Sorry or Safe or Both


Soon I’m to have an essay published in a magazine, the first time in about 4 years, and it’s peculiar because the essay was written before COVID-19 became a global concern. I remember the first round of editing in a coffeeshop R and I like in Golden. My partner is one who becomes interested in a subject and reads everything he can about it. He has a true gift for absorbing information and then synthesizing it for others without losing the nuance or conflating it. I remember in the coffeeshop he told me about what was going on in China. He kept updating me. I kept editing. The contagiousness of this virus struck me as being significant, compared to, say, the flu, but no one else appeared to be worried, so I assumed there must be something I don’t understand. Which is true. And not true.

Then it’s like everything changed overnight. As we did our last in person grocery shopping trip, I thought about the drive to behave as though everything is normal. I thought about not wanting to appear irrational, to the extent of going along with others when it doesn’t seem right. Two of Lyra’s teachers were out sick the last day we brought her to school and I felt myself go cold with the question, “Do they know if it’s the flu? Is it COVID-19?” I didn’t ask. I just added that I hoped they would feel better soon and looked at my daughter. Love makes your eyes desperate to build a protective layer around the subject of their gaze. My eyes lit a candle and it burned so brightly that I can feel the prickly heat on my retinas. Later, we found they had the flu and I was relieved that I didn’t express any concern that would’ve probably been read as ridiculous.

When you’re accustomed to being sorry for feeling, it’s hard to lean into the idea of safety. It simply doesn’t seem real.

Not that I would have behaved much differently. But would I have been able to write that essay? I don’t think so. Does that mean anything? Not sure.

There’s a border between before and after, as though the thinking itself could be contagious, could spread in all directions. Someone set off fireworks one night outside our apartment building and the explosions immediately turned me into a protective, hunched creature, gripping my daughter tightly and shielding her head with my arms. It took some time to ease my breathing. She was alarmed. I tried to explain the noise, my response. I overreacted. I thought we were in danger, but we weren’t. She’s confused, issuing question after question.

Several friends have commented that it’s surreal for so much normalcy to exist alongside staggering changes. In the town we used to live in, the city had to remove basketball hoops from parks so that people would stop meeting up to play. Last week my Instagram feed was littered with photos of caution-taped playgrounds. My friends who are stay-at-home parents to children under 5 or those with chronic illness report not much change in their day to day lives, aside from where there is increased risk.

Children my daughter’s age are already navigating risk assessment, mostly through the actions they perform with their bodies. I admit to feeling sorry for kids with parents who don’t let them climb anything at the playground. I am not surprised when they are much older than my daughter and yet have significantly lower physical intelligence, as well as an inability to cope when dealing with a sudden fall. They seem so devastated, so betrayed. They stop playing.

I haven’t yet successfully explained risk assessment for a pandemic. I am not sure how to explain it to myself. The other night I was strongly considering the risk involved to acquire brownie ingredients and ice cream, which seems like the most idiotic and relatable plot point for an apocalyptic movie. In a wry voice, I could make the joke, I always knew carbs would kill me. Yet I find myself deeply annoyed by people who won’t social distance (not can’t, but won’t). I’m angry and afraid for people with higher risk of death, for anyone who literally can’t afford to be sick. And I didn’t go anywhere. I wonder what I would do if I was dying and wanted to tell my daughter goodbye. If she was dying, I know that I would be willing to risk my own sickness and death to be with her until the end. I would fight anyone who tried to stop me. Actually fight them.

Risk evaluation fluctuates so much from moment to moment. Given that I was already at home for years and that R could work from home prior, some days feel obscenely “normal”. There are people walking their dogs alone in the spring evenings. Cars whoosh by, though less of them. Still, I don’t think I could write what I wrote three months ago.


On Being at Home… A Lot


Since it became clear that social distancing would be necessary to slow down the spread of coronavirus and hopefully avoid overwhelming our medical system, there’s been a lot of advice circulating on how best to deal with this event. The advice tends to fall into two categories: optimistic “use this time to tackle that project you’ve been putting off” or anti-capitalist crossover self-care crowd saying “now is not the time for productivity, it’s time to rest”. This advice or validation is not wrong, depending on what you feel you need, but I do think as extremes on a spectrum of activity it tends to take the short view when this crisis is more than likely going to take a long time to be resolved. 

