The mother of all guilt trips: Being happy being alone

This time tomorrow I’ll miss them.

Tonight, though, feels like a breakthrough; tonight feels like I’ve given myself permission to stop feeling guilty for a moment and breathe one big, deep soul replenishing breath.

Growing weary in a pandemic

Tonight they are at their dads. It’s been a long, busy week. There were bike rides and home reading battles. There were concurrent work deadlines and big conversations. There were so many dishes and there was, for some reason, an inordinate amount of dog vomit.

The weather was spectacular and every moment spent inside in front of a computer screen felt like punishment. Crystal clear blue skies and glorious wind lifted the flags in the schoolyard next door and cast shadows across the pooch often sleeping at my feet. I spent most of the week inside looking out; pandemic numbers have been steady but hospitalizations are at an all time high. The media assures us that we’re all doing everything wrong and that there is no guarantee of a reprieve this summer. I endeavour to always be kind and calm, but this week’s mandated kindness and calmness has come at a psychological cost. 

Blessed silence

Tonight, though, there’s no one watching and modeling my behaviour, and I can finally switch off. Tonight, instead of having to lay down the law at the dinner table demanding they eat and threatening some form of punishment, I ordered sushi and ate it slowly and quietly without background noises of YouTube or some weird anime.

Tonight the house is clean — there are no stray socks on the floor or toothbrush smears on the bathroom mirror— and it smells good in here. I lit scented candles knowing that I won’t have to stop my kids from blowing them out or dunking their fingertips into the wax and then peeling their waxy fingers all over the clean countertops.

Tonight I had a bath at 7 p.m., during which time I applied a face mask, read a little bit, and sipped a glass of wine. I ended my bath when I felt like it instead of when someone banged on the door announcing that they had to poo.

How can I be both a wonderful, loving, and attentive mother, and also a woman who craves space, time, and quiet freedom?

Tonight I am recharging and I am trying not to feel guilty about it. My children are growing up so quickly that it takes my breath away. When I stare at photos of them from a year ago, two years ago, or four, I catch my breath and sometimes sob. How can I be both a wonderful, loving, and attentive mother, and also a woman who craves space, time, and quiet freedom? 

Tomorrow morning I’ll miss them. I’ll miss the energy they wake up with, I’ll miss their laughter, and their odd pronouncements. I’ll miss making them pancakes, and I might even miss the sound of their weird cartoons, interrupted only by cries of pain as they wrestle each other for the remote.

Tonight, though, feels different; it feels as though I’m honouring myself. In giving myself permission to enjoy this solitude and shed the guilt associated with it, tonight feels like a gift.

The infinite depth and strength of women

When I started to think about International Women’s Day my thoughts immediately turned to the women with whom I spend the most time. They are my best friends, my colleagues, and the smartest, most loyal people I know. Below, you’ll find three stories that introduce three members of my incredible tribe. They have all read and agreed to allow me to publish these tiny glimpses into their lives, and for that I am profoundly grateful.

Is it all in her head?

Her hands were swollen. Anyone could see it. They were bright red and her formerly thin fingers looked like sausages ready to burst.

She can’t take the lid off her son’s water bottle without pain shooting up her arm, she also can’t type, and she can’t wash her own hair without having to sit down afterward with her hands in splints. It’s arthritis — some sort of auto-immune version — and it’s something that we can see with our own eyes some of the time, but not all of the time.

The swelling goes away occasionally but the pain remains and that’s when the doubts creep in: “Is it really that bad? Is it mostly in my head? Am I imagining this?” she asks herself, wishing someone could jump into her body to feel what she’s feeling just to let her know that it’s real, and that she’s not making it up. She’s grown up being told that all the things she feels are figments of her imagination, or that she’s “oversensitive,” or a “hypochondriac.” Friends and physicians all tell her that she’d feel better if she lost weight, went to yoga, or meditated. Great advice, but none of it will help her fill her son’s water bottle.

at the breaking point

She’s limping. She took a puck to the back of the leg during the first hockey game of the season and now it’s swollen and bruised; when she puts any weight on it tears leak out her brilliant cornflower blue eyes. She is still standing, though, because she’s got kids to get to school and she’s got a deadline today and several back-to-back meetings. She’s got a desk job anyway, she tells herself, so she’ll be fine if she can just get these damn lunches packed.

She sends the kids off, sits down, and props up her foot. She leans over her keyboard and begins answering emails and taking meetings. There’s a bottle of Advil beside her. Her ankle has a heartbeat, but it’s bound to start feeling better soon, and if it doesn’t, she’ll take herself to the hospital — after she puts the kids to bed.

It’s broken. Her ankle is broken, and she’s treating it with elevation, ice packs and Advil because, let’s face it, she’s a woman, and she has hurt worse.

