It just sort of hit me. We’re coming up on our year anniversary of being completely isolated from our family, from our community, from everything and everyone except just us. When I say we haven’t broken our bubble, I mean it. No family or friends in or out. No trips to the grocery store or pharmacy—not a single one. Everything has been delivered, no contact. The first building I entered since last March 4 was the Covid vaccination clinic for my first shot.
At this point, I have the hope of one (1) semester of law school in-person before I graduate. One. I spend 70+ hours a week alone at that desk. Learning the law is a hard thing, and I knew that when I took it on. But I didn’t imagine doing it in complete isolation. Unless I get cold-called in class, I don’t get to talk about the law with anyone. Jon’s wonderful, but he doesn’t care about constraints on federal jurisdiction, or whether a drug dog alerting at a traffic stop is a “search” under the 4th Amendment. I haven’t been in a library since February of last year, when I left school for spring break. I didn’t know I wouldn’t be back. No study groups. No libraries. No carrels and talking with the research specialists, no chatting in the hallways about the latest Supreme Court decisions. Nothing. Just me, reading alone and doing my damndest in a vacuum.
(Listen, I know I am privileged and fortunate. I have secure housing, enough to eat, and a space of my own. I can know all that, and also—because humans are social animals—feel really lonely and sad now and then. Today is one of those times.)
I’m in upper division classes now, and these are the smaller types of classes that really benefit from in-person interaction and lively discussion and exchange of ideas. But all the upper division students are remote at my law school so the 1Ls can be in-person safely. Knock on wood, strict protocols have thus far yeilded zero Covid cases at my law school. And I get that the hell that is 1L should get priority. But it takes a lot more effort and time for me to get concepts to stick and to remember things doing this alone remotely.
I know a whole lot of people are running into similar walls of fatigue and sadness right now. Even our isolation-exhaustion appears to be somewhat collective. We just can’t help it. We need each other. It’s been a very hard year for so many people. We have lost so many. We can’t even really grieve yet. And so we wait.
The family in my house is mostly fine. We have the usual ups and downs, and if we are doing anything well, its that we are learning how to really support each other through rough days, and enjoy the moments where there is laughter and goodness. I deeply and truly like these humans, and this is a very good thing. Our extended family has experienced some loss and difficulty, but again, this is literally everyone right now. There is nothing about our losses unique right now.
The good news is that both our parents have had their first dose of vaccine—Jon’s in Utah, and mine in California. Many other family members and friends are still waiting and hoping. We sure would like to see them again someday.
I hope you are well, whenever and wherever this finds you. I hope your losses have been bearable, and that the hope outweighs the heartache. I hope spring brings relief and vaccines and the arms of friends. I hope you are well. I hope.
My last final of fall 2020 ended at 5:00 on Thursday, December 10th. I sat staring at the wall for 17 minutes before I realized that she’d changed the time and I didn’t have to submit until 5:30. You haven’t seen quite the panic-reaction like me logging in and pulling my submission and frantically typing for 13 minutes to try and scrape up the random points I left on the table because I thought I was out of time. Perfect ending for a cursed semester in the gobsmackingly hellish year of our Lord 2020. Regardless of what may or may not have been salvaged, it’s done.
This is the first real break I’ve had since school started for me 18 months ago. I have moved from crying every night in the shower thinking, “I made the worst mistake of my life, I am too old, I am not smart enough, this is so hard,” to crying under my desk once or twice a semester, still feeling pretty stupid, but mostly just plugging on anyway because while it’s still so hard, I’m more than halfway there, and also, law school does this to literally everyone. So what do you do? You keep going.
(p.s. when they say it gets easier, it’s a lie. you just get better at managing it and lowering your expectations for the rest of your life. not healthy. but true.)
So what does my anxiety-fueled, sleep-deprived, cortisol-saturated brain decide to do as soon as I have a break in the structure of externally imposed academic rigor? Besides waking up panicking because I am sure I have missed a non-existent deadline, it’s apparently Trauma-revival time! Hooray! While I have done years of work on trauma, recovery, and dealing with the emotional baggage I haul around as a Gen X kid who left home too early and had to finish raising herself, and who then lost her spouse and best friend to drugs… It turns out there are still bruises hiding in places I hadn’t found yet! Meanwhile, Jon, ever-patient and stable, arcs an eyebrow while kissing my forehead. He’s a Good One. Anyway, trauma’s got some long legs, y’all.
