adventures from the homefront, COVID-19 edition, episode 19: anniversaries

Today is my 27th wedding anniversary, and this year both Anthony and I turn 54. So we’ve officially been married half our lives. To say the wedding was an afterthought isn’t quite right – it was a profound event in which we celebrated our love with friends and family (and some strangers), and we had fun and cried and all that, but it didn’t change our devotion.  We had made our lifelong commitment to each other, in our hearts and behaviors, long before a wedding.

A half-life ago, the US economy was just starting to think about pulling out of a deep recession in the wake of Reagan’s devastating trickle-down economic policies. Institutionalized apartheid still existed in South Africa.  I was never going to have kids. Newt Gingrich was talking hypocritically about “family values” and really getting me riled up.  We were listening to Rage Against the Machine and the Cranberries and Soundgarden and Billy Bragg. 9/11 hadn’t yet happened, and the US hadn’t yet been dragged into a long-term war on false pretenses.  Dreamers couldn’t dream legally. It was unimaginable that a conservative justice would write a Supreme Court decision declaring a constitutional right to marriage for all humans, LGBTQ and otherwise. It had been only three years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  I could never have imagined a silver-spooned, half-baked business man-turned reality TV star becoming our president by blowing racist dog whistles.  And I had never heard of Juneteenth as an important date. I had no idea I was getting married on the celebration day for the end of slavery in America.

Somehow, despite knowing of Juneteenth for some years now, I never made that date connection until this year. I don’t even understand how in the world I missed it.  I guess I just wasn’t paying attention; but also perhaps American education and news hadn’t brought it to my attention, or even worse had hidden it. But I know it now.

COVID-19, and the anti-police-brutality peaceful protest movement that’s sweeping across America, have made 2020 one crazy year.  I hope we’re all listening, growing,  and eventually healing.  I hope I’ve thought about race issues with an open heart through the years, and now I hope I can think more deeply and more clearly about these things.  I hope I’ve done right things to support social justice and parity and to fight discrimination and hate and violence, and now I hope I can do more and better right things in pursuit of a better world.  I hope I’ve believed in and supported our individual responsibility to community, in terms of social justice and physical and mental wellness, and now I hope I can learn to do more to be a responsible human being.

I’m learning slowly, ever so slowly, that I can be a good and useful person already, and also be a person who needs to improve and change in fundamental ways. This is apparently a hard lesson for a lot of us, especially when it comes to race in America.  But of course, we can’t grow into wisdom without admitting to our ignorance and mistakes. I can be strong enough to listen when someone tells me I’ve messed up — in the words I’ve chosen, in the actions I’ve taken —  and then work towards a more informed, more effective space.  I’m working on it.

Meanwhile, in the microcosm of my personal life, COVID-19 quarantining has created space to rediscover my husband.  Anthony and I have used the extra time we’ve had in the past few months to jump into old sandboxes together.

We’ve started hitting golf balls again — after a 16 year hiatus on my part! — and even have played a couple of 9-hole rounds on a par-three course. Anthony and I used to be avid, passionate golfers. Every weekend we played, weather permitting.  We would hit the driving range at least a couple times a week after work.  Our vacations were often golf vacations.  We would go to Myrtle Beach, an east coast golf Mecca, and play 14 courses in 7 days. When we visited family, we brought our clubs.

A round of golf was space away from all the worries of our jobs and world news.  We could spend 5 hours on a course together, pottering about on green surfaces, whacking balls, chatting and holding hands. Nothing could really come between us except our own grumpiness.

I felt surprisingly anxious about swinging a club again, but it turned out to be a lot like riding a bicycle. Being out there with Anthony has brought up an unexpected sense of peaceful contentment in me.  (When we’re out there. Still grumpy elsewhere.)

We’ve also been working in the yard like mad. We’ve built and filled raised vegetable bed boxes; hauled 18 cubic yards of fill dirt, garden dirt, and mulch from here to there; dug trenches to drain a huge temporary pond that forms every spring, and built a walkway into the middle of said pond so Anthony can use a sump pump on it; split plants, moved plants, and installed new plants in old and new beds; cleared half an acre of invasive buckthorn and garlic mustard; and weeded and weeded and weeded.

A couple days ago, we spent four hours digging up a bed of hostas on a steep hillside out back.  The soil there is pretty poor and weedy, and we had a couple cubic yards of bulk garden soil waiting to find a final resting place.  So we dug out about 50 mostly-mature hostas in an area that’s about 15- to 20-feet square, and carefully weeded. Then we carted the new soil from out front into the back yard, one heaping wheelbarrow trip after another, and spread it all over the area.  Then we put all the hostas back.  As Anthony said in the evening: four hours of exhausting labor, and nothing has changed.

