Something Like Normal

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.

On Writing About Not Writing

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.

Favorite Recent Reads: February and March

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): 

Speaking of Britney … What About All Those Other Women?: The 2000s were tough on young women, and this really dug into our obsession with seeing famous young women fall apart, physically and emotionally. Somewhat related: this TikTok on why Millennial women don’t want low-rise jeans to come back. 

Millions of Americans Qualify for the COVID-19 Vaccine Based on BMI. Why Should We Apologize for It?: I think by now we all know that BMI is an arbitrary, BS measurement, but I guess if it’s going to be used to judge someone’s health status, it might as well be used to the advantage of folks deemed “unhealthy,” no matter how healthy (reminder: a lot of folks with BMIs in the overweight/obese categories are really healthy!) they actually are.

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.    

How Philadelphia Cream Cheese Took Over the World: This was fascinating, only partially because bagels have been a major pregnancy craving over here. 

Office Workers Fuel D.C.’s Economy. What If They Don’t Come Back?: DC is a weird place to live and work, but the pandemic has made it weirder – and has had a bigger impact on the city than one might realize. 

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. 

Why Do We Write Poetry In The iPhone Notes App?: This reminded me of my own Notes App poetry that I worked on for my 100 Day Project last year. Sometimes the best things I wrote came to me when all I had on me was my phone. 

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. 

#1318: “Pissed off during the post-pandemic party because nobody kept in touch.”: Whew, I was this person’s friends. I barely kept in touch with anyone regularly. If that’s you, too, I get it. 

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. 

Hope you read some good stuff this week!

Little Daily Miracles

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.

Lonely

How are you? I mean, really, how are you?

In between all of the “I’m fine” and the “You know, as well as can be expected” responses, how are we all truly doing?

I’ll tell you how I am.

I’m lonely. I’m not alone, as I have my husband and very cool two-year-old to hang out with, but I am lonely. I crave seeing my girlfriends for an occasional wine or coffee date. I want a hug from my sister who lives an hour away. I’m even desperate for annoying coworkers, so I have something to talk to my husband about that is not “this thing I saw on the Internet.” I am so very, very lonely.

And my loneliness is what makes me scroll endlessly, looking for community on the Internet, staying up too late to read or watch or comment on just one last thing to make me feel connected. It’s what makes me prod my husband into saying he’s not bored or annoyed with me, even though we spend literally 24/7 together, and I am sometimes annoyed with him, despite the fact that he is the type of person that literally no one has ever called annoying (me, on the other hand…). It’s what makes me talk and talk, hoping for a response from someone, anyone, even though the only someones in my house are my husband and the aforementioned two-year-old, because I just can’t stand to hear myself think about this pandemic and the state of our very isolated world and how long this has been going on anymore. It’s what makes me want to write, but also not write, because maybe I don’t want to put pen to paper and let all of this come out, to admit these things to myself. Instead, I shall admit them to strangers on the Internet, dribbles here, drops there, but never the waterfall that probably needs to flow freely to just get. it. all. out.

I’m lonely. How are you?

Five Unexpected Things I Did During the Pandemic

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.

To start…

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

Looking Back, Looking Forward

I haven’t been writing as consistently as I would have liked this past month, but since we’re on the cusp of the new year, I did want to take a moment to reflect a little.

Photo by Malte Luk from Pexels

At the beginning of 2020, I decided that my word for the year was going to be more. I had big plans, and I was excited. I had survived year one of motherhood, was moving along in my career, and was feeling more confident in my own skin. But then…ah, but then. March hit, and all of our (the collective our, really) plans were shot to hell.

In some ways, though, I still did achieve more, albeit in ways I hadn’t expected or might not have considered achievements in the past. And in some ways, I really went hard, the opposite way, toward less. I spent more time with my immediate family, especially my toddler son, who seemed to change before my eyes. Since we didn’t go anywhere, we saved a lot more money toward future goals (despite me leaving my job halfway through the year!). I wrote a lot more, through various creative projects and journaling, and I read more than I had in years. And I was a lot more honest with myself about what I needed, and what was important for me and my family. Which really involved a lot less.

I quit my job, which resulted in less stress and anxiety around not being a good parent, if I was on the right career track, and what a year at home was going to do to our son. When I eventually started freelancing, I decided to take on less than my maximum capacity. I put less pressure on myself to figure it out and improve and be productive every second of the day. I started to care a little less about about what people thought of me – especially when it came to decisions about my career, speaking out for what I feel is right and against what is wrong, and about my creative pursuits. I started a blog (again), completed #The100DayProject (with really, moments to spare in 2020), and let myself try things even if I couldn’t finish them or they didn’t work out like I had hoped (not sure what I was thinking with starting a NaNoWriMo project in the middle of a pandemic with a two-year-old at home!). In doing less, I also cut myself more slack when something wasn’t achieved on my designated timeline – or at all.

If you’re reading this, you and me, we survived a terrible, terrible year. Not saying 2021 is going to magically be better, but we got through this one – by doing more, doing less, however – we made it. Maybe we learned something new – a new skill out of boredom or a painful lesson the hard way – either way, no one is leaving 2020 unchanged. I hope 2021 treats us all a little better, and that you have something on the horizon to look forward to.

You weren’t all bad, 2020, but I will not miss you a bit – Happy New Year!

Under the Weather

This entire past week, I have felt terrible (not COVID, don’t worry!).

As someone who rarely gets sick, this was pretty jarring. I’m used to getting the sniffles, powering through, and then being back to 100 percent in a couple days. But this time, I was confined to the couch, living on Saltines and Vernors while trying to keep an almost-two year old entertained. Luckily, we ordered in on Thanksgiving, and my husband had a good chunk of last week off, but it was still quite the blow to all the plans I had.