Soar (but not too high)

Her beautiful, athletic husband died four years ago. One moment they were laughing in the sunshine at an outdoor festival and the next moment he was hooked up to life support and she was saying goodbye. She has little memory of the days that followed. She remembers having a hard time going back to their house, the one they were just beginning to fill with memories. She remembers that some days she showered, but some days she didn’t. She remembers everyone telling her to “make sure you eat,” so she ordered a lot of pizza and watched it grow cold on the coffee table. She remembers watching a lot of television — shows with endless seasons that she could disappear into. Her blinds stayed closed for two weeks, leaving her house in a perpetual shade of sadness.

She gave herself a time limit because that’s the advice she gives her clients. “Feel the feelings, honour them, but don’t unpack,” she has been known to say, so when her time was up, she cleared away the pizza, opened the blinds and got dressed. She went back to work because people were counting on her. She plastered a smile on her face, and sometimes it was genuine. She laughed a little bit, and it didn’t hurt like she thought it might. She looked across at her clients and passed them tissues and shared her wisdom. She soared slowly from the charred bits of her shattered future. She shook her fist at fate as if to say, “you thought you could destroy me? Fuck you. Just watch how high I’ll climb.”

Her rise is so profound that most people look at her and forget about all that she has lost. They’re skeptical and resentful of her grace and ambition. She didn’t grieve enough, they think; she didn’t do it “right.” Those who love her see bravery. Those who don’t fear that her strength makes them appear weak. “How can she be so focused,” they ask one another. “She seems to be handling this well,” they murmur, inauthentically. She hears every whisper and brushes them away, but not before they leave their little cuts.

Working from home is a privilege, and it’s super boring and lonely

Once upon a time in a neighbourhood just like yours sits a woman staring out her office window. It’s a dreary day — cold enough to snow, but it’s not snowing. It’s not even windy. It’s not anything. If the weather app was honest the day would be described as “blah.”

The woman feels like she pressed pause on winter two months ago and misplaced the remote. She is so, so, bored.

Working from home is a privilege. Working from home right now, though, in the middle of the longest winter, stinks.

an Invented drama

This woman (OK, it’s me) is so bored of her own company that she not only knows her neighbours’ schedules, but has become weirdly invested in their routines and creates elaborate narratives about the goings on that take place outside. You’d be surprised at how the smallest variation in her view excites her.

For example, this week there was a plumber’s van parked in a neighbour’s driveway. Did the hot water tank burst? Were they installing a heat pump? Did someone drop their hearing aid in the toilet?

It was anyone’s guess, really, but she spent a full hour speculating.

This morning Larry walked by at 9 am on the dot with his Jack Russell terrier, Molly. Larry and Molly always walk by at this time, so there’s no news there. But this morning, something was up.

Larry is in his late 70s or so. Molly looks young for her age, but with small white dogs it’s hard to tell as they don’t show the grey. Larry always wears a red ski jacket. This morning, however, he wears a StormRider jacket (circa 1996), and it is in pristine condition. The woman recognizes this jacket because her high school boyfriend wore the same one (albeit his was drenched in Cool Water cologne). When Larry walks by in this new get-up, she’s baffled. “What Rubbermaid tote did you pull that vintage piece out of,” she says to herself, coffee cup paused in mid-air.

What will Larry wear tomorrow? High tops? A bandana? This show just got interesting! Literally anything could happen!

people really are watching you. and judging

This is work-from-home entertainment: Invented dramas enacted by near strangers who have no idea that they are currently on set. There’s the couple across the way who perplex her: He’s retired, and she isn’t quite retired yet. They own a car, yet she runs a block to catch the 7 am bus to work. Why doesn’t he drive her to work? What’s his deal? Is he awful, or does she enjoy her morning sprint and subsequent city tour via public transit? Why would one casual observer make judgements about the state of her neighbour’s (presumably) happy marriage based on their transportation choices?

Years ago, an older, wiser colleague said: “Danna, stop worrying about what other people think of you. They aren’t. Most of the time, they’re thinking about themselves.”

(In actual fact, this older, wiser colleague might have been Oprah. And it might have been a segment from her talk show. Danna has never worked with Oprah #regrets)

For a long time she believed Oprah, but then the pandemic hit and she found herself staring out the window watching the most boring show ever produced, and it dawned on her that Oprah was wrong. People think about you all the time. They’re looking at your heaping recycling bin and wondering if you have a drinking problem. They’re noticing that you’re still going for afternoon walks and speculating about how long you’re going to stick with your New Year’s resolutions (and frankly, they’re impressed that you’ve lasted so long). They hear you yell at your kids every damn morning, shouting at them to zip up their coats, and put their toques on their heads and not in their pockets, and they wish you would just go a little easier on those sweet boys, who are trying so hard (even though, reader, they are really not trying. Not at all).

