Yesterday I forgot to check the number of new COVID cases in DC until 6pm. And before that, I forgot to check for a whole long weekend.
I go for walks now without putting on a mask, even if it is wadded up in my pocket, or wrapped around my wrist, just in case.
Our son has been back in daycare for 3 weeks, happily making friends and walking straight into our provider’s home without even a wave goodbye, as if he never left, as if the pandemic never happened to him and he didn’t have excessive screen time over the last 14 months. I stand on the porch, masked, waving at the door.
A few weeks ago, we took our (vaccinated) selves out to dinner for my husband’s birthday, and because it was raining, we sat indoors. After I got over my initial panic and realized we were still near multiple open windows, I began to relax. I enjoyed my French bistro meal and even savored a couple ounces of red wine over the course of our evening, letting the dim, quaint interior, a black dress, and the space between patrons shelter my third trimester belly from judgement.
We had friends over for brunch, and I held a baby, who I had attended a virtual baby shower for. I just looked at her with wonder, wonder that a whole new person had been created and birthed and raised by two people I love (but hadn’t seen), all during this strange year.
We’re currently planning out how to take advantage of our parental leave after the new baby is born, plotting out which new restaurants to try while the baby naps on us or in her stroller, figuring out what’s within walking distance in our new neighborhood and in this brave new world of relaxed outdoor seating.
We’re making plans, which in and of itself seems pretty big these days. We’re looking ahead, but I can’t help but glance back, to make sure we’re really, truly in the clear, that the virus, the dread, the uncertainty, the loneliness, the smallness of that life is no longer nipping at our heels.
Things are not normal yet. I don’t know what normal even is anymore. But we’re getting there, or to somewhere close.
I haven’t been writing anything lately. My brain is too full and too empty. I have nothing to write about and everything to write about. I’m caught between two thoughts – “I must write” and “How could I possibly write now?” I understand the feeling people have when they say they’re feeling unmoored. I am, as they say, adrift.
There has been so much change and so little time to reflect. And more change is coming, so perhaps it’s time for me to find time to think before I get dragged under by another riptide of upheaval in our lives.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s all good change – we have a baby on the way, we just moved into a new home, we’re vaccinated, our son is going back to daycare. All good things that I still have so many emotions about. That I also feel nothing about – well, not nothing. But more anxiety than I thought I would, so it feels like a big, dark cloud that is covering what should be a brightly shining sun, finally coming into view.
So that’s why I haven’t been writing, because it feels like pulling a thread on a sweater, and if I tug too hard, it will unravel and leave me naked. And after an unimaginable year – for everyone – I’m just not ready to get out of my cozy clothes.
I don’t do reading roundups super often because 1) there are people out there who read so much more on the Internet than I do, and they’re so much better at compiling interesting, relevant reading lists, and 2) because I am a mom, and my recent reads are…probably not that recent.
That being said, as we’re coming up on a year of this pandemic and potentially, maybe, possibly seeing a light at the end of the tunnel, there has been SO much good stuff to read online. Without further ado, the things I have really loved reading lately (like, in the past month or so):
How a Soft-Food Diet Inspired Intuitive Eating: A little less than a decade ago, I went on my own intuitive eating journey to break some very restrictive eating habits. It didn’t really stick though, until I moved to DC in the middle of the summer, and it was SO HOT. And do you know what I lived around the corner from? A frozen yogurt shop, which I visited almost daily, and where I discovered that if I had frozen yogurt for lunch the world wouldn’t fall apart, and neither would I.
Go ahead, turn your camera off. Video calls are breeding ‘Zoom dysmorphia’ and hurting productivity: I was remote a lot pre-pandemic, but the expectation was never so high to have our cameras turned on, so this rise in on-camera meetings has me stressed out. I look at the facial expressions I make constantly, adjusting my contemplative face every five second to look like I’m focused, when that’s pulling my focus from the meeting more than anything else. Cameras have been off in a few recent meetings, and I have been so much more attuned to the task at hand.
The Dolly Moment: A great long-read on why we love Dolly Parton, even when the idealized model she stems from is more problematic.
Opinion | Taylor Swift Is Singing Us Back to Nature: I have more recently become a TSwift fan, and while I’m not a diehard like so many, I do appreciate her songwriting, and this was a beautiful opinion piece – from an unlikely source – about why it matters.