But it was still a good four hours.  Anthony and I trooped around together, dug together, stared at our beloved plants and gardens together, paused for water together, grumbled together about our various middle-aged aches and pains, chatted together about politics and culture and life in 2020.  It was a pretty good metaphor for our marriage — getting shit done, one moment at a time, mostly right by each other’s side, content to be together.

As with the wider world, in the little world of my love story with Anthony, I’ve learned that I can be a good partner and friend while also being profoundly imperfect. I’m lucky to have found a mate who understands and accepts that about me.  I’m working on being strong enough to listen when he tells me hard things. I know Anthony is too.

Twenty seven years after I got married, and 401 years after slavery arrived on the shores of my nation, there’s still hope. I guess.  In this Age of Trump and racist dog whistles, I have to work hard to remind myself that we have taken small steps forward. But I’m ready for us to leap.

 

adventures from the homefront, COVID-19 edition, episode 18: fatigue

Some time in the last week or two, I’ve hit a wall.  More often than not, I feel more tired than I should, more grumpy, more impatient, more blank, more frustrated, more disheveled, more disorganized.  I’m getting angry at the kids when I shouldn’t.  I’m not organizing solid activities for them, and I’m feeling guilty about pushing them to do anything because life is already so stressful for them right now.  Making healthy meals feels like a heavy chore instead of a joy.  Most evenings, I stick in my AirPods and try to disappear from my family for a while – listening to music and sewing masks by myself, lying in bed by myself and staring at a device.  I don’t even want the dogs around me in those moments.

Oh sure, we still do fun stuff. We’re gardening, we’ve got flowers and vegetables sprouting aplenty. We’ve been hitting the driving range, we ride our bikes, we go to the lake. Yadda yadda.  But it feels often like I’m just going through the motions.

I remember this feeling from a few years ago, when I was in a deep depression and couldn’t get out of bed some days. It scares me. I don’t want to go through it again.

I am blessed with solid health insurance and the means to continue working with my therapist, Dr. G.  We talk every couple of weeks by phone, in the age of COVID-19.  I told him yesterday about how I’m feeling. It’s a change, because up until now I’ve been feeling pretty solid in 2020.  After I blathered for a while, he said, “It’s a common feeling right now.”

Mental health people are calling it “coronavirus fatigue.” It’s a thing. People are exhausted emotionally.

Coronavirus. The divisive and hostile state of American politics, and a president with no capacity to lead with empathy and compassion. Distance learning for our kids, and all the frustrations and changes that has entailed. The armed protests by white cammo-people over quarantine, met with a patient, restrained police response. The largely-peaceful protests inspired by Mr. Floyd’s killing, met with police and paramilitary violence. Families stuck together for unreasonable amounts of time without access to other important friendships and colleagues… There is a whole lot to process right now. It is legitimately overwhelming.

I stared out the window as Dr. G spoke about the phenomenon of coronavirus fatigue. I finally remarked, “So I don’t have to feel like a failure right now? I can give myself a break for feeling this way?”

Silly Carla.  All the years and all the reads and all the therapies and all the workshops and all the advocacy and still, it’s so hard to give myself compassion.

Dr. G reminded me of the basics.  Continue with self care, even if it feels selfish. It’s not.  Get rest. Find space for yourself. Continue teaching your kids your values. You have the authority as a parent to do that.  Continue trying and doing.

I will keep trying and doing, I told myself.  I am telling this to myself this morning, as I sit here. Technically, I know this sort of self talk can make a difference, but it feels silly and hard when I’m stuck in a rut.  Still, I will keep trying and doing.

A few weeks ago, Jesse put her foot through a window in her bedroom and gave herself a wicked cut that required a trip to urgent care.  The kick was the expression of an obsession and a tic.  As she said to me later, “That window has been bothering me for a long time now.”

She tried to hide the gash on her foot, but there was so much blood it was impossible.  Even as we rushed her to urgent care, she insisted that we shouldn’t. “I don’t deserve it,” she said. “I can take care of this myself.”

She was stoic and pretended it didn’t hurt.

When we tended to the wound in the days that followed, she would often remark to me that she didn’t deserve the attention. She did it to herself. She deserved to suffer.

I told Jesse over and over, you don’t deserve to suffer.  I love you.  I want you to stop hurting yourself.