Learning a little bit about childhood trauma too. One of my kids was asking how it is things they don’t remember could hurt them, and we are learning about research on pre-memory and how it’s in there, even if the conscious memory doesn’t access it. While my children never experienced any physical abuse, they did live through years of incredible stress and instability. They did experience the loss of a parent, first to drugs, and finally to death. I was powerless to prevent or protect them to a certain extent, and their stored trauma belongs to them, both linked to and also outside of me. It’s hard to examine, and it’s really important that I focus on what they need to grow and mend as people, and how I can support them in healing. Anyway. Working on it. (because who needs a whole week off without something hard to do? i wonder if that’s a trauma response too? i have to look it up…)
The holidays around here are going to be small and quiet. I suspect this is true of most folks this year. Or really, it should be, for the sake of everyone. My family-member physician who is intubating Covid patients all day says to STAY THE HELL HOME. None of us are seeing each other this year, just like we didn’t at Thanksgiving. We are all tired of it. We all miss each other. We all want things to be normal again, but the God’s honest truth is that our wanting it doesn’t make it so. So because we take our responsibility to each other seriously, and because we have work that allows us to stay safely home, we will choose to continue to lower the burden on our neighbors and the folks who must leave home for work by sitting tight. It’s not too much to ask. The vaccines are coming. In the meantime, we wait.
A few mostly-silly things I have discovered during the pandemic that I like, that you may already know about but are new to me: First, Wood-wick candles—I love the little popping and crackling noises they make. Second, I am giving my hair a break from heat processing and allowing it to revert to its hellishly curly state, which makes me feel like a hot mess, but what’s more apt for this year than that? Third, a tiny space heater under your desk is just about the best thing in the world if no one in your family has your I’m Cold All The Time gene. Fourth, gel nail polish—with the lockdown I had to stop going for manicures–I know its silly and vain, and I don’t care, but I do care enough to stay home. So I ordered a set of gel polish online and I’m very bad it it, but the colors are pretty and its lasts for weeks. Finally, while there are stores I miss (oh my thrift stores…please be okay, I miss you SO much) the grocery store isn’t one of them. Online grocery delivery is a safety issue for us right now, but I suspect I will likely be a staple going forward. As with so many things we’ve started using as a society during the pandemic, delivery services are getting better, are more efficient, are broader, are serving a larger segment of the population, and are huge plusses for disabled communities. Please continue to support the inclusiveness afforded by delivery services and remote work.
I’m going to go make cinnamon rolls. Mostly because cooking makes me happy. I missed both general conferences this year, so we’re going to have 3rd Advent Cinnamon Rolls Today. Edited to add: I did not make cinnamon rolls, I got distracted and I made chilaquiles and then Claire Saffitz’s apple tarte tatin.Best laid plans, eh?
Tomorrow I start to work on writing an article for a civil rights legal journal. My proposed paper is on the intersection of the juvenile criminal justice system and the special education system. You will likely not be shocked to learn that there’s a correlation to a state’s funding of education and disability programs with children who are turned over for juvenile crimes into the justice system, and once in the system it’s often almost impossible to extricate a child, and when you overlay poverty, racism, and the structural history of a given geographic area, the statistics are damning. Also? Congress has never (not ever) fully funded IDEA. And that matters too.
It’s Law School Finals Eve. What that means—to any sane person who has not subjected themselves to the unique and intense pressure-cooker that is the American academic law educational gauntlet—is that classes ended, we’ve finished our “reading days”, and a test for each class is scheduled over the next ten days. It also means no law student is sleeping, probably surfaces only to find some caffeine in whatever form they prefer, and then disappears back down an outline and supplement.
I don’t know how other countries do it, but here law students have one mega-test at the end of the semester on absolutely everything covered for the entire class. They’re not “What is X” questions, but rather, they’re “issue spotting” exams. That means, for instance, that you will have a 3-page long complicated question about an issue, and you have 3-4 hours to determine what the professor is looking for, identify, state, and apply all the law you learned in that class, and analyze the outcome. It’s an adrenaline fueled race on which your entire grade for the entire semester is determined.