People Said I Was Special. Really, I Just Had ADHD.: This was super heartbreaking to read, especially as I learn more and more about how many mental health diagnoses are missed in women, especially ADHD, which can have a severe impact on self-esteem and the narratives we tell ourselves about ourselves.
March has us all feeling some type of way this year. Tired, hopeful, bored, in disbelief, at our wit’s ends.
I personally feel all of the above. And while I’m trying to get past these and through them and acknowledge them and absorb all of these feelings, today I am also trying to find the glimmers of beauty and wonder in the mundane.
So today, I am grateful for our coffee pot that keeps the coffee warm without burning it.
I am thankful that Zingerman’s cinnamon raisin bread freezes so well, allowing me to pull out the loaf my in-laws sent us a few months ago to experience a little novelty in my breakfast routine, when nothing else feels new.
I am grateful for 60-degree weather that has my two-year-old running up and down the street and across our tiny city yard, chasing after bubbles and chalking our entire front porch in thick layers of blue, pink, and purple dust.
I am thankful for open windows that let the neighborhood sounds float in, even if they also let ants in.
I am grateful for books that zoom across the Internet and onto my Kindle as soon as another reader is done with them at the library, giving me a place to escape to when the outside world and social media are what I need escaping from.
I am thankful that the songs my son likes to fall asleep and dance to are not annoying (yet), and I don’t mind when they get stuck in my head when he’s not around.
I think sometimes the big things we’re thankful for – health, family, friends, jobs, roofs over our heads – are easy to rattle off and then ultimately take for granted. So today I’m attempting to see the trees rather than the forest, the drops rather than the ocean, the crumbs rather than the whole (Zingerman’s) loaf. I hope as you’re slogging through this home stretch, you can find the little miracles for yourself, too.
These past 11 months have really shaken things up for everyone, huh? Obviously, this has been an incredibly tragic time in the nation’s and the world’s history, but it’s also just been…weird. On top of finding ourselves doing things we never thought we would have to do (homeschool/supervise distance learning, set up makeshift offices, keep face masks on us at all times), I feel like we’ve found ourselves doing things we never thought we would want to do. People across the US became bread bakers, interior designers, amateur mask makers…the list goes on. We found our worlds turned upside down and adjusted and coped as best we could. I know I, for one, did a lot of things I never expected to in a million years.
I cut my own hair: Full disclosure, I had totally trimmed a split end here or there, but I left the big cuts to the pros. About a month ago, though, I got really desperate as my hair was unintentionally reaching mermaid territory, and not in a cute way. I was looking…is feral the right word here? I’m not sure. But it was taking forever to detangle and dry this mane, so something had to be done. So I found a random video on YouTube, and cut several inches off my hair, and even added layers. Is it a professional cut? No. But does it look pretty good when curled? Actually, yes.
We got a TP subscription service: Like, toilet paper wasn’t something I really enjoyed shopping for, but it was an afterthought, something I picked up at the store when we were running low. But right before the pandemic started, I decided to get our household on a greener path, and looked into bamboo toilet paper. I signed up for Reel TP, along with Blueland hand soap, in probably late February, and boy, am I glad I did! Knowing TP and soap were going to be delivered to me, and I wouldn’t have to fight someone at Safeway for them was a real relief. Still, I didn’t expect I would ever get literally everything delivered to my door.
I took up a bunch of creative projects (like, more than normal): I’ve always loved to write nonfiction, and always have a million other ideas floating around in my head, but this pandemic, I actually started a novel (then started another after I scrapped the first idea), wrote 100 poems, and even contemplated starting a TikTok (I legit have a video script written out, we’ll see if I work up the courage to do it in the next 5 years). Follow-through rate is not super high, but actually starting some of my more random ideas is new for me.
I went on a podcast: I joined Jenn from the “How Did You End Up There?” podcast to talk about my career in PR and communications, which, funny enough, had just come to a screeching halt. (I laugh to keep from crying at what the pandemic has done to women’s careers over the past 12 months). So we talked about my job, less than a month after I quit, but we also had a great conversation about the sacrifices women have had to make – both with their families and with their careers – during this really strange time.
I quit my job: Speaking of which…I’ve talked about this before, but I had been looking to make a change, to see what else was out there in the field of communications for a while. I did not, however, expect to completely quit my job with nothing lined up because of a global pandemic that left parents the world over scrambling for childcare (or attempting to work while watching kids and overseeing distance learning). It came down to feeling like a good mom or a good employee – and at the time, I felt like neither – so I picked being a good parent, who wasn’t constantly so stressed and anxious that she also started to layer on the worry that she was missing out on so much, not only because of work, but because her stress was messing with her actual long-term memory. Permanent SAHP life (or even part-time freelance like I’m doing now) is probably not for me, but I am really glad I made this decision.
