The things that make us Human

I felt the pain creep into my hips and back. In the afternoon, finding a quiet moment, I lay down on the wall-to-wall beige carpet in our living room prepared to pull this leg and that against my chest, so many seconds at a time, following the instructions from a physical therapist.

Right leg. Left leg. I hear a squeal behind me.

A light-weight stomping of hand after knee pitter-patters its way across the room. Before I know it, the infant has come for me. I brace myself, pull my hair into protective position and prepare to engage.

She goes first for the hair, as I anticipated. I win that round. But then, the little heathen strikes for my face. My forearms shield me. Opening my eyes, I see her press her face between my arms, seeking to worm her way through my fortress where she can lick or bite my nose or do whatever it is a ten-month-old wants to do to her mother in this vulnerable and reduced position.

She shrieks with glee.

I shriek with fright knowing I am done for.

I call for help to those idle witnesses who think, “maybe someone else will help that lady,” and watch from across the room, pretending to do their school work.

“Help me! Help me!” I cry. Now, the baby is on top of me, pressing that chubby face down into my personal bubble.

They rush to my side, finally, but it is too late. She weasels through. She slimes me.

Her droplets smear across my cheek. It is finished.

I crawl out from under her power to wipe away the aftermath of the spit-sport. Even I have my limits.

Face to face. Droplets. Close proximity. Physical contact.

We do not just miss the old way of living because we are anxious for the crisis to end, impatient to the waiting to be over, exhausted by the grip of fear, or frustrated by the yo-yo of moving tier to tier.

We want to return to normal because, in the effort to be safe, we have sacrificed good, normal things that are part of being human. Seeing each other face to face, standing in close proximity, eating together. Those uniquely human things are the building blocks of relationships. Those relationships form families and friendships. The proximity of these little societies builds community. All this is part of the core of our being human.

And we put it on hold while experts searched for answers.

But I am afraid for the future. I fear for those already struggling with depression, loneliness and isolation as Thanksgiving passes and an already chilly winter sets deeper in when we know those already prone to it are likely to experience a rougher time around “the holidays.”

I am afraid of what will happen if we do not find creative ways to reach out to each other, those we know and those we do not know, the neighbor who is my friend or the neighbor I would never know because of our differences if it weren’t for the fact that we are neighbors.

I fear we are going to lose something better than our physical health, something that was built, not just by my effort or the effort of those I am in relationship with, but built by the many persons and many relationships that collaborate to form this community.

Therefore, I want to make an extra effort to find those ways, ways that are not illegal or prohibited right now, to attempt to hold community together, to hold onto what was built before me and what I pray will come after me.

They did it with the Hughson Community Thanksgiving Dinner, feeding 570 bodies with turkey and stuffing.

They are doing it again with Christmas baskets. I cannot be one of the 12 volunteers in their reduced-size group, but I can make a flyer to promote the Toy Drive on December 5 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Hughson United Methodist Church.

I can say to you that turning outward through service is a protective factor against depression. I can tell you that working together towards a common goal helps to heal division. I can ask you to please, even amid sheltering-in-place, following whatever protocols come out this week and next, that there are still things we can do, not just to feel normal, but to feel human again.

Manage Your Emotional Bank

When I was a teenager, I wanted to save the world. I wanted to fly to Indonesia to give aid after the tsunami.

In my twenties, it was all about laying the path to professionally make a difference.

In my thirties, it is now that I realize the world is right here around me, concentric circles, like ripples in water, emanating outward. My world of work and effort is at the center. Beyond that circle, lies another and another.

The strength of my influence changes with each one.

Here at the center, a lot of people live in my house. I am responsible for most of them. I hear them yelling and laughing and complaining and crying in the background. When I look out my window, just past the flower beds you read so much about, I see a spread of bright green grass, boarded by a row of irises, their tips browned by the sun and dehydration, with weeds slowly matching them in height. Beyond them lays a perfectly mowed lawn of varying hues of light green to brown, mostly brown.

Then the weeds.

Then the road, which I cannot cross unless I can run because Whitmore Avenue is a busy place.

