Phone a friend, if only to confess “I have no energy to talk”

An article* in the newspaper prompted me to reach out to a friend yesterday. It reminded me that we are all hopefully not sick but tired of the pandemic, and that perhaps our loved ones with small children are even more drained and hungry for a moment of adult contact.

It’s okay to reach out—a great idea, actually—even if your message is merely a confession that you’re too exhausted for a big, meaningful talk. What really matters is letting people know that you care. A text, a ping, a postcard: any of these is a whole lot better than nothing at all.

The article reminded me that my low energy might still be higher than someone else’s emotional charge.

Contact phoneLike many others, I’ve found the pandemic to be paradoxically physically isolating, yet discouraging to my tendency to reach out in other ways, even electronically. I may be the only person in America who has yet to join a Zoom meeting.

Perhaps because I’m an introvert, I’ve realized that stress tends to shut me up.

Though I never lack for opinions or the desire to share them, my mother’s death in 2019 made it very hard for me to post to Really Wonderful Things for a period of months. Similarly, while I think of many friends, often many times per day, the oppressive weight of living in a COVID-19 limited world often keeps me from calling or texting or even answering my phone when it rings with a call from someone I really miss.

I have no doubt that surviving a pandemic induces grief. As one bereaved just a year earlier, the parallels are plain to me.

Chatting with my friend—okay, it was texting—was a nice break from my current reality. She was the last person I saw socially before everyone sequestered at home. I met her still tiny baby that 2020 day over coffee at a shop near her house. NZ espresso Wildlife Refuge cafe

Already aware there was a mysterious virus swirling about the Earth, I didn’t ask to hold her little bundle of joy, but I did briefly get my freshly washed hands on one irresistible, itty bitty foot. Consider it the elbow bump version of appreciating a newborn as a pandemic loomed.

About a year has gone by since then. My friend’s baby is now a toddler with hair long enough to style in an up-do for a windy walk around a reservoir. I got to see a picture. I noted how the wee one’s hair favors the younger of her big brothers; my friend pointed out that her face is more like the elder sibling’s was in early childhood. Her eldest was about the age her baby is now when she and I first met!Woman hugs child

While joyful, the conversation was also full of pining for a return to our old kind of visits. I want hug her youngest urchin for the first time. She wishes she could help me fix what I’ve done to my poor sewing machine. We both miss those hours, here or there, that we used to steal for a cup of something and a chat while our kids were at school.

No wonder it’s so hard to catch up in the virtual realm. The act is such a stark reminder of all the real visiting that’s missing!

But we wandered, too, through the tentative plans our respective families are finally feeling free enough to make for the future. They’re thinking of moving for more yard space, or perhaps she’ll take a community garden plot to get her hands into the soil. I’m expecting that—come Hell or high water—I will find a way to get cross-country to see my father this summer. Both of us have begun pondering passports and international travel, but neither of us wants to board a long flight any time soon.

Her husband has always wanted to show their kids Niagara Falls; my family hopes to do a round trip cruise from Canada that circumnavigates Iceland from a port within driving distance in 2022.

It’s a bit like ordering seeds in January. It’s a lot like those longer, brighter New England days in early March when you can feel that spring really is a-comin’… while also remaining fully aware it would be unwise to put away the snow shovel just yet.purple and gold flowers blooming in Hafnarfjörður, Iceland

Reaching out and making contact—in even the tiniest way—plants another tiny grain of hope that we may all soon put this period of illness and extreme loneliness behind us. So phone a friend; nurture a bloom of camaraderie. They’ll understand if the best you’ve got to offer is, “I miss you, but I have no energy to talk.”

* “The parenting crisis without a vaccine: loneliness” by Boston Globe Correspondent Kara Baskin

Sending “filthy” photos to my kids when their chores demand attention

My kids have chores. They are both old enough now to lend a hand that’s actually useful. They ought to be able—and feel obligated—to assist in the smooth running of our household.

And, for the most part, they do. With some nagging required, absolutely, but they are good kids and reasonably helpful.Boy holding stick vacuum as if cleaning the floor

I’ve posted before about the best option I’ve found for keeping the kids on track with relatively less nagging: a chore checklist. Where I used to have one master list for the whole family, the enforced togetherness of the pandemic—and our loss of our usual paid help for the heavy cleaning—has prompted me to print a separate list for each kid, and even a new list* to remind my husband of the jobs I need him to cover.

For your reading pleasure, here are copies of my teen’s daily chore list and the middle schooler’s version. By all means, use them to prove to your own kids that they are not, in fact, the only children forced to help out around the house. Or, if your kids work much harder than mine, please let me know in the comments so I can educate my own wee punks the next time they complain about sweeping the kitchen.

And speaking of crumbs…

Visible dirt, crumbs and spills on white tile floorAm I the only mom in America whose family seems oblivious to visible schmutz on the floor?