What have you done this pandemic, whether you wanted to or not, that you never expected to in this lifetime?
You know the Talking Heads song, “Once in a Lifetime?” I’ve been thinking a lot about the lyrics for pretty much the entire last year, because I often ask myself, “well how did I get here?” And logically, like stepwise, I know exactly how I got here. But when I zoom out, I am still stunned, and a little confused, at where I am. A little over six years ago, I was a single grad student who was a year from turning 30, cobbling together an income so I could live in a rowhouse in Columbia Heights with 3 other people, trying to date and find my person among a lot of self-important consultants and Hill staffers, and figuring out what exactly I wanted to do next. Would I stay in DC? Would I work for a big company? A nonprofit? Would I settle down with someone? Become the cool aunt? Should I meet friends for drinks or actually work out after my 8pm class ends?
Fast forward to now, and my life looks very different. I’m a married homeowner, I’m a freelancer for a large PR agency (formerly a Director, but…COVID made me re-evaluate a few things), and I HAVE A CHILD. I’m not going to pick up and move, I’m with my person for the long-haul, clearly I already committed to the kid thing, and if something starts after 8pm, there’s no way I’m going. Those big questions I ask myself are fewer and farther between. But once again, I am trying to figure out what I really, truly want to do for a living, how I want to spend my time and energy outside of my family.
So while I barely know how I got here, I also don’t know where I’m going.
But here’s the thing – as much as I want to feel like I have a unique perspective, I know that this feeling, this sudden rocketing forward into adulthood and then standing still, bewildered about how you got here and what comes next is really common. Many millennials spent most of our 20s trying to make the best of a bad situation, taking the jobs we could get in a not-so-great economy and trying to find love (or whatever) on dating apps. We worked hard, paid our dues (and the minimum payments on our student loans and credit cards), and laughed when anyone we knew talked seriously about buying a house. All while hearing how much society hated us and how self-involved we were in pretty much every major media outlet. People talk about millennials and our delayed adolescence, our earnestness, and our eternal quest for comfort and coziness, but we also have lived through our share of not-so-great historical events (and now two recessions, cool), so can you blame us?
That’s all we see and hear about, though. The flaws of millennials and how we can’t just grow up – even though there are a lot of us who are very grown up (some of us are almost 40!). We don’t hear about or see in popular culture the millennials who struggled hard in our 20s, and remember it keenly, but suddenly (at least it feels sudden to me) find themselves thrust forward into what looks like legit adulthood, all the while panicking that they are about to be found out. The ones, like me, thinking, “wait wait wait, what is this place? Do I belong here? Where did my entry-level job, my crappy apartment, and my questionable dating choices go? Is this my real life?” The ones who are incredibly fortunate and happy with where they ended up, but still feel a little lost.
I’ve struggled to find a perspective like my own, in what I read and watch – I don’t identify with the messy 20-something love stories involving either angsty artists or people about to make partner at a law firm at 25 (how? in what universe?) or the GenX 40-somethings going through mid-life crises. Where are the 35-year-olds who seemingly have their shit together, but are internally screaming because time is moving so fast and they want to make a decent living so they can pay down student loan debt but are also inundated with “follow your passion!” messages on a daily basis? Or if they do appear, why are they so often the annoying side characters, who are written to contrast the main character whose life looks a little messier from the outside? Where are the main characters who have finally passed the “just getting by” phase of their lives, who then start having existential crises about it? Look, this isn’t me starting a crusade to see representation of the millennials who made it after having a weird time in their 20s. I get that that might not always make for riveting story lines. But sometimes, I just wish I would see someone like me, who was the messy friend a few years before but now finds herself blinking in disbelief at the life she finds herself in now, the life with fewer material struggles than in her 20s, and more nebulous ones. I just wouldn’t hate having a guide is all I’m saying.
Like I said, I don’t know how I got here. I don’t know how I became a fairly successful corporate person with a happy, stable marriage, a child, a mortgage, and a financial planner today. It feels like I went in fast forward, like I got on a speeding train without knowing its destination. And then when I got off, no one would tell me how long we’d been traveling or where we’d landed. I like it here, but also…how did I pick this line, and when did I buy a ticket? This metaphor is getting pretty strained, but… I think you get it. How did I get here? How did any of us?