And just beyond that, an almond orchard whose white petaled blossoms fragranced the air in spring and whose green leaves provide the perfect complement to the golden yellow walls my historic home’s living room.

On most days I appreciate the orchard. I have no idea how many acres there are, but there are some industrial techniques geared towards efficiency that mean I cannot open my windows some mornings. The baby sleeps beautifully through the white noise on those days.

The traffic is beyond my control.

The weeds are within my control. The irises are within my control. Theoretically, the watering issues are within my control. I control how often and how well-timed I bug my husband about it.

Drawing my view back towards the center, that green grass, the flowers surrounding the house, the successful succulents, the happy hydrangea, the pruned roses, these are within my control.

The four-year-old running through the living room, the tired six-year-old crying, the complaining seven-year-old hit on the arm, the book bug nine-year-old, these are less in my control than I might like.

If I spent too much time thinking about the orchard across the street, and the traffic on the street, I’m not sure how well I can handle the noise in the center of the house or the noise in the center of my heart.

Through each sphere cuts mainstream media and social media, discussing the things in in my home and the things beyond my home. They are designed to tell me that everything is so important no matter what circle it is in.

The world is kind of an exhausting place right now.

There is a lot of in-between-ness going on. Are we in crisis? Are we out of crisis? Is this the new normal? Or has that still not happened yet?

It is hard when everything feels so important.

Beyond the places where it feels normal, I am reminded online of how very, very not normal, how chaotic and how critical these times are.

I watch the things across the [metaphorical] street, but the only control I have is to curb my internal or external reaction to cars honking or screeching tires. The farther out the circle of influence goes, the further in my heart lies efficacy.

The task at hand is not to save the world, because I cannot, but to find some way to relate to these concentric circles in a healthy and manageable way without draining my emotional bank before I have served those in the immediate sphere.

To get a response, a click, a shared link, many rely on fueling the reader’s emotions.More than ever, when there is so much to feel about each of these circles, I need to be careful in considering how I spend what I’ve got.

How Schema Theory Can Help Us Understand Each Other During Covid-19

We don’t know who is carrying coronavirus so we have to assume everyone is carrying it. If we are at war, and coronavirus is the enemy then the vehicle of my enemy is my enemy. That makes everyone my enemy. My neighbor is now my enemy. This is a miserable way to live and conduct grocery shopping.

How do we overcome this mindset?

For some, the answer lies in The Mask.

It is a sign that even if my neighbor is unknowingly infected, my neighbor is trying to protect me. Now, my neighbor is not my enemy. My neighbor is my ally.

But what about the one across the aisle not wearing a mask? The one I read about the paper causing bodily harm over the question of The Mask.

Our divided nation is no longer news, but schema theory might offer a possible solution to how we can overcome this deepening and ugly cleft between neighbors during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Schema theory, in layman terms, means perspective. In illustrative terms, it means a lens. In poetic terms, schema might mean wearing rose-colored glasses (or green or dark and murky).

Someone you know says she does not want to wear a mask.

One person thinks, “Another person against masks? Doesn’t she care? Lives are at risk! We should do all we can to protect people?”

Another person thinks, “Good! They are stupid anyway. Just another way to keep people afraid and set against each other.”

How do you see the act of wearing a mask? Is it act of love to protect those around you? Is it an act of defensive protection to help the most vulnerable. The lens through which you interpret the events taking place and motivation of others is your schema.

Surgical masks were already part of my life. I wear one once a week. It comes in a package with sterile gloves as well. My husband and I don our masks, our gloves, mask our four-year-old and begin a sterile medical procedure, every week. But during the everyday medical procedures, we do not wear masks.

While some see masks as a tangible example of the interference of liberty and others see masks as the way to be a neighbor and not an enemy, my perspective came from our experience as caregivers to a child with a complex medical condition.

Medically, there are particular conditions in which a mask is beneficial and other conditions in which is neutral, where no proven physical benefit or harm is apparent. We are however, more than just bodies, and the passion surrounding mask wearing taps into that immaterial part of us.