Working from home is a privilege, certainly. But let’s be honest, this show is getting old and there is a very tired person writing the script.

Sobering thoughts about pandemic drinking

“I’m allergic to red wine,” a good friend once told me when I offered her a glass. “I once drank two litres of homemade red and became violently ill.”

By this logic, I’m allergic to Smirnoff Ice, my high school boyfriend was horrifically allergic to boilermakers, and my best friend is allergic to banana flavoured paralyzers.

Like many others, I’ve washed Smirnoff Ice-flavoured vomit out of my hair following a party held inside a faux spaceship in a small Alberta town, but that was a long, long time ago, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I had an “allergic” reaction to booze.

These days, a single glass of wine leaves me pleasantly warm and snoozy. My clothes fit better, snacks are more delicious, and Netflix comedy specials are funnier. More than a glass or two and I risk bed spins, so it’s a delicate and delightful balance.

sobering thoughts

I’m not a big drinker, but I think about drinking often, and this gleeful anticipation has caused me some consternation.

Let’s face it, the pandemic has changed all of our habits, and our alcohol consumption is only one. Last fall, researchers at York University discovered that parents of children under 18 are using alcohol to cope with pandemic-related stress. In December, Canada’s top public health officer warned Canadians to sober up, noting that by and large, we have increased our alcohol consumption over the past 10 months.

what even is a weekend?

During the pandemic I stopped going out, yet every night felt like Friday and my alcohol consumption reflected this. My uncommitted relationship with booze became monogamous. This spring, a glass of wine became the reward for getting through days filled with uncertainty and feelings of inadequacy.

I was signing into Google classrooms, checking homework, monitoring screens and ensuring tablets were charging as required, all while managing my own full-time job and struggling to complete graduate school, which I did in a corner of my children’s playroom while they were sleeping. I was hanging onto my sanity with the lightest of grips, and for the first time in my life I was underperforming in every single subject.

There was comfort in knowing that I wasn’t alone. Friends, colleagues, strangers — we were all drowning, but most of us were too busy to notice the water rushing up past our ears. And all the memes that normalize how moms drink to cope gave me encouragement. See all those wine memes? Everyone does it!

Booze played an integral supporting role in this drama. Nightly wine (or sometimes blueberry gin mixed with elderflower tonic because I’m fancy like that) became a bright light; it became the raft I was swimming toward. When the screens blinked off for the day, when the kitchen was tidied and the house had settled into a blissful quiet, I’d shuffle into the kitchen, reach for my favourite glass and fill it up. I’d carry it with me to the coziest chair and cup that chalice with both hands, breathing deeply for the first time all day. As that first delicious sip wound its way into my belly I’d heave a great sigh. I made it through another day. Cheers!

Meditating or medicating?

A few months of this and I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but the pandemic didn’t stop, and what began as a treat ended up feeling more like a prescription.

When the BC Cancer Foundation launched its Loose the Booze fundraising campaign, I opted to challenge myself and I begged a few friends to join. It’s been two weeks, and I’m fine. As I suspected, tea is delicious and much less expensive, and there are a billion flavours of carbonated water, which is nice. I’m also snacking less — it turns out I make much better food choices when I’m not a tiny bit tipsy.

There’s relief in knowing that I can stop, and that I’m not a problem drinker. Yet. But if you try and can’t, you’re not alone, and there are services available.

And by all means, support our Lose the Booze team by donating to cancer research. Already, I’m feeling great about my decision, but with your support I’ll feel even better.

Let’s eat our feelings!

This is my first (and perhaps only) food post, and guess what, I’m going to post recipes, too, but in order to get to the recipe you have to read the entire post, where you’ll discover the complicated history of the sugar cookie and learn about how these cookies have become the soothing balm needed to heal my broken heart. Kidding! These are cookies, not tattoos!

I love baking. It’s something I’m decent at, and I’m a tiny bit proud of that.

Hands up if, as a kid, you thought your mom, or your grandma was the world’s most accomplished baker. I know I did. What I’ve come to realize, however, is that the reason their baking tasted so good is because we loved them so much. We associate the foods they prepared with the way their hands looked as they kneaded the dough, or the way we felt standing beside them on a stool us as we cracked our first egg.

But if there was a blind taste-test between samples of my baking and my moms, mine would win, no question. I don’t like to brag, but there it is. Sorry mom. You use too many raisins.

Mince? But why?

The first rule of Christmas baking is understanding what to bake vs. what to buy, and the second rule is understanding what to avoid entirely, like mince anything, or anything with candied fruit.