For those needing to make dramatic adjustments (and frankly having the privilege to do so), I have a few suggestions based on my 10+ years being chronically ill and experience as a stay-at-home parent. Obviously my suggestions cannot apply to everyone and I don’t pretend to speak for people who are unable to self-isolate at home. This goes out to all the people who have eaten fennel for the first time in their lives because it was the only fresh thing they could find at the supermarket. 

  1. Avoid trying to impose structure on yourself with big, meaningful plans. For example, “I’m going to re-establish my spiritual practices,” or “I’m going to write a novel like I’ve always wanted.” Instead, develop structure through routine. Maintain as much of what’s normal for you as possible, but don’t be afraid to embrace your relative freedom in planning your day. Maybe you’re not a morning person, maybe you are exhausted mid-day. Loosely plan according to your energy flow. If you can add the practice of something important to you, then do it in small doses. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
  2. If you were not somehow finding a way to carve out time to work at a big project or skill, you’re probably not going to do it now. Time does not magically create motivation or discipline. It does however afford you the chance to begin. Keep your goals and expectations low,  and instead deep dive into your curiosity, your desire. Avoid anticipating a particular outcome. 
  3. Find a way to move your body. Dancing, walking, yoga, low impact calisthenics, leg lifts in the bath. Whatever. You don’t need fancy gear or special training. No one gives a damn if you’re gassy or there are holes in your sweatpants. If you want to learn how to do push-ups, check YouTube for tutorials. We are not talking about weight loss and this is not a Hollywood prison montage. If you become Sarah Connor over this shit, you need to do some inner work.
  4. Be flexible. Access your body and your feelings regularly. Am I dehydrated? Am I not washing my clothes enough to have clean underwear? Am I feeling sad? Can I remove x, y, z tasks to give me more time to rest today? And listen, y’all. You need to shower. Other people seeing or smelling you should not be the only reason you clean yourself. 
  5. Don’t beat yourself up for binge watching shows or playing a lot of video games. Really don’t. It won’t help you make different choices later and the ability to make different choices later is what will enable you to find your balance. Nobody is out here learning calligraphy and harpsichord and six languages. I promise you. Just enjoy what you’re doing when you’re doing it and move on. 
  6. Try to notice when unchecked bias shows itself to you. For example, are you surprised (and maybe outraged?) by how hard it is to…. be the predominant caregiver? Stay at home with your kids? Educate your kids? Live with income uncertainty? Get your social and physical needs fulfilled with limited mobility and access? Remember this shift in perspective. Respect teachers, nurses, caregivers, stay-at-home-parents, single parents, chronically ill folks, and gig workers. Consider how we can show better support for each other going forward.
  7. Learn how to ask for help. Read The Art of Asking. Or like ANY Brene Brown books. Consider what kind of support has helped you the most in the past. Do you want jokes to make you laugh? Go ahead and let people know you need to see some funny memes. Do you have specific boundaries? You can talk about that, too. People may not reach out to you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. They might just need some sign from you.
  8. Generosity is nourishing, scarcity mindset is depleting. If you can give — listen to a friend vent their anxieties, offer toilet paper or diapers to neighbors, make masks for medical professionals and grocery store employees, buy a bidet and use washable cloth wipes instead of buying limited paper products, help someone pay their bills, share information on a small business having a sale, etc. — then it’s in everyone’s best interest for you to do so. In times like this it’s easy to feel like you have nothing to give. That is rarely true. Giving is so much more than money or labor. It’s a reminder that we can hold each other. 

And speaking of ways to give, I’ll include some links below to groups that I have observed doing some great work. Some are Denver based, some are in Tennessee or North Carolina. If you’ve got anything to add, feel free to do so in the comments. 

People who need things to do with little kids/tips for being at home (some are free, some are not):