What’s Next, Mom? Life in the Time of Social Distancing

Have you ever noticed how our handwriting reflects how we’re feeling? The careful calligraphy or slapdash scrawls, certain words circled or starred, others followed by a string of exclamation points (or question marks)—instant giveaways, all of them, into our inner psyche at that moment.

My inner psyche last Tuesday, March 17, was…hmmm…shaky at best, according to the scribbles in my notebook. This was the first official day of “learning at home” in our house. That morning, I read through various documents that Grace’s elementary school emailed me. They all contained extremely helpful and encouraging information about academic skills, mental health and continued connections between the school and all the families. I so appreciated these materials, and scribble, scribble, scribbled highlights in my notebook.

As I was preparing for Day 1, I also was wondering how I would entertain preschool-aged Anna while overseeing Grace’s online math and reading assignments, and selecting enriching physical education, music and art activities, as Stanton managed a cascading set of dilemmas with his work and responded to my various calls and texts with the default, “Sorry, I can’t talk right now.” All manageable, and nothing to complain about, all things considered…but certainly a curveball from our day-to-day routine just the week before. Scribble, scribble.

The careful calligraphy or slapdash scrawls, certain words circled or starred, others followed by a string of exclamation points (or question marks)…

You could classify those first couple of days into our new routine as comedy or tragedy, depending on your glass-half-full-or-empty predisposition. Personally, there were moments when I laughed, and one when, like a cliché, I exited stage left into a bathroom to cry. Tragicomedy, perhaps.

One of these early days, I played a Scholastic video. The theme for the day was social studies, and the video explored the question, “What kind of community do you live in?” (In case you’re blanking on second-grade social studies, the three main types are urban, suburban and rural.) An accompanying “draw and write” activity instructed, “Create your own community.” Dutifully, I relayed this information to my daughters.

Grace paused. “So Mom, you’re saying I could make a candy cane forest?”

I paused even longer. “Sure,” I finally said. I actually loved the idea of a candy cane forest and told Grace so, but in the back of my mind, I wondered…should we have stuck to drawing and writing about real-life communities?

I pretty much don’t know what I’m doing here, friends.

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Possibly the most challenging thing for me right now, as my daughters’ learning-from-home guide, is when they ask me, “What’s next?”

I’ll play a Scholastic video (5 minutes). We’ll do the activity that goes with it (another 5 minutes). I’ll set up my computer so that Grace can work on math problems (15 minutes) while Anna and I do something together. (Recently, Anna overheard me saying I should have gotten a haircut the week before, and she offered to cut my hair. Nooooo.)

After each thing—video, activity, hiding the scissors from Anna—the girls will ask, “What’s next, Mom?”

What’s next?

What’s next?

Many times, I don’t know. I just don’t know.

I imagine many of us feel this way, wherever we are and whatever our circumstances might be. When you get right down to it, it’s a scary question: What’s next? It’s a scary question even in the best of times.

On Saturday afternoon, I took a long walk. It was a beautiful day: sunny, birds chirping, picture perfect. I was completely there, in the moment.

And I had a bit of an epiphany, walking along the Rail Trail here in upstate New York. I won’t always know exactly what’s next, but I can zero in on what we’re doing now.

It’s a scary question even in the best of times.

I don’t know when school will start again, or Stanton will answer my calls on the first couple of rings again, or I’ll be doing the work I love again.

I don’t know, unless I look back at the Google Doc, what action item comes after “at least 20 minutes of independent reading.”

I don’t know when I’ll hug my Grandma again.

But I do know that as of now, my girls are playing together in the backyard, and that’s OK. That’s awesome, in fact. We’ll do more school work a little later today.

I took these free moments to write a grocery list (and this blog post 😉 ). My grocery-list handwriting is much more legible than last Tuesday’s notebook chicken scratch. A good sign. Also a little later, I’ll get groceries. That’s what we’re doing now.

The more I settle into now, rather than what’s next, the more at peace I feel. The more hopeful I feel. The more I want to say, with confidence, YES, let’s draw candy cane forests.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

If I Stress Clean Everything, Maybe I’ll Feel Better (or Maybe Not)

On Friday morning, I got the girls ready for school, and then to school, before dashing to a meeting. After my meeting, I stopped by my regular grocery store for a few things. I had a short list: garlic bread for our pasta dinner later, and Lysol wipes.

I had heard people were buying Lysol wipes like crazy; they were marked as “currently unavailable” on Amazon (I checked on Thursday night). I better get some too, I thought, before they went the way of dinosaurs, shoulder pads and Waldenbooks.

I pulled into the parking lot and could barely find a spot. It was about 10 a.m. on a Friday—not usually Hannaford’s prime time. Huh?