If you peeked at the chore chart PDFs, you may have noticed that both kids are assigned to sweeping the kitchen tile once per day, and that it’s a totally separate job from plain old vacuuming which is also meant to include the kitchen. This isn’t because my standards are all that high; it reflects the reality that the dust bunnies threaten to outweigh we mere humans on a regular basis.

NZ Brush Co bannister brush used for sweeping up kitchen crumbsThe floors really are pretty filthy in spite of all of these assignments and my own quick swipes with broom, brush, or hand vac a few times each day. This fact leads inexorably to my new habit of sending the kids “filthy” photos via text message with disturbing regularity. Here are a few examples:

There’s hardwood with dust bunnies

dust, hair, and an old price tag on hardwood floor near chair leg

Corners with cobwebs very tricky to photograph spider silk, by the way

Cobweb formed in corner near door jamb over tile floor

And the supposedly “dusted” windowsill covered in not just pollen, but also an unused alcohol wipe still in its package that left a visible outline when shifted! Can that even be a mere week’s accumulation?Topical wipe covered in pollen on pollen-coated windowsill near outline from the shifted packet

I’ll spare you the picture of the toilet visibly in need of scrubbing. Even the teen objected to that disturbing image, asking me if sending it was really necessary.

“Do your chores,” I replied. “Believe me, I wish I hadn’t had to see it either!”

The word "dust" scraped onto a dusty black surfacePerhaps it is an extreme reaction on my part. Should I stop sending them the filthy photos?

Then again, here’s a squeaky clean picture that still led to nagging:

Bright blue plastic USB drive housing in pile of suds viewed through washing machine door

That turquoise blue plastic visible in the suds inside my washing machine is a thumb drive someone forgot to remove from his pocket before dumping clothes in the laundry.

Not sure that’s what’s scrubbing your files is supposed to look like…

A persistent, unequal distribution of household labor has pounded the mental and physical health of mothers during the COVID pandemic. The demands I place on my kids to shoulder their share of the load are my reaction to that. I think it is a rational one.

Sometimes, I give in to the urge to take over a job myself, unable to stand literally! on that sticky spot on the tile any longer, but, mostly, I squawk at the kids instead. It’s for my own benefit, of course, but it’s for their own good, too. Children who pitch in at home are going to become more useful adults. Printed instructions titled Housework is Hard! describing how to wipe kitchen counters and clean the microwave

Perhaps these boys I’m raising will grow up to be more equitable partners to their own spouses someday. That’s my hope. For the time being, I will keep nagging, provide clear instructions on how tasks can be done effectively, and remind my kids that they are valuable, contributing members of our family and household.

I’ll probably keep doing that via lots of dirty pictures.

* My husband’s list is pretty short as he already works something-teen hours per day in his full time job while also running a side hustle as a self-employed scientific consultant. I do need his help with the physically demanding tasks, such as vacuuming multiple floors with the full-size machine. (The kids just use the lightweight Dyson hand vacuum which doesn’t have the same power to tackle the *sigh* wall-to-wall carpeting as our plugged in, full sized Miele canister vac.) I’m not quite ready to watch the boys bash the woodwork with the machine, either.

DH’s new list does also include the task I need help with most: reminding the kids to do their own damn chores before he gives in to all of their demands for attention and snacks in the evening! It’s only fair that Dad take on his share of the nagging duties, though he’s better at science than he is at disciplining his own children.

For anyone who’d like to piggy-back on my step-by-step approach to getting effective assistance from older kids who might do a job half-heartedly without definitive instructions, here are links to PDF documents describing How to Clean the Microwave OvenHow to Wipe Clean the Kitchen Counter, and How to Clean the Bathroom. Inflict them on your own hapless helpers with my blessing!

Passage from Leave the World Behind epitomizes 2020’s key lesson

Like any sensible reader for whom Christmas triggers profound grief over the death of a holiday-adoring loved one, I began Christmas morning 2020 by finishing up a dystopian novel, Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind.

You can find a proper review from NPR or the New York Times, but I agree with the positive opinions that Alam crafted an unusual and interestingly written work of fiction. It isn’t an easy book to read due to the subject matter, but it wasn’t off-putting to me for the usual gruesome reasons I dislike most horror. Gird yourself for a downward spiral of darkness if you dive in, but Leave the World Behind is well worth reading.

Leave the World Behind book coverWhat follows is a quotation from near the end of the novel, but I don’t believe reading it out of context constitutes a spoiler for the plot. I’m putting it “below the fold” in case any reader feels differently and prefers to stop here.

Continue reading

Real world Valentines, or, “There’s something weird on the toilet”

My husband always remembers to buy me flowers.

I lead with this fact because I’m well aware that not all spouses are as:

  1. generous with their displays of affection, and
  2. organized with their time

as my not-quite-perfect-yet-perfect-for-me husband. In a world where partner-bashing could be a professional sport, I like to clear a space to express my inter-personal gratitude and all the ways that our relationship makes my life better.