In “Secret Desires: The Great Dancing Plague of 1518,“ Luke Arthur Burgis describes the intriguing practices that sprang up around the Dancing Plague. The dance associated with the disorder, called the tarantata became, according to the Italian cultural anthropologist and ethno-psychiatrist Ernesto De Martino, “a ‘minor religious ritual’ which had the effect of restoring order from chaos. The ritual functioned to protect the people and their community from an even bigger crisis: it provided a form of catharsis that helped resolve social tension.”

Burgis proposes, “Anytime humanity has been threatened by a plague, the most contagious thing has never been the disease itself. Humans are social creatures. Our anxiety, fears, hopes, and desires are the most contagious.”

While there may not be a reliable body of research to show the benefit of wearing masks in public, the reassurance they provide that my neighbor is my neighbor, or that I am not helpless, I am doing all I can, may be less about the medical aspects and more targeted towards stabilizing the social order and reducing the anxiety of public interactions.

This value or virtue attributed to The Mask, puts a spotlight on those refusing to wear it. For some, The Mask is wrapped up in the destabilization of society that came with mandated state-wide shutdowns. They feel coronavirus is the least of their worries as they struggle to keep their business from folding or to put food on the table. The Mask becomes a sign of one more effort to destroy the livelihood built by these individuals.

These are two different lenses, or schemata

through which the question of face masks, and frankly most of the top-down measures regarding the Covid-19 Pandemic, can take, with individual nuances to boot.

Coronavirus is extremely contagious. But I agree with Burgis on the powerful contagion of our anxiety, fears, hopes, and desires are the most contagious.

This is not to say wear a mask or don’t wear a mask, but rather that something that seems as simple as wearing a mask is more complicated than meets the eye.

What is your lens through which you see the present crisis? And is there a way that you apply this understanding to those who might be thinking or acting differently than you?

That very act of understanding, of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, bridges the gap that turns the unseen enemy to the neighbor I can see.

Learning to Live With Risk

Every month is an awareness month.

It takes only a particular number of signatures to make it so. This month holds two foci of importance to me. May 2-10 was Cleft Lip and Palate Awareness Week. May 15 is Anencephaly Awareness Day. My son was born with a gaping hole dividing his upper lip and roof of his mouth. My daughter was born without a brain.

As I turn these over in my mind, I recall my conversation last week with Melissa Marceau who runs Miss Potts Attic with Bobbi Saenz. “Adapt or die,” she said. I chuckled to myself. Yes, adapt or die, that was my motto in those early days when my son was born.

Each time he woke, I fed him with a cleft specialty bottle, managed his spit up, set him down somehow or handed him off and pumped for the next twenty minutes. He failed to thrive for reasons unknown at the time and our life with a medical baby began. He visited the ICU twice, and lived the rest of the time off and on in the TCU, the transitional care unit, a world in between ICU and the regular floor.

Adapt or die.

His sodium levels were dangerous low. He could not gain weight. He went on TPN, total parenteral nutrition, bypassing the gut system’s method of extracting nutrients from the food to the blood and putting all that good stuff right into him, intravenously through a central line catheter.

This open access to his blood system means we live with the daily risk that he will develop a blood infection, nose dive, and end up in the hospital on fierce antibiotics trying to rid his body of this evil thing that could kill him quickly. In his routine care, those thrice daily medical activities, there is risk. As temperatures swell, and the dressing covering his site where this catheter enters the skin loosens from the sweat that is part and pare of living in California, there is risk. In the normal household hustle and bustle of family life, scissors smuggled into the bedroom by another child, there is risk if the kid gets too curious.

But “adapt or die,” I said. I could crawl into a hole of depression, or we could find a way to live.

Fast forward. The boy is now four and we live in two worlds.

One foot stands in the world medical gloves, masks, sterile procedures, weekly conversations and shipments from a pharmacy in Sacramento, eyeing his dressing on the hotter days, acting as if the older brother had punched someone in the face when we find those smuggled scissors, dancing with a medical pole, and crawling out of bed in the night to tend to a medical pump.

Wearing masks before it was cool

The other foot stands in the world of a four-year-old boy, a bundle of raw emotions, good humor and physical reactivity. He is absolutely normal, drawing on walls, putting underwear on his head as a hat, telling me “I like you, mommy” every couple hours demanding the response “I like you, too,” and chasing the cat around to give it love or pull its tail, which to a boy are about the same thing.