I walked into the store, and there were no shopping carts at the main entrance. Zero. The inside of the store, meanwhile, was filled with people of all ages—not the typical older retiree/stay-at-home parent/flextime-schedule employee crowd you tend to find at a grocery store on a weekday morning.

I did, however, find a cart at the side entrance.

A little disoriented, I wheeled my cart into the household cleaners aisle. Much of the shelf space was bare. Makeshift signs for the Lysol and Clorox products noted, “Limit 2 per customer,” but none of these products were left.

I could have stocked up on Dr. Bronner’s, Mrs. Meyer’s and Incredible Pink supplies—Hannaford was in no danger of running out of these brands, I can report. But I already have a bunch of this all-natural, eco-consciously packaged, pleasantly scented, not-sure-if-it-actually-kills-germs stuff at home. Yeah, I’m all good in that department, friends. 😉

I better get some too, I thought, before they went the way of dinosaurs, shoulder pads and Waldenbooks.

At least I could get garlic bread; I did. As I wheeled my cart through the store, I noticed the carts others were pushing—carts overflowing with canned goods, pasta, paper products.

I’m not a hoarder (very much the opposite, actually). Not a panic buyer. There have been moments in my life when I have been laughably unprepared, yet managed to muddle through.

In this moment, though…Friday morning at Hannaford…I felt more and more unsettled, in a very physical way. I moved slower. I kept shaking my head, confused, uncertain.

I saw people buying a bunch of stuff…and so I bought a bunch of stuff too. I didn’t really know what to get (never was a Girl Scout, you know), so I grabbed rice, beans, cereal, soup, lots of meatballs to freeze (showing my Italian-American roots here), two cartons of my husband’s favorite spicy trail mix, and coffee (a no-brainer, amirite?).

Maybe I should have started coronavirus quarantine stockpiling weeks ago, months ago. It just never crossed my mind that there would be such a run on basic supplies…like toilet paper.

There really was no toilet paper left at Hannaford that day. No. Way. I stared at the empty shelves. This is an Internet meme, I thought.

Except…it was real life.

I got in one of the crowded checkout lines. Paid, drove home. I began unloading my new stockpile…and then the power went out.

I called Stanton. “It really feels like it’s the end of the world,” I said.

“It’s not,” he said.

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As Friday unfolded, I received email after email with updates regarding our daily life. First, the girls’ schools were closed for Monday. Then they were closed Monday through Friday. Now they’re closed until April 1…but possibly later.

Our church services: now online. Spring lacrosse: canceled. Grace’s friend’s birthday party: postponed. The girls’ dentist’s office: hours and appointments currently suspended.

Anna and I were actually at our beloved local library that Friday afternoon when they made the decision to close early that day, and to remain closed until further notice. “We’ll miss all of you so much,” I told the librarians, whom I (used to) see at least once a week.

During the past three and a half years we’ve lived in this town we love, many of these folks in our community, from the librarians to the teachers at the girls’ schools to the baristas at my favorite corner coffee shop, have become, if not exactly family or friends, then certainly part of the fabric of our everyday life—the part that adds fullness, humanity, joy. It is weird to have these mandatory hiatuses from these people, these places.

And trying to keep up with all these communications can be a little overwhelming. I’ve received emails that various work due dates have been pushed back, which is helpful because, simultaneously, I’ve received emails with information regarding Grace’s and Anna’s learn-at-home curriculum for, let’s see here, the foreseeable future.

Side note: Pre-COVID-19, I never considered homeschooling my children. The thought never crossed my mind, not even in a dream…or nightmare… 😉

All attempts at humor aside…I know I have nothing, really, to complain about. I’m self-aware enough to recognize there are people who are truly struggling. For the moment, our family is healthy, thank God, and managing OK.

I am concerned about my 91-year-old grandmother, who lives in a nursing home that (understandably) isn’t allowing visitors right now. I’m not sure when I’ll see her again. I worry about my mom and dad, both of whom I love very much and both of whom are in their 60s. They live just a three-hour drive away from us, but I’m not sure when it would be wise for all of us to get together again. Overall, though, I feel as though we all are doing the best we can be doing.

It is weird to have these mandatory hiatuses from these people, these places.

Over the weekend, I cleaned our house, did a bunch of laundry, organized the girls’ dresser drawers (a seemingly insurmountable spring-cleaning task, the weekend before). Subconsciously, I must have been thinking, If I stress clean everything, maybe I’ll feel better.

Spoiler alert: Everything is clean, but mostly, I still feel…unsettled.

I don’t know when my little world, and the whole world, will feel more settled again. Impossible to know.