I’ve got feelings about the pedagogy of measuring legal acumen in a timed race and its effectiveness, when actual legal work is contemplative, careful, resourceful, and detail-oriented. This testing method favors ranking on rapid recall and speed, when very little about legal work requires either. But it’s a method firmly entrenched in legal academia, and very few professors deviate, at least in doctrinal, bar-tested classes—mostly because that’s exactly how the Bar tests too. *shrug* but here we are.
I took all of Thanksgiving off, which felt like a ridiculous luxury, and then I tried to cook for our small cadre of people in our house who will eat Thanksgiving fare. Turns out I am definitively not good at cooking little batches of things, even though this represents a truly concerted effort. I mean, notice that the sides are legitimately smaller, and instead of a turkey, I cooked chickens. Jon, Jeff, and Abby have been living on leftovers. Neither Bean nor I eat Thanksgiving food—Bean for his Reasons, and me for gradually worsening food allergies. He had English muffins with (wait for it…) peanut butter, and I had plain chicken. What a holiday treat! I love to cook and making this meal was a happy respite.
Mostly everyone else is ok. Things just keep plodding along here in our bubble. Thankful for remote work, remote school, pre-ordered grocery pickup, and delivery options. We are very much in the continued social distancing, no-contact camp for our foreseeable future. I recognize the privilege, as always, in our ability to navigate life with some measure of safety—we have family members who are doctors and nurses who do not have the ability to stay home, and we are keenly aware of the sacrifices they are making (and the sacrifices of other essential people like grocery clerks, drivers, postal workers, poll workers [whoo hoo!] and caregivers). No member of either side of our family broke their bubbles and met for Thanksgiving—we traded photos, group texts, and video chatted from California to Utah to DC—but we did so from our own small family groups.
A family member is an ER doctor who spends their days caring for Covid patients and intubating very sick people. They are optimistic about the vaccines coming this spring, and I hang a lot on their perspective. Winter and the consequences of holiday travel are likely going to exact a steep toll, but spring holds some real hope. I hope. I hope. I hope.
It’s mid-October 2020. It’s difficult to distinguish between the anxieties that pop-up like an unrelenting game of whack-a-mole: Is this law school anxiety? Election anxiety? Covid-19 anxiety? Fear for Democracy and the future of my country and the world anxiety? Is this just plain old anxiety, which frankly would be like a warm blanket of familiarity right now? Or is this just the trailing macabre gift of the insomnia that that’s like a houseguest on day twelve?
It’s impossible to tell.
The history books will tell what this period was like in general, so I am left with the mundane, the personal. And it turns out, that’s my jam. I am completely insignificant and powerless in the maelstrom of the world, but I do have some influence over those in my home and in the small corner of the world in which I lift. I’m imagining the collective power of ants–and hoping that collectively, we can do things that are in fact impossible for any single one of us.
Today is day 230-something of our pandemic-based isolation. We shut the door of this house in March, and no one has directly interacted with the outside world—or entered—since. Thankfully we had a substantial storage of staples, as Mormons are counseled to do, and we’ve replenished perishables through delivery services. I’ve attempted to support local businesses where possible, but we live in the bedroom suburbs of DC and there aren’t many independent options nearby. The only thing I have control over is how generously I tip delivery workers; I’ve now built that in to our budget.
School for the kids—not to put too fine a point on it—is for shit. Our districts are fully from-home, and I both acknowledge that it’s the only way, and also that it completely sucks. It’s bad for all learners, but it’s really awful for Special Ed kids who need extra support in a myriad of ways. My kids have good teachers and a great IEP team, but everyone is trying to function in a system that wasn’t built for this, and districts are attempting to impose pre-pandemic standards on unprecedented and highly irregular circumstances. It’s not working to hold teachers to those standards, and it’s absolutely not working for teachers to then roll that downhill to their students.
Law School from home is complicated. I am officially remote for the entire 2L year, joining all of my classes via Zoom or Google Classroom. It’s more difficult to focus and synthesize concepts through this medium compared to in-person. I am in a house with 3 students learning this way, and a spouse who is working this way. There are technical issues, and despite the best internet we can get, connections fail and streams are lost. The stress and time expended dealings with the fallout from theses failures is a tangible cost. While I am grateful I can do this for the safety of my family, it adds several layers of difficulty to what is already a hard undertaking.