Adapt or die.

After watching the international news in January and February, I watched as locally our society fell to pieces in March and April. The curve flattened and growth in cases slowed nationally and locally, with the exception of the tragic situation of the Turlock Nursing Home, I see those around me facing a choice.

We are beginning a new normal, living with risk.

You can live in two worlds: one with this shutdown on your mind, masks, hand washing and another with all those things that make life good, energizing and livable.

You can persist in the former with dread of another wave, checking statistics, refraining from even those things you might need to maintain relationships or good mental health.

Or you can throw caution to the wind in order to obtain the latter.

But both are possible. Caution without forgetting what we need to live life beyond survival mode, but doing so with more awareness.

So I decided to add a weekly phone chat, horseback riding and a driveway conversation with a friend.

What can you do?

Where Does your Treasure lie?

My six-year-old daughter has her treasures.

A pipe remnant from her father’s custom wind chime building, a drawing of her deceased cat, a rock, a scrap of fabric, a stuffed animal, a pipe cleaner, a necklace, a broken shell and the list goes on.

“Do you have any treasures?” She asks me.

The first time she asked, I was unprepared, “Yes,” I said assuming I must.

She tilted her head and smiled, “Then where are they?”

The next time the subject came up, as I cradled a tulip-shaped milk glass vase in my hands, I said, “this is one of my treasures, and the light blue bowl on my nightstand, and my little turtle.”

The bowl as purchased at the Ferry Building in San Francisco the day I walked the three miles from Benioff Children’s Hospital during a break from staying bedside when my son was admitted. The turtle is a small, shiny, bejeweled looking thing given to me by his inpatient case manager. I have had to steal it back from my children.

“And any of your jewelry?” my nine-year-old daughter asks, her smirk tilting to one side.

“Yes…anything your father gave me.”

“Like your wedding ring and your engagement ring. Did he give you that pearl ring, too?”


She pointed knowingly to the four-month-old, chubby-cheeked daughter, “that’s the one Stella is going to get.”

There are other treasures in our home.

A baby grand piano purchased from the consignment store that is now Miss Potts Attic. New coupe glasses. Libbey Gold Autumn Leaves high ball glasses. My Currier and Ives dishes.

Outdoors, the treasures are more fleeting.

Sweet peas my six-year-old and I planted. Red and white amarillas from my mother. Purple irises transplanted from our last home before we moved.

My dahlias were a treasure. Bought as little plants from Kelley Flower Farm, I separated tubers, washed in a partial bleach solution and carefully stored for spring planting before we moved to this home. I thought I could keep them in the ground over winter. I thought California winters might be mild enough. As only one started up through the ground and grew taller, I took the shovel to dig and investigate what happened to the rest. They were gone.

There was no sign of gophers. I assume they rotted over winter and went back into the earth from whence they came.

All treasures are this way, in a way, fleeting.

The very greatest treasures are the ones we cannot hold so tightly: my growing four-year-old who will no longer suffer himself to be snuggled and kissed, a breeze in the warm spring sunshine, the coy words from my eldest as she tried to share without revealing secrets about my Mother’s Day gift, the words I quote from “Lord of the Rings” to my husband as a way of telling him I love him.

This is the season in which we might consider our treasures more than usual. Do we love our home? Do we take the time to care for it as an act of love? Do we surround ourselves with those inanimate objects that, for whatever reason, spark joy? We have been enclosed long enough within these walls. Let them be ornamented with things that cause us to pause, remember, and cherish, even if we do not have anyone with whom we can share them.

And relationships? There is something unnatural about social distancing and wearing face masks. It blocks something we are so inclined to do. We hug as a greeting to one another. Sympathy prompts a hand on the shoulder. Children beg to be held.

In a well-known study, rhesus monkeys would rather receive physical comfort with a terry-cloth “mother” than eat.

We continue to comply with the public health order and social distancing, but it is becoming more and more apparent that these things are our treasures: the touch, the smile, the kind word and sympathetic look as we unconsciously read each other’s emotions while sitting across the coffee shop table.

Such treasures are fleeting.