However, some things that have provided encouragement… Friends have been sharing helpful and creative “learning at home” ideas through Facebook. Because of this, I learned about the amazing lunch doodles that Mo Willems is hosting through the Kennedy Center. The girls watched an episode yesterday for the first time, and loved it. I’ve always loved Mo Willems, and now especially for this act of kindness toward children out of school due to closures.

Both a friend and a family member shared the idea for a neighborhood “shamrock hunt” yesterday, St. Patrick’s Day. The girls and I cut out, colored and Scotch-taped shamrocks to our front window, and then took a walk around the neighborhood to find other shamrocks. We didn’t find many others, but we did bump into various friends who were also out and about. It was so good to catch up, chitchat, commiserate…at a six-foot, socially safe distance, of course.

Thus, friendship has been encouraging. Family has been encouraging. Last week, Stanton’s company decided to halt employees’ business travel, and so he’s been home with us more, which has been really nice. We recently started watching the series “Luther,” which has provided wonderful, much-welcome end-of-day escapism. This increased family time together also prompted me to try spending the end of the day engaged with the ones I love, rather than scrolling through the news for the latest headlines (and horror stories).

Another silver lining during this time is that I am really, truly appreciating the food we have. Our family is not wasting anything because we’re not sure when we can replenish certain things, with grocery store lines being so long and store deliveries taking longer as well. It’s true that sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have until we don’t have it anymore, or it becomes more difficult to have.

I’m also really, truly appreciating my daughters. They’ve been so sweet to me as I try (and struggle, quite a bit) to semi-replicate their classroom teaching. Yesterday, Anna slapped a heart sticker on my sweatshirt (“Good job teaching, Mom!”), and Grace helped me access some online materials (of course my 8-year-old’s technology skills surpass my own).

Since Friday morning, I’ve learned…yes, there really is no toilet paper. No, stress cleaning doesn’t really help. Friendship does help; family is everything; there are still silver linings.

Be well, all. Looking forward to when things are better. ❤

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s e-books on Amazon.com. Short fiction and creative nonfiction writing that’s engaging, witty and from the heart.

You’re Going to Be Fine

Pop.

I grabbed the two slices of multigrain bread from the toaster and plopped them onto a plate.

“No cheese, please.” Grace was leaning across the kitchen counter. “Just salami and mayonnaise.”

“Right.” I pulled a new jar of mayo from the cupboard. Next, I tried to peel back the safety seal, but by golly, the quality control folks at Hellmann’s made sure that piece of plastic was sealed.

I got a knife and jabbed at the plastic. Piff; it broke. I stuck my finger down to pull the seal back. In my morning rush to do so, I embedded most of my finger in the mayo. Ugh.

“Yuck, Mom.” Anna, with some helpful commentary.

“Yep.” I hastened to make Grace’s salami-and-cheese sandwich. I glanced at the clock on the microwave: 8:50. “Ah, Grace, you have to go; here.” I stuffed the sandwich in my older daughter’s lunch box, along with some other items I have now forgotten. (One of them, however, was probably a granola bar.)

Grace stuffed the lunch box into her backpack, and that’s when I noticed her bare feet. “Grace, what the heck—you need socks!”

Grace’s eyes bugged out. “Whoops.”

I groaned. “Why does this always happen?” Why can’t our mornings go more smoothly?

Grace raced to locate socks.

Anna stuck up a foot. “Look, Mom.”

Socks.

It was now 8:53 a.m.—one minute before the bus would arrive down the block. And now Grace was wearing socks. But…

“Mom, where’s my homework board?”

Now my eyes bugged out. “Grace…I don’t know!”

“I don’t know either!”

“…is Grace late?”

This was six minutes last Friday, friends.

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Eventually, Grace ran out of the house with her socks, homework board, everything she needed for the school day. By the time I ran out, though, to make sure she safely boarded the bus (say, 30 seconds later), nobody and nothing was outside: no Grace, no bus.

Rationally, I knew that Grace had probably seen the bus approaching our block, at which point she ran to catch it, and she was safely en route to school. A tiny part of me, though—the part that watches every true-crime Netflix documentary—was concerned.

That part of me called Grace’s school and asked the very kind receptionist to please call me back once they confirmed my daughter had arrived. Moments later, my phone rang. “Yes, she’s here,” I was told.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you, I’m so sorry,” I said.

“It’s OK, you can call us anytime,” this wonderful woman said.

I closed my eyes. Exhaled.

“Mom.”

I snapped my eyes open.

“Come on.” Anna gave me a tug. “Or I’ll miss the hello song.”

9:22 a.m.