I love writing. I love getting the words, the stories, the thoughts out. I love writing the things that I wish I could have read at a different time in my life, that I could have related to, that would have made me feel more understood and less alone. I love working out the tangled ideas in my head and putting them down in a coherent way on paper.
But I don’t really have a niche. I don’t have one thing I like writing about a ton, and every time I try to narrow it down, I start feeling claustrophobic. I feel scattered, even though I know what I want to say when I sit down at my computer. I’m a mom, but I’m not a mom blogger. I like clothes and beauty but I’m not a lifestyle blogger. And I don’t feel like an expert in anything – I couldn’t tell you how to become a PR pro or how to organize your life or even how to write a blog post. The only thing I have become an expert at is abruptly changing my mind about the direction of my life, and somehow sticking the landing, even if it’s really ugly. Though I can’t tell you how I do it, so maybe I’m not an expert, and it’s just privilege and luck.
Anyway, I’m struggling to find my niche and to establish my “personal brand” as a writer, because, honestly, I’m a dabbler. I have a lot of random interests, and I like to talk about a lot of different things with different people. With some friends I talk about skincare, with others I talk about books, and with others I talk about mental health. And with strangers on the internet, I talk about pretty much everything.
So if you have a niche, how’d you find it? How did you decide that you were an X writer or blogger? Share your secrets!
You know the fun little icebreaker, where people ask you to say something unexpected about yourself? I usually tell the group something about how I got to sing backup for a favorite mom crooner in college or how I randomly went to Vegas two days before Thanksgiving my junior year of college (I was very straightlaced and my parents were shocked and unhappy!). But one thing I always forget to mention is that once upon a time, I was a cheerleader.
While some might not be super surprised if they met me only at one point or another in my life, friends who have known me for a long time understand why this might make them laugh. But alas, the awkward pictures of 13-year-old me sitting amongst the blue and gold pom poms do exist, so despite the fact that it was a short-lived phase, and I wasn’t all that good at it, there is no escaping that it happened.
I was always an athlete (and I very much consider cheerleaders athletes, this post is no shade to them), but I was more of an individual sports kinda gal. Swimming and track were my chosen athletic pursuits for most of my life, because I got to be by myself and, aside from relays, no one directly relied upon me for their own success. I was a pretty decent swimmer, but still, not having that external pressure was part of why I enjoyed it so much. I also was incredibly shy for most of my adolescence, and talking to new people or being the center of attention made me blush and stutter. While I did end up being a theater/choir kid later in high school, that felt so different – I was either playing someone else or only the center of attention for the length of a solo I had practiced and practiced for.
Now, growing up, I always had friends, but I was never what you might call “popular.” These days, I’m pretty thankful for that, actually, but in middle school, I desperately wanted to be cool. Sixth and seventh grade in particular were tough as friends all around me were growing up at different rates – both physically and emotionally – and it felt like there was a major reshuffling of the social order. Being smart and having niche interests were no longer cool – but being able to do your hair, talk to boys, and make the latest Limited Too fashions fit into our Catholic school dress code were, like, the coolest. So my bespectacled, late-to-the-puberty-party self, who was terrified of the opposite sex but the proud winner of all spelling bees despite my classmates’ rolling eyes, didn’t know where she fit anymore.
In seventh grade, though, I had the chance to become a cheerleader. Blame all of the 90s teen romcoms we all watched, but I thought that this was my chance. I could reinvent myself, get the boys who played football to pay attention to me, and officially become cool. Friends, try to act surprised here, but that was not to be. I was still me, but now I had to wear a short skirt that only emphasized my knobby knees as I was thrown into the air (and dropped a fair amount, if we’re being honest) in our more impressive stunts, which made me even less confident about speaking to aforementioned football players on the sidelines. It was…not what I imagined it would be. I kept it up, since – often to my detriment – I refuse to quit things I hate, but I decided that cool just was not in the cards for me. I settled for simply making a few new friends before high school and continued on my nerdy way outside of cheering, winning spelling bees and showing off in English class.
Sometimes I still think about how I was sure certain things in high school and middle school were going to change my life, or at least my social standing, and I get such horrible secondhand embarrassment for teen me. Like cheerleading, like asking a boy I barely knew to freshman year Sadie Hawkins (he said no), like rolling my eyes at people in my honors classes who I genuinely thought were nice and interesting, just because the rest of our grade deemed them “nerdy.”
