We’re all coming unglued

At the risk of sounded like a spoiled, entitled Karen (I had to look that up), I’m freaking done with this stay-at-home shit.

As I’ve documented ad nauseam in previous posts, our family has been hunkered down since March 15. As Governor Inslee tightened the restrictions, we did as we were told. Back then, my city was the epicenter of coronavirus. CDC officials got takeout at my favorite falafel place in Juanita Village. I was scared shitless that the virus was going to come in through the windows and doors.

My friend Robyn called me in early April, freaking out about the news that Mayor Garcetti had urged Angelenos to wear masks in public. Remember, back in early April, the CDC was begging people to leave the masks for the first responders. It felt very scary for a public official to make a different recommendation. Did he know something we didn’t? Were we all going to die?

There’s been lots of little freak-outs ever since then, but I’ve always managed to pull myself together, and solider on. What choice did I have? It’s not like I could decamp to my luxurious (and fictional) beachfront oasis. And even if I could, the local residents might show up with pitchforks. So we stayed in.

It’s now the end of April. My house is a disaster, no matter what I do. Steve is trying to work and trying to stay calm every time one of the kids calls out “Daaaad?” My kids are losing their minds in different ways. I am Evan’s personal second grade teacher, his disciplinarian, and his only playmate. Bini is self-winding with his schoolwork, until he gets frustrated and the whole family gets sucked into his umbrage tornado.

We try to stay positive, and point out the necessity of protecting ourselves and other people. And my kids, they take that seriously. But they feel the strain, the strangeness of being cooped up for weeks and weeks, and it smashes up against this important duty we’re doing for others. There’s nowhere to put that fear, and confusion. And the adults in their lives? We don’t have any answers. That’s freaking bananas for a kid, not to mention two kids from trauma.

Bini argues with everything we say. Oh, I hear you out there — that’s what adolescents do. No. No. Noooooo. This is extreme. Every interaction with our almost-12-year-old son ends in yelling and slammed doors. We try ignoring his behavior — the breathtaking displays of impudence. It tests every bit of patience that we possess as parents. But Steve and I understand that he’s struggling, that we’re all struggling, and he misses his friends. He misses school. He misses being away from us for six hours a day. 

And so I’ve tried, within the confines of what we’re allowed, to help him.  I’ve engineered FaceTime group chats with his friends, and he’s not interested. I forced him to go on a socially distant bike ride with his friend up the street and he kept insisting that it wasn’t allowed, it wasn’t allowed. I’ve tried talking to him, but he shuts me down.

And then there’s Evan, our formerly happy-happy-joy-joy boy. The first two weeks of having Mommy as teacher were SO much fun! We looked for specimens to look at under his microscope. We did chalk drawings. He ripped through workbook pages and delighted in his Outschool classes, which I put him in until the school district could get its ever-loving act together.

And then, as soon as we started getting packets from his teacher, he rebelled. Evan, usually cooperative, refused to do his work. He would moan and cry about the four zillion learning websites he now has to do, every day, every week. I implored his teacher for a 5-minute confab over Microsoft Teams, or Skype, or whatever. After 24 hours without a word, I nudged her again and she replied with a terse email for us to read aloud to Evan. Was it effective? What do you think?

Today, Evan had an Outschool class with all of his friends. And he stood with his back to us and patently refused to do it.

Evan bag
Evan, wearing a bag on his head.

“But it’s your friends!” I pointed out.

“No it’s not! It’s just them on a computer!” Evan yelled. “It’s not the same!”

I appreciate the way that everyone (except Evan’s elementary school teacher) has stepped up and adapted to this abrupt and terrifying sea change. Our karate studio figured it out. Bini’s tutor figured it out. My friends and I figured it out. But it’s not enough, it’s not OK, it’s not normal, and we’re all coming fucking unglued.

What am I going to do about it? Nothing. I’m going to do nothing, except write this damn post and complain. And then I’m going to go downstairs, empty my dishwasher for the 47th time, and make a dinner my kids won’t eat. And then, we do it all again.