A tiny part of me, though—the part that watches every true-crime Netflix documentary—was concerned.

Last week, overall, was a little crazy. Both my daughters needed me in different, unexpected ways, which required a couple of sleepless nights and one 7:15 a.m., pajama-clad dash to CVS (that was Thursday). Stanton was traveling for work, so I was flying solo…which is always manageable, until it isn’t.

On Friday morning, after I dropped off Anna, I called my best friend. Kate and I have known each other since we were little kids; we go back more than 30 years. Thus, I felt comfortable telling her, in mini-meltdown mode, “I feel like a failure as a mom! We just had a terrible morning…again! Aaahhh!”

(I’m fairly confident these are my direct quotes.)

Kate replied calmly and compassionately, as any best friend would. Ultimately, she said everything was OK. Still…I was determined that the following week, our family would start having a smoother start to the day.

Later that day, I shared my game plan with the girls. “Starting Monday, we’re not going to rush so much. We’re going to be more organized getting ready for school.”

“But Mom.”

“Yes, Grace?”

“We don’t have school Monday.” She tapped the calendar. “Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Roger that. “Starting Tuesday, then.”

…we go back more than 30 years.

Tuesday morning was super smooth. I made the girls’ lunches minutes after I woke up. Confirmed they had everything they needed in their backpacks. Took such a fast shower, I don’t think I even qualified as clean afterwards. Postponed breakfast (but not coffee, obviously).

At 8:50, I strolled outside with Grace. “We’re early!” I crowed. Two of our neighbors were taking a walk, and I waved. “We’re trying not to rush in the morning, and this is our first morning of doing that. So far, so good!”

Next to me, Grace groaned. “Mom.”

And as you might expect, our neighbors smiled, waved back and kept walking.

Yes, Tuesday morning went beautifully.

And then…Wednesday.

According to Google, it takes more than two months for something to become a habit, or routine. Our family probably still has a ways to go before our morning routine runs more smoothly.

In a moment of clarity this week, I realized there are some things I can do a better job with, for sure…and there also are some things all of us can work on: Stanton, Grace and Anna too. “You do live here too,” I may or may not have said to one or all of these people. Everyone can take some responsibility for starting the day smoothly.

Packing school lunches, though…it can be tough. Grace will eat sandwiches, but most prefers leftovers. Last night’s pasta and meatballs, for example, or chicken tikka masala and rice (for whatever reason, Grace loves chicken tikka masala).

Anna, meanwhile, constantly requests at least one “unhealthy thing” in her lunch box.

“Mom!” Anna opened the bathroom door yesterday morning, as I was showering.

“Honey.” What can I possibly do for you right now?

“Mom, I peeked into my lunch box…”

I rinsed conditioner from my hair. “I asked you not to do that…”

“I know, but I took one little peek…and Mom!” I could picture Anna frowning. “Everything you packed for me is healthy, Mom!”

“Anna…”

“Other kids get Pirate’s Booty, and Gushers, and…” The list went on.

Shhhh. I turned off the water. “You’re going to be fine.”

A sigh. The door closed. Quiet.

I grabbed a towel. Checked the time. Not late, yet.

Yes, you’re going to be fine.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.

I Actually Think We’re Going to Make It

Some days are super busy. Others are legitimately crazy.

And then there’s Monday.

This school year, Grace has her piano lesson on Monday afternoon, after school. Coincidentally, Anna’s soccer practice for the fall season starts 30 minutes after her older sister’s piano lesson ends, on Monday evening. This doubleheader of after-school activities is for eight weeks only, so…manageable, I thought.

Monday No. 1 of this eight-week schedule rolled around. I cooked a semi-homemade dinner of macaroni and cheese. Spooned equal portions into two food storage containers. Packed the girls’ to-go dinners into my brand-new, extra-large, heavy-duty cotton-canvas tote bag (“You can really hurt people with that thing,” Stanton recently observed, after my bag inadvertently knocked off-balance a little boy at Grace’s back-to-school open house). I stuffed some chocolate-chip granola bars in there too, for good measure, along with Grace’s piano books and Anna’s soccer gear.

I thought about pouring the rest of my freshly brewed coffee into a travel mug, but coffee’s a diuretic, and there would only be porta potties once we got to the soccer field. Not my favorite, friends. Not my favorite.

“Mom, they’re Big Tops,” Grace tried to assure me. “Those are, like, the nicest ones. They have real soap.”

As high-end as that sounded…still, no thank you.

…then there’s Monday.

The girls loaded into the car. I hoisted my bag into the trunk, along with folding chairs for the soccer field. Mounds of sand from our weeks-ago beach trip covered the floor of the cargo space, and someone’s pair of socks (probably worn and in need of laundering) were stuffed into a corner. Yuck.