One of the things (sooooo many things) I didn’t understand about Law School was that you start securing jobs your first year. Don’t feel qualified? Do it anyway! For 2/3L internships, we’re advised to have a solid list of places to apply, and then have a “reach”—the legal world is striated, competitive, and often uses institutions and class-rank as a sorting method.
Last week, while I was doing the dishes after dinner, my “reach” application called and offered me a position. I was competing against Ivy-covered applicants half my age, and I didn’t expect an interview, let alone an offer. We had an impromptu family dance party in the kitchen while we listened to the voicemail on speaker. It’s in DC again, and I hope I get to serve in-person, but I will show up however I can.
I am having to resist the urge to just keep adopting new pets. Being home all the time, the dogs are such a source of comfort. As always, Tiberius is at my feed, snoring and slobbering. Squidward is settling in—albeit with some bumps. He really likes to eat things, and despite countless chew toys provided, he prefers destroying kitchen towels and believes the towel basket is his toy box instead a laundry depository.
The cats are fine. They have taken to waking me at 4 am for whatever meal comes before breakfast in cat-Hobbit world. Not that I was actually sleeping anyway. Then once I’m up, may as well get to work. There just aren’t any boundaries around work, school, home, family anymore—it’s all saltwater permeating the cell walls and running willy nilly with gravity.
Speaking of Hobbits, one of my professors is a D & D fan, and uses a twenty-sided dice to choose his cold calls from a chart he made. Whatever gets us all through it, right?
Also, this happened on September 18 and my heart is still broken and I can’t really sit and pause and grieve for a person who threw herself into good work and without whom we would all be poorer.
I actually just checked to see where Mercury was. That’s how bad my mood has been the last couple of days. Irrationally short, ridiculously emotional, frustration at power-keg in a hot July levels. It’s a lot of fun, let me tell you. My family is especially loving having mom just start crying. Or yelling at the dogs. Or stomping upstairs for who-knows-what this time.
I recognize my own ill-temper and current wickedly-short fuse. But being able to see it ain’t the same as being able to grab the wheel and gently steer my careening emotions safely back to the center of the road.
Is this the beginning of menopause? Holy hell, I hope not–I mean, not that I mind menopause—I’m fixed, so there hasn’t been any desire for childbearing for a long time. But I kind of really just hope this is stress and being on lock-down for…192 days. It’s been 192 days since I entered a building not my house? Yeah. It’s been 192 days since I hugged a friend, or chose my own groceries. It’s been 203 days since I saw any of my professors or study group other than through this computer screen. I hate being dependent on others. (Add all the caveats about knowing we are fortunate, because I do, and we are.)
Anyway. It’s a wild ride right now, and I can’t say as I’m enjoying it. All this is to acknowledge that some days are hard. Some seasons are hard. The Zora Neale Hurston quote “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.” is always somewhere close to me. It’s always given me comfort. I wish I knew what kind of this year is.
Some days, it’s like riding a child’s spinning top that’s gone off-kilter and starting to twirl badly. You know its going to end in a crash, and there’s not a damn thing you can do to stop it—except stop it. But that’s not an option here. Then, other days, things are quiet and still, puctuated by tiny sparks of contentment, like elusive fireflies–you see them from the corner of your eye, and seldom catch a direct look. But you know it was there. Those appear to be the two options at present.
My beloved west is burning, both literally and metaphorically and emotionally. My family scattered all over the west coast are reported safe. But so many are not. TEN PERCENT of the entire state of Oregon are under evacuation orders. If what is happening on the Pacific coast was happening on the East Coast, it would be wall-to-wall coverage and everyone would be summoning reserves and resources and help. For a lot of reasons, both historical and tied to the present, the East Coast is myopic and selfish and really believes (and acts on policies) in centering itself. I hate this. My heart hurts for my beloved home. The sky should never match the Bridge.