But like all beautiful things, the thing that is beautiful is delighted in for its own sake. Maybe, when this season is over, no matter how the world has changed, we’ll delight in it a little more.

The Tasks of Grief During COVID-19

Easter came and went.

Author Hayley Stewart wrote online that she had set Easter as the end goal of social distancing and stay-at-home compliance. “Just get to Easter” was the mindset, with the liturgical season of Lent, a time of fasting and sacrifice to motivate her.

Then Easter came, but stay-at-home orders remained in place. For those celebrating, the exterior life was strangely out of sync with the interior life. Celebrating on the outside, however, traditions were modified, but inside still suffering the loneliness, anxiety and want that accompany the supposedly simple order to stay at home.

This is how grief works.

Photo by Mareko Tamaleaa on Unsplash

Time moves on. Life moves on. But it still hurts. The loss is still there, even as is seems to be filled or replaced by other things.

We have overcome one month of these orders, the fallout of government mandates and the fallout of the virus itself.

The first task of grief is to accept the reality of loss.

Within this task are all the well-known stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. One never has to say it is good, but accepting means taking it as it is. To accept the reality is to name the experienced reality. This is hard. As a fellow book club member points out, I miss the friends, the late-night discussions, the wine and the chocolate. I miss outings with my children to see those individuals in their lives who are part of the fabric of their lives.

The second task is to work through the grief and pain.

This means facing it, naming it, talking about it and finding ways to cope. Thomas Aquinas’ advice in the 13th century rings as true today as it was then. He recommended coping with sadness by granting yourself something pleasurable, crying, sharing your sorrow with a friend, contemplating the truth and lastly, bathing and sleeping. Easter chocolate, driving to meet a friend for a sidewalk chat six feet away or talking on the phone and finding meaning in what we are doing either by the protection of others or some deeper long-range meaning of growth for yourself like connecting more deeply with those whom you live, growing in trust, etc. For me, it’s the Trader Joe’s jelly beans, the gardening, sitting and reading in the sunshine.

The third task to adjust to life as it is now.

We are living with uncertainty, but not all things are uncertain. Carving out routine, hobbies, planning unique meals and activities. Having gone through a month, very likely you have already adjusted in some measure. If you had made-do, now ramp it up to grow, to thrive, not just survive. I am leaning into this experience and knowing my children better and enjoying the company of my husband. That said, I do daydream that if I lived alone I might dive into some deep study of some topic, like the life and literature of Flannery O’Connor or the concept of woman in history.

The fourth task is to maintain a connection with what was lost.

We are still in the midst of this trial, so it is difficult to say when it will lift or where we will land.

Importantly, now, I think of the words,

“Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

And lastly, whether you live at home with a gaggle of kids, whether you are caregiving for your aged parent, whether all the ways you served others have gone by the wayside because of new guidelines, whether you run a restaurant, a church, an antique store, a music studio, a farm or bag groceries, your work is essential.

You are essential.

Our society needs you as an essential part of the layers and depths and relationships that make our lives as humans so diverse, interesting and meaningful.

And I’m looking forward to seeing you again soon on the other side of this experience. Until then!

Your Pandemic Entertainment Here

Sure you could watch “Tiger King” on Netflix during the pandemic, but how about something a bit more medieval?

Kristin Lavransdatter

Book jacket of Kristin Lavransdatter. An Example of literature to read during a pandemic.

I picked up the third book of Kristin Lavransdatter written by Sigrid Undset and published in 1920. I have read the entire trilogy a few times already, so this way I know I can get to those plague scenes. It happens at the very end of the book in a flash of action, people die, she stops some people from sacrificing a boy to try to appease whatever divine power they think is causing this and she risks her life to practice the corporal work of mercy, burying the dead. But before all that, this is a tragic and epic story of the fictional life a medieval Norwegian woman who marries a man.

Undset possesses the ability to impeccably draw characters in remarkable detail, demonstrating their personality strengths and weaknesses and how those bear out against the strengths and weaknesses of those around them. In relationship lies all the action, though the horses, axes and swords help too. The book has something for everyone but I find it resonates in particularly powerful ways with mothers.

