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.

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!

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

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.