If you look out the window in my neighborhood in Virginia, things appear mostly unchanged. The trash trucks rumble down the street before the sun is up, people walk their dogs, and an occasional child speeds by on a bicycle. But it’s also the same quiet that has settled on so many spaces. There are no children waiting for the morning bus, there are few cars heading off to work. We don’t chat with neighbors over the fence, but now stand on our respective decks and wave. Our school system is closed and all learning is remote. Like just about everyone with the ability, we’ve transformed an area of our house to be a school. We’re lucky, and I know that. We have reliable internet, we have income to buy groceries and have them delivered. I am still tipping the hell out of my delivery folks. Day rolls into day, and we keep getting up, keep doing what we can to be safe and support our community from many feet away.
I’m finishing week three of my second year of law school. The old adage about working 2Ls to death appears to be accurate. It’s not that it’s harder per se–it’s actually easier to navigate now because they did their job last year and we know how to think, how to synthesize the material, how to outline, how to pull out the issue, rule, reasoning, and holding from the cases we speed read. We’re just better now at that. But on top of everything a full legal course-load contains, we’ve also got practical courses now outside of the doctrinal—pre-trial litigation, where we actually practice practicing law, filing motions and briefs, discovery, interviewing clients, and applying everything we learned in LRW last year. There’s moot court, and journals, and assessments, and all of that on top of your required course work. And if you’re lucky enough to be on Law Review, you can just kiss-off having any time at all for frivolous things like sleep. It’s a lot. Oh—and I am doing this from home while I have three kids homeschooling. Everything is fine.
One of the things that’s helping me cope is simply trying to notice those firefly moments, and pause to appreciate them. Last night, while I was wrapping up my homework, three kids and the biggest dog all found their way to my tiny closet-office. Tiberius sprawled at my feet, Bean slung himself in the only chair in the room, and Abby and Jeff both squeezed in on the floor. I looked up from reading about the ‘necessary and proper’ clause of the constitution, and was deeply grateful that they all want to be near each other still, that they find my office safe and comfortable, and that I get to be their mom.
I am still deeply angry at the state of my country, but I also realized I needed to bank and control that fire or it was going to consume me and then I would be no use to anyone. I was having migraines and not sleeping and struggling to eat because of abdominal pain. I’ve deleted several of my social media accounts, and after a couple of days, I found myself more at peace. I’m still keeping up on what’s happening, I’m just not submersing myself it it. I recognize this as a privilege. I am still deeply supportive of the causes I believe in–both emotionally and financially. I also need to figure out how to sleep and not get sick from a constant bath of fury. Still trying to navigate that.
The new dog (did I mention we got another dog? I can’t remember. We did.) has finally assimilated to the point that the cats ignore him instead of puff-balling and hissing, and Tiberius has discovered the joy of playing in his middle age. It’s a net good. His official name is Atticus, but Bean calls him Squidward. Bean has a knack for exerting his will on the world in ways that defy prediction–yet are bafflingly powerful. I knew as soon as he said it that it wouldn’t matter at all how much Jon and I insisted the dog was called Atticus. Guess what everyone calls him.
I have constitutional law in a few minutes. There’s a serious disconnect in learning about long-standing rules of law—and how they formed—in the middle of watching your democracy veer dangerously towards authoritarianism. I have moments where I wonder why the hell I am doing something so hard, working such long hours, busting myself to do this difficult thing when I could easily sit back and be a lady who lunches (if we did such things anymore?). Then I remember that if people don’t do this, dont press back, don’t care, don’t safeguard what’s important, it will vanish. There are a lot of folks in that boat, doing their damnedest to hold us together. Know that. And I am going to be one of them. I give a damn.
It’s 9/11 today. It still matters. Those lives and their loss matters. But it also complicated and becomes difficult to focus on today, because every few days we lose at least as many people as we did on 9/11 to an out-of-control pandemic with no end in sight. As of today, 11 September 2020, the United States is nearing 200,000 dead in the last six months, with millions infected. That’s a sobering and devastating reality. And I can’t do a damn thing about it.
Five years ago we lost David. Grief is such a fluid and moving thing, so oddly living for being tied to loss separated by the River Styx. I try and pin down the feelings, and the lyrics bubble to the surface “there are moments that the words can’t reach…moments when you’re in so deep, it’s easier to just swim down–and you push away the unimaginable. (Thank you LMM)
There just isn’t a way to describe the loss, the canyon that David’s death blasted in the center of our lives. We cannot fill it, we cannot cover it. It’s a scar that will define the contours of the rest of our lives. I am aware that over time, canyons age, and scarred topography weathers and softens into something beautiful. But there is nothing that will ever fill that space.