The Betrothed

Book jacket of The Betrothed. An Example of literature to read during a pandemic.

Joseph Pearce, a literature scholar and Director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee, wrote an online article about The Betrothed, an Italian pandemic story written by Alessandro Manzoni and published in 1827 in which one village learns that maybe they should have practiced a little more social distancing. I am sure it is about more than that, but that was what I gathered from this article.

The Seventh Seal

Movie poster for The Seventh Seal. An example of films to watch during a pandemic.

I am thinking of watching The Seventh Seal (Swedish, 1957) again. Another Black Plague setting. It is thoughtful and provocative, but undeniably silent, and after social distancing, staying-at-home, the slow pace of something visual and intellectual might just be what I need as I rock my three-month-old baby to sleep. It is a great movie for the artsy types, the types who want to check-off something iconic, and those who want to show off their cultural savviness during a Zoom chat.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Image for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. An example of films to watch during a pandemic.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (British, 1975) is more my husband’s style. It took a few weeks but I finally saw an online reference to the scene in which peasants are carting around bodies and yelling, “bring out you’re dead!” This is a movie for those who enjoy dry, dark humor.

Your Friend the Rat

Your Friend the Rat from Wikipedia. An example of films to watch during a pandemic.

If you have only eleven minutes, in 2007, Pixar and Walt Disney Studios released Your Friend the Rat. This offers a more educational take on the role rats played during the Plague.

Medieval Times

There are undoubtedly better lists out there, but this offers at least a passing survey across time and cultures. According to Merriam-Webster, a pandemic is an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.

The Black Death was a global epidemic of bubonic plague that struck Europe and Asia in the mid-1300s. It changed the face of Europe and influenced art, literature and music for hundreds of years to come. It still stands out in our mind as a singular event.

And Now

Living now through the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic, we are experienced something that will also alter the course of history. Our economy has shut down and what once was an epidemic of loneliness in our country has become a government-mandated call to action to stay home and distance ourselves socially.

Things many Americans could take for granted, free access to education, online shopping, a postal and delivery network, 24-hour grocery stores, and abundance of food and paper products, easy and widespread mobility and transportation have become scarce, hard to come by, or risky.

This is a time to grieve. We will grieve the loss of life as we knew it. We will grieve relationships. We will grieve those who die.

But, as in all times of darkness, there is still hope. The projections are improving. As Queen Elizabeth II said in a rare public address on April 5, “Using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal, we will succeed, and that success will belong to every one of us. We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return. We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again.”

So until then, read, watch and hope.

Previously published as part of “Here’s to the Good Life!” my weekly column in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

To read previous reflections on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic click here and here and here.

A perfectly beautiful messy routine: New baby edition

Week #3 of life at home. What have I learned?

  • Things get tense at home when you are home all the time with the same people, even if you live in paradise.
  • Weather affects us. Have you noticed a difference between sunny days and cloudy days? One perhaps a little more cheerful than the other.
  • Routine is beauty. This was a phrase I heard repeatedly while training for a year of missionary work at age 18. Routine is beauty. Now, more than ever, when a lot of our external structure has dissolved through government mandates. Routine is beauty.

Routine can go like this:

  • 7:30 a.m. wake,
  • exercise,
  • shower,
  • dress,
  • eat healthful breakfast,
  • begin distance learning or online work,
  • break for healthful lunch,
  • read a chapter from classic literature,
  • take a walk in the sunshine,
  • return to distance learning or online work,
  • prepare a well-balanced and nutritious but still interesting dinner,
  • say prayers,
  • tuck perfect children into bed,
  • relax with a glass of wine with your partner and retire at a reasonable time.

I feel more relaxed and successful just writing that out.