I wanted to write more, make fun desserts for the holiday, clean our closet, do a little yoga, go for walks with my son. Instead, I can’t tell you how many afternoon couch naps I took or how many bad holiday movies I watched or how little I actually moved. It was like I was shutting down all functions that didn’t have to do with absolute survival.

But…this year, in 2020, I was oddly OK with it. Pre-2020 me would have been really upset, would have tried to go into overdrive the following week to make up for everything I hadn’t done while sick. But 2020 me? While a little annoyed that my plans were messed up, I kind of shrugged and am now moving on. Not going crazy trying to play catchup, but just…starting where I left off.

This year has been terrible for so many (and some much more than others), so I won’t tell you that we should all be looking for silver linings and lessons learned. But for me, if this year has taught me anything, it’s this: it’s OK to step back – in your career, in your social life, in your weird household organization ambitions, even in your holiday cheer. One year seems really long (especially this year), but in the grand scheme of things, stepping back for one month, one season, one year, in order to survive, in order to make sure that the necessary parts of your life are still functioning, is not going to be the end of the world. Everyone’s situation is different, but if you step back in an area that isn’t absolutely essential, you might even be better for it.

I’m not totally back to 100 percent over here, but right now, I don’t need to be.

Can I Tell You How I’m Turning Into My Mother?

Photo by Flora Westbrook from Pexels

Can I tell you how I’m turning into my mother? 

I remember weekend mornings, my mom the first one up. Carrying a mug of coffee from room to room, her hair not quite in place, wearing her terrycloth pink bathrobe over flannel pajamas, almost year round, as we figured out what to do for the day. As we got older, Saturdays and Sundays were more scheduled with swim meets and tennis matches and dashing off to see friends, but the image of these weekend mornings at home is seared into my mind. 

Nowadays, since we never leave the house, every day feels like a weekend, and I feel myself slipping more and more into that memory. The other day, my son asked me to play and we sat on the ground with blocks, him with his water cup, me with a mug full of no-longer-hot coffee. We built a train and pretended to race it along an imaginary track, as I breathed my coffee breath his way while we giggled. 

The other day, I ordered my second pair of flannel PJs for the holidays, after slipping into the first pair early, in the midst of my election anxiety, and discovering what a comfort they were. I also ordered a plush bathrobe for myself for Christmas (which my husband has agreed to wrap so I can pretend to be surprised and delighted in December), though mine is chenille and gray, because the idea of donning what amounts to a wearable blanket, during these months of endless, dayless days, sounded pretty good. Maybe Mom had the right idea. 

As much as I’m looking forward to a return to normal (whatever that will mean), with activities and restaurants and daycare, I’m trying to soak these mornings up, where I feel at least a little like my mom, and wonder if she felt like me, watching her children grow and figure things out as she sipped her coffee before really starting the day. 

I don’t know if this is just the circle of life doing its thing, or if I’m turning into my own special iteration of my mom, but I’m holding my lukewarm mug of coffee and these memories close.

On Productivity and Not Wanting to Do Anything

You know Bruno Mars’ “The Lazy Song”? No? Well, if you’re not familiar with this 2010 pop gem, it goes a little something like this:

Today I don’t feel like doing anything

I just wanna lay in my bed

Don’t feel like picking up my phone

So leave a message at the tone

‘Cause today I swear I’m not doing anything

Yesterday, that is exactly how I felt. Except…I have a toddler. A curious, energetic, nonstop toddler. So it didn’t matter that I didn’t feel like doing anything – doing nothing is not an option when you have a small child in your house. Because even lying on the floor while he plays, is not “doing nothing” – believe me, I’ve tried it, and it’s more work than playing because I’m in defense mode, protecting my head and neck the whole time. 

Anyway. While my son naps, especially on weekends, my husband and I do have a few hours to ourselves. We usually spend that time cleaning, organizing, getting caught up for the week ahead, and then each take a little bit of time to relax (for me, that’s usually writing or reading in bed). But yesterday? Our house was a mess, there was a basket of laundry waiting to be put away, and I had a lot of unanswered emails, and I just…didn’t want to do it. I wanted to lie in bed and read. 

You might be asking, so what? It’s the weekend, do what you want! Which I would agree with in normal times. But we are not in normal times. We are in pandemic times, and our son is home with us all day, every day, with no breaks, so two hours during naptime (three if I’m really lucky) is all of the productive free time I get, no matter the day of the week. Because of this I often feel like I need to use up every second of it. 

But yesterday, I was just not feeling it. The productive “but you should…” side of me was losing a battle with the “but it’s Sunday, relax!” side of me, and in the end, I let the latter win. I told myself to take a breath, think about what would happen if I didn’t do those things (uhh, nothing), and channel pre-pandemic Heather, who had fewer qualms about squandering her free time on a Sunday. With that, at 1:30pm, I jumped in the shower, put on clean PJs, and flopped myself into bed with the book I had been trying to finish all week. And it was lovely! 

During this time of relaxation, my mind started wandering to my definition of productivity, and how I assume it means I always have to be on and doing, instead of simply being and resting. Because really, aren’t some of the other things I’m doing right now (not including scrolling Instagram), on top of taking on some consulting work, productive? Isn’t trying to raise a human being to be a good, well-rounded person productive? Isn’t doing something for myself, like reading a novel or working on my writing passion projects, productive? And isn’t simply resting productive?  

So yes, yesterday, I let myself do nothing. But I engaged my brain and was productive in a new way, not in spite of the fact that I was trying to rest, but because of it. Perhaps we would all be more productive, if we stopped trying so hard to be exactly that?