It is very, very hard to see my daughter express such thoughts.  It is even harder to recognize in them a reflection of my own habit of self-punishment, but I have to stare into the mirror and ask big questions.  I’ve done my share of weeping about it.  I know that this hangs over me and is one of the reasons I’m low on juice and resilience these days.

And I know I’m not alone in this vast world of a million-billion-zillion human beings.  We are all suffering together right now, but also we have the power to carry each other through.

Hey listen, if you’re suffering, please don’t do it alone. Don’t harm yourself, don’t tell yourself that your humanity matters less than someone else’s. Don’t let your rage and exhaustion own you, if you can fight it. Don’t let false shame stop you from seeking help. Call someone, anyone. Here are some numbers.

National Hopeline Network
(800) SUICIDE

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
(800) 273-TALK (8255)

National Youth Crisis Hotline
(800) 442-HOPE (4673)

Poison Control
(800) 222-1222

National Institute on Drug Abuse Hotline
(800) 662-4357

National Help Line for Substance Abuse
(800) 262-2463

National Domestic Violence Hotline
(800) 799-7233

National US Child Abuse Hotline
(800) 422-4453

 

adventures from the homefront, COVID-19 edition, episode 17: don’t worry, be happy

I took Jesse over to her school today, to drop off the past month’s work. Before I pulled out of the driveway, I grabbed my phone, brought up her playlist (which I have named “Young teenage POP Angst”), and  put it on shuffle.

I did not remember that Bobby McFerrin was on the playlist.  If you don’t remember him? Don’t worry, be happy.

Here, if you must, listen to the song that shuffled into our ears:

Bobby’s happy tweety harmonies blasted through the car’s speakers. In this pandemic age, where some noisome people are more worried about getting haircuts and a drink at a bar than about helping each other stay safe, and the voices of racists are being amplified by the American president, and protests against police abuses have been going on for more than a week now, and a small cotillion of provocateurs are using this opportunity to turn to violence and looting, and right-wing media sources are wrapping them all up unfairly with people legitimately seeking justice and equity, and a president is insanely threatening to invoke the Insurrection Act to throttle peaceful protesters, and an entire fascist-minded apparatus is falling in line behind that mindset, and people are feeling angry and hopeless and filled with a good deal of despair… Bobby didn’t sound cheerful and optimistic.  He sounded sarcastic and shrill, like it was a big lie, like the whole time everyone thought he was selling an upbeat vibe, he was actually dying inside.

These thoughts passed through my mind in a very brief second or two, and then I glanced back at Jesse through the rear view mirror.  The look on her face as she stared out the window said what I was feeling, which, boiled down to essentials, was this: WTF BOBBY.

After just a few measures of wheedling happiness, it became too painful to listen to, without amendments.  I started singing along, with my own lyrics.

A 12-year-old plays with a fake gun
The cops come and shoot him down
But don’t worry, be happy

Jesse grunted.  “He must have been black, they wouldn’t have done that to a white kid.”

I replied. “If any white boy in America had been shot by the police for playing with a toy gun, Fox would never stop talking about it and I’m sure they’ve tried their level best to find a story like that.”

Ooh, ooh ooh ooh oo-ooh ooh oo-ooh, oo-oo- oooh
Don’t worry, be happy

Jesse snorted. “Yeah.”

A black man runs away from a cop
He’s scared cuz he knows he’ll be shot
Don’t worry, be happy

Jesse rolled her eyes from the back seat and scoffed. I needed to keep drowning Bobby out.

A white cop puts his knee on your neck
Nine minutes later you just drop dead
Don’t worry, be–

“MOM, STOP IT OKAY? JUST STOP IT! I GET IT, I GET IT, OKAY?? I’M UPSET ABOUT IT, OKAY?? I KNOW I HAVE IT EASY, OKAY??”

I hollered back. “WHAT MAKES YOU THINK I’M TRYING TO SEND YOU A MESSAGE? I’M PROCESSING A LOT OF FEELINGS AND ANGER TOO AND MAYBE IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!”

Jesse hollered back. “THEN DO IT QUIETLY, OKAY? JUST DO IT QUIETLY.”

Said my daughter who yells her feelings at me every day.  I heard my words in hers, the echo of me telling her to quiet down, day after day, to find a way to hold her huge feelings and needs in silent check. In that moment, I felt intense regret. Don’t quiet down, I thought, casting the feeling out across my nation.  Don’t do it quietly. Keep making as much noise as you can.

But I was stuck in a car with Jesse, so I didn’t say it out loud.  We finished the drive in silence, as Bobby’s self-reflecting overdubs shrilled to the bitter end.