People jumping for joy. A smart routine makes us feel successful.
Photo by Guille Álvarez on Unsplash

Or routine can go like this:

  • baby wakes, hand baby to the spouse, sleep longer, wake, dress or feed baby, dress other kids, yell to kids to do their morning chores while nursing baby again, eat cold scrambled eggs made an hour ago by an ambitious 9-year-old, begin schoolwork sometime around 9 a.m., get distracted by online work while pretending to teach children, send a child out at the sound of a school district van honking with free lunches, steal chips from child’s lunch because, come on, they’re Sun Chips, forget if children are indoors or out after lunch because it feels so good outdoors, put toddler down for a nap, put baby down, remember to wash dishes, feed baby, try to pass her off to spouse, be reminded spouse has online lessons to give, walk about backyard with baby in a stroller, ask children if they finished their work, gather all the vegetables in the fridge and mix with rice for dinner, make a drink, maybe make a second drink, and binge watch “The Office” with the spouse.

I don’t feel quite as relaxed in that one.

Wide-eyed face expression. Lack of routine can make us feel anxious and out of control.
Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

But it is real life.

Routine may be as beautiful as the calligraphy-laden cardstock or it might be the messy chaos of a schedule that is never quite certain.

The routine I am learning is one I once knew. Act when the baby is asleep; let everything stop when the is awake.

The key to mastering your routine: accept its place in your real life.

I may want my routine to operate by the clock. I may think of how much more other mothers’ are accomplishing during this quarantine. But right now, that is not my home. And that is okay.

In utilizing the small breaks offered to me I am trying to make sure a few things fit into my day: a short time of prayer/meditation, reading time for myself and reading time to my kids, writing time, time outside in the sun weather permitting and time moving.

Last week I had to be intentional about staying off social media. Now, I find the news posts and the encouraging posts draining because I want us to live life! Not just live coronavirus. So my appetite for scrolling has gone down.

My shortlist is not one I will complete every day, and I may lose some of those moments to a much-needed phone call with a friend or a wrestling match with the kids, but it gives me something to aim for. That, in itself, helps build structure, structure that also serves as self-care.

Those without a baby will find their time looks different.

For this next week, in a long series of stay-at-home weeks, what’s on your list of essential business? How can you prioritize the care of your heart and mind, as well as your body?

You may not manage it every day, since we know life cannot be perfect. Since life cannot be perfect, managing just some days means success.

That is beautiful.

Mother walking with child in the forest. A routine grounded in real life allows for unexpected blessings if we are open to it.
Photo by James Wheeler on Unsplash

Are we Okay?

I am an extrovert.

On Social Media, introverts had the first laugh about social distancing, shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders being the things they prepared for all their lives.

Next came the writers and artists who necessarily do their meatiest work at home, often choosing self-isolation when deadlines loomed near.

Then, the extroverts called for help. “Introverts, you may want to check on your extrovert friends. We are not okay.”

We are told repeatedly online and in-person about the dire need to quarantine if you have symptoms and stay at home, limiting outings as much as possible. Aside from those you live with, handshakes, hugs, any contact within six feet is considered a risk, as so many of us might be carrying the coronavirus without realizing it.

It is devastating.

Cases in Stanislaus County are growing slowly, but by and large, it is still possible to not know anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Instead, we feel the pinch socially, emotionally and financially.

Socially, obvious enough. If we knew we needed relationships before or in contact with others outside the home, that need is so much more clear now. Conversation, physical touch, face-to-face interactions cannot be replaced by social media. Not even video chats can quite compare to the pleasure of, as Arnold Lobel described Frog and Toad, “They sat there, feeling happy together.”

Digital communication generally requires us to talk about something or perform in some way. In-person, we can stare at the same sky, observe the same people, feel the same breeze.

There is a loss.

Which leads me to ask, emotionally, how are you?

I mean, really, how are you?

If you are an extrovert or surrounded by children, you might be feeling some additional anxiety.

If you are home taking in the news and following the COVID-19 threads, you might be feeling some additional anxiety.

If your income is about to take a hit because your employer cannot provide paid time off or because you’re in the commission-only business or you have to lay off your employees because if you cannot pay rent you will lose your business, you might be feeling some additional anxiety.

If you are part of or caring for someone or love someone who is part of the identified vulnerable population, you might be feeling some additional anxiety.

What does all this say about the world? Where is this all leading? Where are our social buffers? Where is our spiritual comfort?

In times like these, with our usual supports out of alignment, you might even be feeling a little bit depressed.

There is a crisis taking place in the world, and unfortunately, the effort to slow down the spread, to flatten the curve, so hospitals do not become overloaded as we saw in Italy, has its own costs.