“Girls, I think our car is a biohazard.”

Grace craned her neck around. “What’s a biohazard?”

Anna craned her neck too. “Did you remember my shin guards, Mom?”

Whatever. “Yes, I have the shin guards. Let’s roll.”

We arrived at Grace’s piano lesson a few minutes early. Early. That is such a rare and pleasant state of being in my life.

Another pleasant surprise was that the waiting room in the music studio had a new box of toys, perfect for any younger siblings who happened to have been dragged along. Anna dashed over. Immediately, she pulled out a neon-green tablet.

“Let’s learn the alphabet!” the tablet announced. “A! B! C…”

Wow, that little electronic was loud. And there were other people in the waiting room. I leaned over. “Anna,” I said. “Turn the volume down.”

“I love this, Mom!” D! E! F!

“Yay, I’m so glad. Please turn the volume down.”

At that moment, Grace’s piano teacher ducked his head into the waiting room. He apologized that his other lesson was running behind, so Grace’s would start 10 minutes late. “I’m so sorry,” he said. No worries, I told him.

But I gazed at the clock on the wall, to the right of the black-framed pictures of Beethoven, Mozart and other music legends. Now, leaving 10 minutes later, we would have 20 minutes to get to the soccer field, right in the middle of rush-hour traffic…but… G! H! I! “This should still be manageable,” I said aloud.

A nearby mom started chuckling.

I glanced over at her.

She made eye contact, and chuckled some more.

I smiled slightly. “Um…are you laughing at me?” I had to know.

This lady very kindly replied that she had been in my shoes, many times, with needing to get multiple kids to various places. And it could be tricky, even with loads of preparation and a positive attitude to boot.

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The other mom and I pleasantly passed the time commiserating while Grace went in for her piano lesson, and Anna continued learning the alphabet (on a lower volume). Nothing brings forth good conversation like a little commiseration.

Ten minutes later than planned, then, the girls and I headed over to the soccer field. Amazingly, we had green lights almost the whole way.

“You know,” I said, as we cruised through the intersection at Wemple Road and 9W, “I actually think we’re going to make it.”

Indeed, Anna arrived at soccer practice right on time. Not a minute to spare, but still, right on time.

“Making it” when you think you wouldn’t is a good feeling, across the board. From little things like kids’ soccer practices to higher-stakes circumstances like health diagnoses and job opportunities. Sometimes, making it is such a pleasant surprise that the experience—however low-stakes or fleeting it may be—restores our faith in life.

Nothing brings forth good conversation like a little commiseration.

I’m in a book club that I love. I’m so thankful a friend introduced me to the group, which led to new friendships and, of course, good reads.

As it happened, I offered to host our monthly book club meeting on Monday night. Yes, after Anna’s soccer practice. Stanton was out of town, the girls’ favorite babysitter had other commitments…so if I couldn’t go out and meet up with the book club, I’d bring the book club to me.

Manageable.

“I can’t wait to see Sandy,” Grace said, when we got back home. She and Anna adored the fun-loving lady in my book club. “I emailed her, but I don’t know if she got it.”

I let my enormous tote bag drop. “You don’t have an email address, Grace…do you?”

Grace laughed. “I email people on my tablet, Mom.”

Grace’s tablet had an Internet connection? What the heck. I unlocked the back door.

Funnily enough, Anna’s preschool also was hosting a parents night that day. I couldn’t be in two places at once, but…yeah, I probably could have tried harder to make parents night happen. Like any Millennial mom, I felt guilty about that.

Thus, when I saw Anna’s super-sweet preschool teacher the next morning, I attempted to compensate by volunteering to make homemade play dough for the following week. The recipe is magnet-ed to my fridge now. Luckily, I had almost all the ingredients on hand (one notable exception: cream of tartar). I’ve never made play dough, and I’m not an arts-and-crafts-y type of person, but I’m optimistic (as always) this will be a fun weekend activity for my preschooler and me.

Like any Millennial mom, I felt guilty about that.

The girls and I FaceTimed with Stanton before he got back home on Tuesday evening. They caught him up on all our adventures from the past 24 hours: school, piano, soccer, book club, play dough, the weird smell in the backyard.

“By the way, Dad,” Anna said, holding the phone up close, “where are you?”

I laughed. In fact, I belly-laughed, friends. Because there are times when I have to pause and ask myself that question too.

I really don’t like to overschedule our family calendar. Every now and then, though, everything happens all at once.

And every now and then, with a little dumb luck and mostly green lights the whole way, we actually make it. ❤

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.