of our school's Parent Association. Marijuana was legalized and I took full advantage.  I got in the best shape of my life and continue to go to the gym daily.  I recently completed training in child custody mediation, and I've been working for the DC courts doing just that.

It's been all good.  But it's been surface.

Then, in 2020, things got deep.

Way before this global pandemic, by the way.  It got deep early in January.  I can't pinpoint why, and the term "midlife crisis" is so cliche, but I think that's what it was.  My anxiety came back.  I bought a pack of cigarettes (just one.  I promise).  I began questioning my place in the world and what my purpose was and what the hell I was going to do with my life.  I signed up for a novel writing class (which I quit, when I realized my novel sucked.  Absolutely sucked).  I started getting acupuncture and found a new therapist who I was seeing two times a week.  I started meditating daily (way harder than it sounds).  2020 was already a really weird year.

And now.... It's crazy fucked up.  For everyone.

Ironically, I find myself in similar situation to when I started this blog nine long years ago.  Lonely, stuck at home, dealing with anxiety, trying to find my identity, writing into the internet void searching for some kind of connection.  The things I have used to distract myself these past few years - friends, the gym, volunteering, work - those have all been taken away from me in the midst of this coronavirus pandemic.  Quarantines and social distancing and the dread of waking up in the morning to read the news.  It's a crazy time to be alive.

For better or worse, I'm ready to go deep again.  I'm ready to start writing again.  So if anyone out there is still reading, Hello! It's been a while.

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