Here’s hoping I’m half as well appreciated by him! I’m also quite definitely imperfect, after all.

But this isn’t going to be a post about my “perfect” husband’s grand romantic gestures for Valentine’s Day. Instead, I’m moved to write about the imperfect intersection of family life, daily reality, and romance. Odd bedfellows, indeed!

I’ve told my husband about a million times that he doesn’t have to battle the crowds of beleaguered husbands to buy day-of flowers for me on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or any other Day When Good Men Buy Gifts. I do emphatically! enjoy being acknowledged, but I’m quite happy to let dates slip by a day or two in order to avoid crowds and gross inconvenience for my partner or myself.

I’d rather eat in on a holiday to avoid dining elbow-to-elbow in a packed room at the “correct” time for celebration. Along the same lines, I’m happy to receive my flowers on another day.

And yet, DH—being a gentleman with old-fashioned manners—showed up last Friday with a large bouquet of red roses for me. Yes: his mother is suitably proud.

I was having a rough day as far as my ongoing health issues go, so I decided to forego a heavy crystal vase in favor of anything I could lift.

Dozen red roses in yellow ceramic pitcher on windowsillMy favorite vessel for cut flowers is actually a little dijon yellow ceramic pitcher. I thought the red roses looked quite fetching in it, and the arrangement matched my outfit, too.

DH’s largess, however, meant I still had quite an array of blooms left for which homes wanted finding. It crossed my mind that a bud vase next to my desk would be a nice reminder of how much I’m loved while I work on the bane of every first quarter of the new year, our income tax returns.

3 red roses in a short, tulip-shaped bus vase of purple glass

A slim glass vase held only a few more stems, though, so I wasn’t done re-homing flora.

In keeping with the lower-center-of-gravity-means-less-knocking-over-by-arthritic-hands philosophy of the day, I remembered my tiniest crystal vase. It’s good and heavy for its size, but also quite stable. I was having that kind of day. Arthritis makes me a klutz.

Half a dozen red roses in a small crystal vase

I placed the final half dozen or so roses and went about my business.

Valentine’s Day fell on a school day this year, and, eventually, my younger son arrived home. Upon entering the powder room after dropping his lunch box in the kitchen, he yelled,

Hey, there’s something weird on the toilet!”

Yes, dear readers, I’d placed the final little vase in one of the few uncluttered spaces in my maximalist home: atop the toilet tank lid in the guest bath.

I suppose “something weird on the toilet” is better than “something rotten in the state of Denmark,” at least as far as home decoration goes.

Small crystal vase of red roses atop white ceramic toilet tank

Here’s what Instagram stories rarely feature: we all live imperfect lives. Many families have messy homes. We certainly do. Yes, even on holidays.

Maybe especially on holidays!

Loving partnerships thrive in cluttered suburban McMansions, Korean banjiha, dilapidated farmhouses, and also I’d expect in zen-like modern interiors kept up by teams of professional cleaners as seen on tv.

Here’s the long view of my other vessels full of horticultural affection.

The kitchen sink is full of dirty dishes, but our hearts are full of love!

I fussed for about five seconds trying to take a “pretty” picture of my Valentine flowers, but if I’d had the energy to get the dishes done and work on the taxes, it already would have happened.

It’s easy for me to get caught up in foolish self-inflicted punishments.

  • I can’t buy that bouquet today because they will look dumb on my cluttered dining table.
  • There’s no point replacing my tattered towels when the kids keep staining the good ones.

Lipstick on a pig!

You can follow that path to all sorts of dreadful places, like not buying flattering clothing that fits for want of losing weight. It’s silly, it’s harmful, and I try not to live like that.

My Valentine flowers are a loving gesture from a person who actually strives to make me happy every single day. That’s well worth celebrating in and of itself! Seen in that light, it would be downright shameful of me not to share my imperfect photos with the world with the celebration and joy that selfless love deserves.

On Valentine’s Day, I didn’t feel in wonderful health and my house was a mess, but I had the good fortune to spend the day with people I love and who love me back. It’s lovely; it’s enough. I wish everyone felt free to bask in such glorious imperfection.

And a skeptic as to my sincerity when I protest obligatory flowers, even 20+ years into our relationship!

Hug ‘er if you’ve got ‘er this Mother’s Day

This Mother’s Day is one to teach me the value of gratitude for what I have.

If your mother is still around, embrace her if you can. Call her if she’s far away.

Woman hugs childThere’s no one quite like the person who puts you first before all others. Or, perhaps, just makes you feel like she does.

Shh, I won’t tell your siblings you’re Mom’s favorite!

If something besides space lies between you and your mom, try hard to find some way past it.

Loving someone for who they are doesn’t mean agreeing with everything s/he thinks, feels, or does. It’s simply a blessing for both parties and a way of bettering our world.

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who is or has a mother.

Gee, I think that’s everyone!