I want to ask you to take an honest look at what those costs are in your own life. Maybe right now means Netflix and sleeping in. Or maybe it means something much harder.

Somehow, I think some good is going to come out of these dark times.

Yesterday, overwhelmed with the anxiety of caring for my needy newborn, of working from home at the same time, of uncertain income, I got on my bike for the first time in a year.

The streets are clear because more people are at home. I rode as fast as my legs could carry me.

Home again, I got out a book, the book that brought me back to reading four years ago.

And the baby got a pacifier for the first time.

Then that very night, she slept for six hours.

In the morning, I drank coffee with my husband.

Somehow, some good will come, even if it feels a long time getting there.

If you can, try to find meaning in the moments, in the little goods that crop up here and there. Begin that gratitude journal again. Watch the rain. Draw in chalk on your sidewalk. Reach out for a telephone session with a therapist if anxiety or depressive symptoms are starting to interfere with your daily duties.

Have daily duties.

And somehow, we will get through this, together.

Photo by Ronny Sison on Unsplash

The Changes We Can Make Amid COVID-19

Throughout the public sector

non-essential operations have been suspended during this health emergency. The libraries have canceled programming and are open only for the pick-up and drop-off of books. Public schools are now closed. Religious and private schools are closed. Most public religious services are suspended.

And while cancellation after cancellation pours in while shelves continue to empty out, more goes on beneath the surface of anxiety and pantry stocking. Dollar General has begun an hour reserved for senior citizens to shop from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. every morning.

City employees continue to work and carry out their essential functions such as public safety, water and sewer, customer service and more. 

Addressing the needs of the private sector

the Lions Club, a recent addition to the Hughson landscape, seeks to help the elderly men and women of our community by picking up supplies from the store. Those in need can contact them through the Hughson Lions Facebook page or a member of the club with a name, phone number, and address of the seniors in need.

Social media, often considered the source of manufactured rage or fake news, becomes a hub where concerned citizens have offered grocery runs to neighbors or to help with supplies when possible. 

Facebook groups like Hughson Moms and Catholic Moms of the Central Valley offer online social opportunities and outreach to each other. Parents who find themselves suddenly required to homeschool their children share moments of solidarity and humor online, while already-homeschooling parents offer their tried-and-true experiences. Some stay-at-home-mothers make offers to watch children whose families are unable to find childcare.

What about the personal sector? 

There is a choice to be made, now more than ever. How will we face the current crisis? Some question its gravity. Others are in a panic. What we can control is right in front of us. I can decide to stay-at-home with my family.

I can decide whether or not to be filled with fear or to mitigate that fear by asking myself, “what am I afraid of?” and get to the heart of it. Because fear looms large when it is not identified. When it is named, only then can it be tamed.

I have to discern the right words to share with my children. I have to discern when my thoughts circle too strong around one point. Name the point. And move on. 

My husband’s places of work are all closed. It is the same for many others. I was already swimming in the sea of social media and news updates. The more chaotic the world seems, the more, I think, maybe a schedule will help.

Mornings: a ten-minute meditation while I nurse the baby to quiet my thoughts and prepare my heart for the day.

I can read the news and do my work in the mornings while assisting my children with their schoolwork. We set in place work-from-home hours for my husband for the remote teaching put in place by his employers. Those hours include a break midday for me when he holds the baby.

We will eat meals together. I will set my computer aside in the afternoons. 

We will pray together and read together in the evenings. It interrupts the free-falling action of the day that sometimes occurs with spring-fevered children at home without access to their usual playmates and favorite librarians.

It is still Lent.

Photo by Martin Jernberg on Unsplash

And in the reflection of what these sacrifices mean, I call into question how I am receiving the present suffering. Do I remember that the world is a bigger place than my little home, that it has a past that goes far back beyond me and a future that will stretch far beyond this moment? Connecting to a sense of the transcendent puts into perspective this moment. 

As does finding meaning. These hard times, from wherever the hardship comes, brings into focus the things that matter most to our hearts and if they might, perhaps, need some reordering.

With hope and humility, I am going to try.