He was an imperfect man who loved and married an imperfect woman. He told me once that our lives weren’t about us, but that our children were the arrows who would change the world. As always, he had a way… We tried so hard, and we hurt each other so deeply. But after everything, we found the steel rails of genuine love that ran from before, through, and reappeared in the after. To say that David was my best friend reveals nothing so much as the pale and paltry flimsiness of the fences we build with inadequate words. It never goes away. I miss him every damn day.
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I want to say this emphatically and unconditionally:
I support the protests happening across my country. I support the Black Lives Matter movement and the social change inherent and necessary in addressing our collective history of racism—both personal and structural. I support funding communities and public safety and de-militarizing the police. I support abolishing the doctrine of qualified immunity.
I support the constitution and the rights inherent therein, and I support amending it where called for and bringing our civil values in line with the just goals of equality and justice for all. I support the ERA and a woman’s right to control her own body (I cannot believe that shit even needs saying). I support the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Justice Projects, the NAACP, and the myriad of other civil rights organizations that are guarding the rights of all people.
I support Raices and other immigration centers fighting to abolish the cruel practices of CBP and ICE that are fundamentally opposed to true American ideals, which are to collect and welcome the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I support a truly independent judiciary with emoluments and accountability for not only elected officials but for judges and justices alike.
I support fully funding and investing in public education and paying teachers and staff living wages. I support disability rights as civil rights and the creation of an accessibility society as a further reflection of our civil values. I support the Voting Rights Act, and I support naming the restoration of that Act after John Lewis, who devoted his entire life to this cause. I support the restoration of voting rights to the previously incarcerated. I support prosecutorial and carceral reform. I support the abolishment of School Resource Officers and closing the direct pipeline between SROs and the juvenile criminal justice system.
Oh. And in case it wasn’t obvious…take down every cursed confederate statue in the country and place them in museums or dustbins. Taking them down isn’t erasing history—their placement during Jim Crow and the civil rights era was actual whitewashing history. And while we’re correcting monuments to white supremacy, return the Black Hills back to the Lakota people, which they rightfully hold under the Laramie treaty.
Make no mistake…there is literally nothing in me that seeks to conserve the racist, bigoted, xenophobic, misogynistic, homo/trans-phobic, nationalistic, past. Let it be reckoned with, let us remake ourselves into the nation we always believed we were, and let us do it with bright sunlight and strong disinfectant, and the courage to look ourselves in the eye.
No Justice, No Peace.
Did I get everything? No. But it’s a start.
Now. Moving on to the more mundanely personal—because all of that above was personal too.
There is some poetic beauty in the fact this writing, once expansive, has contracted back to be just me and–maybe someday–my posterity. I started writing fifteen years ago because I wondered about my grandmother’s life when she was home with three little ones. I would love to know what she thought, what was hard for her, what tiny little things brought her joy. But here I am–own children nearly grown, a life I never anticipated before me.
In May I finished my first year of law school. To say it was hard is like saying childbirth is uncomfortable. But I did it. I did it from home, during a pandemic. I did well enough that I made Law Review, which is a thing that matters for ambitious young folks who want clerkships and academic laurels—I am not yet sure what it means for me, except probably a lot more work and some honing of my (legal) writing toolkit.
It’s deeply ironic as I work my ass off to understand and apply established and well-rooted canons of law, think through nuanced common law that was built elegantly, slowly over centuries, while my own government fails so completely and miserably to give even the slightest deference to those ideas. Definite disconnect, and some days dissonance feels existentially impossible to bridge.
We have been home since March 13. I haven’t stopped to bother how long that is until now. It’s 128 days. We’ve gone for drives in an attempt to keep the cars fluid and working, and we even were brave and went through the car wash (taking extreme precaution with credit card swiping, masks, and sanitizer), but we haven’t entered a public establishment of any kind. We have done curbside pick-up for groceries, or used the assorted services now available for delivery.
On our porch, there is a five-gallon bucket of water, soap and bleach for wiping down anything that comes into the house. There is also a cardboard box Jon made with a little sign on it, thanking our delivery drivers and inviting them to take a beer. (I think we should add bottles of water and maybe diet coke to the box.) This started because he wanted to buy the garbage collectors a six-pack of beer for showing up so reliably in the middle of difficult conditions. And it’s just been carried on.