Dear Future Self

Dear Future Self,

If you’re reading this, you’re not in quarantine anymore. Coronavirus infections have subsided, widespread testing is available, and we’re free to move about as we once did. We’re free to gather with family and friends. We’re able to shop in stores without masks, and social distancing. We’re able to go back to our jobs. We can travel like we once did. Life is (mostly) back to normal.

Except I hope it’s not.

The months (at this point, it looks like months) that we spent staying at home were incredibly difficult. I don’t think I’ll ever be a homeschooler. The kids were super dysregulated and as the weeks went on, difficult to motivate. We read too much news and learned new terms, like PPE, “flattening the curve,” and droplet transmission. At our Zoom happy hours and furtive, across-the-fence conversations, coronavirus was all we talked about. Our family ultimately, adjusted to being together all the time, but it wasn’t pretty. The kids didn’t leave our neighborhood for months. People lost their jobs, saw their small businesses crater, and their savings disappear. Not faraway people, either. People I know personally, and care about.

It was like the world was in a bunker together, waiting for the coast to be clear.

Evan and I spent a sunny afternoon drawing all over the sidewalk.

But I also saw some things that I desperately don’t want to evaporate like the coronavirus. I saw people staying home to protect themselves, but also, other people. I saw our family calendar shrink to nothing. No obligations. Our routine became schooling, eating together, spending time outside together, and winding down for bed together. We played games. We cooked together. And we gave to others.

I saw friends and people in the community rally to help children, and senior citizens, Native American tribe members, and mothers recovering from substance abuse. I recall driving back over the 520 bridge after delivering one of two carloads full of donated coloring books and non-perishable foods and feeling like I might burst with joy. It wasn’t a self-congratulatory joy, though. It was a feeling that I can’t put into words.

There’s something truly magnificent, truly transcendent when people come together for a common goal. During our quarantine, I was constantly blow away by how my friends and friends of friends and people I didn’t even know stepped up to help. Every time I

Hoh tribe
Members of the Hoh tribe filling a van and part of a pickup with donations collected from friends, and friends of friends.

opened my front door, I’d find a new batch of donated items. Beautiful, heartfelt artwork and letters for isolated seniors at retirement homes. Bag after bag of sanitary supplies for women of the Hoh tribe. Donated coolers so that staff at Compass Housing Alliance could deliver sack lunches to children. Used towels so that the homeless can shower. It buoyed me, Future Self. It gave me so much hope.

It wasn’t just the grand gestures, either. It was the little ones. I talked to my parents more often during our self-quarantine.  “We don’t hear from very many people these days,” my mom told me. “So it just makes your day.” A friend shared her sourdough starter, Clint Yeastwood, and I made kick-ass pancakes for my ungrateful children. An acquaintance that I’ve wanted to know better dropped off flowers and a sweet note on my doorstep, thanking me for the work I’m doing in the community. The next day, our dear friends brought another batch of flowers, just because. And on my friend’s 50th birthday, I took part in a birthday parade (another new term). I would have done it during normal times, but in normal times, the drive would take 45 minutes, and I’d be harried. During the pandemic, I got there in 20 minutes and joined a string of exuberant people in Redmond on a Monday with one goal: To celebrate our friend.

I taped this to the side of my car and drove past blaring The Beatles’ “Birthday.”

So, no. I don’t want to go back to a world where I’m in my own head, overreacting to what now feels like small slights and insignificant issues. I want to take this feeling that I have now and hold on to some of it. I don’t want to go back to shopping for sport, or taking friendships and family for granted. I don’t want to go back to a packed schedule, with activities and lessons and endless social obligations. I want to be more thoughtful about how I choose to spend my time.

I hope, Future Self, that you’re not buried in some never-ending to-do list or frantic over some self-imposed deadline. I hope that you’ve managed to maintain some of the good feelings that manifested during this very scary time. There were bright lights during the darkness, connections made that deserve to be cherished. Because right now, thousands of people are dying. Elderly people, young people, grocery workers, bus drivers. And these people are dying alone. So don’t make this terrible time be for naught. Let it have meant something.


Coronavirus Me