I don’t know why I was so convinced I needed to change (and I am really glad my “AP class mean girl” schtick didn’t last long), because I was fine where I was, the way I was. I wasn’t an outcast, but I marched to the beat of my own drum a lot of the time, and it just wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Few actively disliked me, but I was sort of a benign curiosity to folks outside of my friend circle. I was an athlete who was weirdly obsessed with 60s fashion, got good grades, and surprised everyone senior year by trying out for the musical and getting a lead role (“what’s that girl’s name? The one who can sing but I didn’t even know went here?”). In short, there was good, there was bad, but ultimately, it was all just fine. I didn’t have to endure the trauma of being mean-girled but also, sometimes people in my homeroom (that we shared for four years) forgot my name and called me Megan. And I wish I would have known that it was all fine then – that I was just who I was meant to be at the time. That I didn’t need to try so hard and that I could just like the things and people I liked. Maybe if I had known all of that, I wouldn’t have tried out for cheerleading and bruised my tailbone so many times.
I think we were all kind of hoping for a fresh start in 2021. But, uh…that certainly didn’t happen, huh? I think with COVID numbers soaring, unemployment numbers continuing to look pretty bad, and an attempted coup on our government, we’re all feeling a little unmotivated, worried, and ready for a change. Living in DC, especially, I have been anxiety spiraling pretty regularly, so needless to say, not a whole lot of writing has been happening over here. However, I recently connected with a virtual writing group for a little inspiration, and we’re giving each other writing prompts, which has already been extremely helpful. Today’s post is inspired by such a prompt.
When I think of the color red, I think of special occasions. More specifically, I think of getting dressed up. I like fashion and beauty, but I can’t say they’re really driving forces in my life. But for every fancy occasion I can remember, where I can recall exactly what I wore, every event I’ve felt really beautiful, red has been there.
I think my first instance of feeling like red made things extra special was Sadie Hawkins my sophomore year of high school. Off the top of my head, I don’t remember who I went with, but I do remember that I wore a red fringed mini dress with matching red strappy sandals (ah, what 15-year-olds think is appropriate footwear for winter dances in Michigan). I was one of few girls to wear a short dress that year, and I felt like a star – despite the fact that barely anyone outside of my honors block classes knew I even existed. But newly free from my orthodontia, and creeping a little closer toward puberty every day (I was an extremely late bloomer, to say the least), in my little red dress, I was full of sass and confidence.
My love affair with red continued throughout high school, especially as I became obsessed with early 60s glamour and Jackie Kennedy. Senior year homecoming featured a black, tee-length, tulle dress, a couple strings of pearls, and red lipstick to match the fake red rose pinned to the hip of my dress (Macy’s early 2000s fashion, you know?). I was really committed to my chosen esthetic, so despite being annoyed that a junior girl was wearing my same dress (again, Macy’s, not exactly known for exclusivity), I felt every bit the old Hollywood starlet.
And then there was the coat. Toward the end of high school, my friends and I got very into thrifting, and would spend hours going through the racks putting together “looks.” I cringe every time I think of the t-shirt I ripped the sleeves off and paired with torn up jeans and a silver metal belt, the texture of which I can only describe as a cross between chainmail and fish scales. But the coat was different – it was a true diamond in the rough. While searching Goodwill one weekend, I came across a knee-length, bright red, funnel-neck, wool coat for $10. While I did appreciate the price (as a 17-year-old using the rapidly dwindling funds saved from her summer lifeguarding job), I really fell in love with the rich color and the way it made me feel. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was for me. Its clean lines, strong shoulders, and high collar made me feel powerful, and it fit like a glove. From then on, I knew that coat would be my “fancy” coat. And it absolutely was…until I left it at my sorority house one summer in college, and it was thrown out while they remodeled.
I still think about that coat sometimes (OK, literally every winter when I look for a new coat that might come close), but I also think about how it made me feel, and how I want every other important piece of clothing to make me feel. If I’m actually spending money on something for a special occasion, it better make me feel like a more powerful, more self-assured version of myself, who lifts her chin a little higher when she walks into a room. Whether it’s a killer pair of boots, a dress cut just so, or the perfect lipstick, I want it to make me feel the way that coat did, the way red does.