Because Jon is a T1 diabetic, because I have autoimmune issues, because I have lung scaring from past bouts with pneumonia (stupid asthma), we are exercising more care than most. I recognize the privilege inherent in our ability to make that choice when many people do not have that option. And then I feel crushed again at the problems besetting my country and how much work we have to do. It should not be a privilege to be able to keep your family safe, to earn a living wage, and to have access to medical care.
I spent the summer working for a disability rights public policy organization in Washington DC. It’s been like drinking from a firehose, and even now, 10 weeks in, I still don’t have all the acronyms down–but I do have a much deeper understanding of the policy and advocacy side of governing, and that will serve me well when I move into the litigation side of legal work. Because of the virus, all work was done remotely, which made making connections more difficult, but was absolutely necessary. I spent 200 hours working on legislation, protections, IDEA, ADA (it’s 30 this year, did you know?) and the shortfalls therein.
This work also left me with what was a simmering fury for the current administration’s push for privatization of public education. That’s a dissertation’s worth of rage, so I’ll narrow it to: allowing people to buy cabinet seats and bilk the American public with cute names like “freedom scholarships” which are nothing more than diverting 10% (or more) of funding for public schools (which serve 98.5% of all US kids) to serve the 1.5% of private school kids…is straight up evil. Its even more evil when your family has a personal financial stake in the private for-profit education sector.
Where was I?
My family is mostly good. Like everyone, we’ve had to cancel plans and adjust hopes. Jeff was supposed to start college in Utah, but since everything is so haywire and unclear on safety or even in-person classes, he’s opted to punt and stay home. I have to admit, I’d rather have him a year behind and safe. Kelsey is starting her senior year, and at this point, she’s just hoping for maybe a prom or other spring senior benchmarks. We took her portraits from home. She’s a truly lovely human inside and out, and I am so grateful for this daughter I never expected. What may end up happening is Jeff and Kels will both leave next summer for their freshman year.
We were supposed to be in Utah not only to deliver Jeff to USU, but to celebrate my in-laws’ 50th anniversary. We’d rented a cabin at Bear Lake for all 25 of us, plus extra family dropping in. We were also working on getting David interred in Logan cemetery in the family plot. All of that is punted to next year, god willing. We celebrated the in-laws with them sitting in their driveway with yellow caution-tape strung up so the local grandkids wouldn’t get too close, and the rest of us via Zoom. A modern family.
Bean and Abby are preparing for high school from home. Our district called the fall already and all learning will be from home. Again, it’s less than ideal, but they will be safer and so will staff and teachers. I’m a little concerned with the SpEd supports Bean has lost, but schools are trying to comply. I get it. We’re reinventing the wheel in real-time. We’ve moved furniture around, repurposed things, and set up a dedicated school area in the dining room. I bought a white board, and it was up for all of five minutes before someone wrote “penis” on it, so things are about as expected in a house with four teenagers.
Jon is working from home through at least the end of the year. We’ve repurposed the front room into his office. He’s got a bank of computers and screens and we are so grateful that our high-speed internet allows him to do his job and stay safe. Likewise, my law school is moving the majority of classes for upper division (that’s me now!) online. While remote learning is definitely harder and lacks the human connection inherent in legal discussions, it’s the wiser choice given the status of *waves hands* everything. My heart goes out the 2020 bar takers. It’s a hot mess, and hopefully history will show this was the beginning of reform there, too.
One of my coping mechanisms (besides late-night insomnia-driven carb-ingestion) has been to cook. A lot. There are skills I have been trying to master for years–and while I am not yet a master, I have definitely upped my game in the arena of tacos, tortillas, salsa, crusty bread, english muffin baking, bagels, and Persian cooking. I still have much to learn, but what a delicious meandering journey.
Tiberius is beside himself with joy because no one leaves anymore. The cats are bemused and annoyed and knock things over to get attention. I have to say, a purring cat in your lap while a giant dog snores at your feet really helps in sitting through particularly challenging law lectures. I couldn’t do this in class. So at least there’s that. Oh, and we have started the process to adopt a new dog. Here’s hoping.
If you have to go out, wear your masks. Care for other people. Be kinder than necessary in your interactions if you can. If you have the ability, stay home. Tip the hell out of the people who are delivering the things you need.
I step out of a steaming shower and wrap myself in my favorite thick cotton robe and fold my damp rosemary scented hair into a terry towel. The low golden rays of the setting sun are filtering through the early spring canopy of tender new leaves on the maples in the front yard. The window is open, and I lean against it, my arms folded in my robe against the slight chill still in the air. There’s a Cardinal hopping around on the deck, a bright cherry spot amid the chittering squirrels and the crows—who are heard, but not seen—in the tall oak trees lining the side yard.
The steam from my shower is gently floating out the window, and each time I exhale I can see the current and eddys of my own breath carried on the steam. How precious each breath is, how delicate and fragile everything feels right now. I’m not thinking anything, only pausing for a moment in this surreal eternal round we are currently on, and giving thanks.
Today is…a day. I don’t know for sure. I could go look at the calendar–and I have a better sense than many because my schooling continues, albeit from home. While it was probably the worst possible timing for me to take an overload of graduate level law courses, it’s a grain of inconsequential sand to the pile of mattresses on life’s lawn at the moment.
What I know about today is that I woke suddenly from a dream in which Bean was dressed in his sparkly jumpsuit and tuxedo jacket, as though leaving for something special, telling me “Mom, wake up.” and I did. Abruptly. Sleep, like everything, had its own rhythm and beat now. It doesn’t really matter what time it is, I am awake. Sometimes it’s 3 am. Sometimes it’s another time. Unless I have a class, it’s irrelevant.
I padded downstairs in my sock-feet (what are shoes?) to find Bean, awake with Tiberius snoring soundly in the bed next to him. He wasn’t at all surprised to see me. He wanted to watch the sun rise. So we put on our masks—as responsible people do today—and we walked up the street so we could watch the sky gradually turn pink and gold and melt into Robin’s egg blue.
Somewhere between then and now, I attended a class and a study session, planned for an upcoming final, baked a loaf of crusty-chewy sourdough bread (my bread game vibes, to quote my kids) and everything-bagels that I mailed to a friend who was lamenting their ability to get good ones. I hope mine are good. Probably mailed home-made bagels have a little magic around them and will be good no matter what.
Tiberius has relocated his snoring to my office, and the floor is shaking with his rhythmic big-dog sleeping. Jon is also snoring from the next room, where he laid down with a headache after an entire day of zoom meetings and conference calls. Repeat in millions upon millions of homes across the county. And we’re among the lucky ones, because both of us can keep working this way, disorienting though it may be. Their breathing brings me comfort, too.
As a person with autoimmune disorders, I have always been aware of the fragility of my breath. I fight daily with anxiety, because the perfect storm for me is a virus that threatens in this way. I have been hospitalized with pneumonia. More than once. I have scaring that shows up every time I have a CAT scan or MRI, and the doctors have to reference old charts while I reassure them that yes, those marks there on the left are always there. Only now, it seems like its not just my particular fears that this virus knows and exploits, but potentially dozens of others, too.
So we do what we can, which feels pitifully small and fragile. We stay home. We wash carefully. We keep our distance from everyone. We tip our service workers heartily, because we can, and we are grateful we have enough to share. We try and have extra patience with each other, and we apologize when we inevitably fail and the cocktail of anxiety and stress, boredom and powerlessness, fatigue and insomnia all eventually boils over and the hot steam whistles like my grandma’s old yellow tea kettle.
Steam is so fragile in the air. It looks like nothing, really. It’s just vapor, floating away through the open window while I watch the Cardinal hop to the low hanging pear bough. Steam looks like nothing. Until the kettle is left on the fire too long. Unless the valve isn’t thrown for safe release. Unless we try and keep it all in. Unless we dont exhale.
There is so much out of our control. It’s always true, we just can’t whistle past it now. Remember to look out the window. Go for a walk at dawn with your kid. Watch the sun rise. Listen to your dog snore. Find a moment or two of solitude, or camaraderie—whichever your heart needs. Keep breathing friends. And dont forget to exhale.
Stay safe. Stay home if you can. Wear your masks if you must go out. Wash your hands. Be kind to each other. Tip well if you can. Be kind to yourself.