The only candied fruit that is allowed in my kitchen are red and green candied cherries. And the only place candied red and green cherries are allowed to exist is on top of a shortbread cookie.

My mom likes mincemeat and fruitcake. She also likes the hot cross buns that you buy at Easter with the colourful fruit inside. My problem with all of these baked goods isn’t necessarily taste, but texture. With mince and candied fruit there is an element of surprise that disturbs me. Take a bite, chew, chew, flavour is OK, and then BAM! weird unexplained crunch. It’s unsettling.

What to bake vs. what to buy

Another rule is to not waste time baking something complicated when there is a store-bought version that tastes almost as good and is significantly cheaper.

Like Nanaimo bars, for instance. You can buy an entire flat of delicious Nanaimo bars from Costco for $10. To purchase all of the ingredients to make your own you’re looking at $30 and about 2 hours in the kitchen. A person who makes $25 per hour just paid $80 for Nanaimo bars that would have cost $10 from Costco. This is what I refer to as “baking math.” It might be fundamentally flawed, but it’s worth considering.

Sometimes it’s OK to drink your calories

Furthermore, you can buy Forty Creek Nanaimo Bar Cream, which is the booze version of a Nanaimo bar that you can sip while you’re baking. Discovering this delightful concoction blew my mind, and if you haven’t heard of it yet, you’re welcome.

Let’s not get too fancy

Some of the most delicious baking is the simplest. Faux Almond Roca with a saltine base? Fancy? Heck no! Delicious? Absolutely! If you’re baking for family and friends, and for kids especially, these are the treats that get gobbled up, year after year.

These recipes are not complicated, because 1. It’s been a hard year, and baking shouldn’t stress you out, and 2. You might be drunk baking, in which case, simple is safe.

I’ll send you to Skinnytaste for another favourite of mine, which is a copycat version of Starbucks’ Cranberry Bliss Bars. These are so yummy, and they’re beautiful when packaged in a little gift box.

Sugar cookies with simple glaze
(head over to Pinterest for some cute decorating ideas)

This is the best sugar cookie recipe because it tastes amazing, and the dough is easy to work. Do not refrigerate the dough, just get busy rolling it out.

Ingredients (dough)

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder

(For glaze)

  • 5-6 cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup milk (more or less, depending)
  • ¼ tsp almond flavouring (optional)
  • Gel food colour

Instructions (dough)

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar with a mixer until smooth
  3. Beat in vanilla and egg
  4. In another bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking powder
  5. Add dry ingredients to wet a little at a time, continuing to use mixer until everything is combined and the mixture is crumbly
  6. Wet your hands and knead the dough by hand. Separate it into 2 dough balls. Cover one with plastic wrap while you are rolling out the other (don’t chill the dough)
  7. Place the dough on a floured surface, sprinkle flour on top to prevent the rolling pin from sticking. Roll out until it is about ¼ inches thick (don’t roll too thin!)
  8. Cut out shapes, and transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets
  9. Bake at 350F for 8-10 mins
  10. Cool completely before icing

Instructions (glaze)

Dump ingredients into a bowl and mix together with a metal spoon or fork. I never actually measure out the powdered sugar. I usually just put about 5-6 cups into a bowl with about ¼ tsp of the almond flavour and maybe ¼ cup of milk, but slowly. You need the glaze to be relatively thin, so it comes out nicely from the piping bag. The glaze will harden after a few minutes. If you’re working with kids, I recommend avoiding piping bags to save your sanity and just giving them a bowl with a spoon and butter knife for spreading.

Haystack cookies (AKA chow mein noodle cookies)

My mom makes these every Christmas. Eat them over a plate because they’re a mess to eat, but so yummy.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup butterscotch chips
  • ½ cup chow mein noodles
  • ½ cup salted peanuts (you can use whole, or crush)

Note: Mess around with these. You’re going to want to double or triple this recipe. Also, if you’re like me and prefer chocolate over butterscotch, switch up the ratio, or replace the butterscotch with chocolate entirely. If you like butterscotch a lot (which just seems weird), toss the chocolate. These are YOUR cookies, so you do you! Try using pretzel bits, add a bit of coconut, or throw in mini marshmallows just for the heck of it. You really can’t screw up this recipe.

Directions

  1. In a microwave, melt chocolate and butterscotch chips, stir until smooth. Stir in noodles and peanuts until well coated
  2. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate for 2 hours, or until set

The labels we give ourselves

I have been called a lot of things, and those labels have changed over time. I have always been “daughter,” “granddaughter,” and “sister,” and one of my fondest labels is “friend.” Don’t get me started on the labels that were placed on me in high school, though thankfully I didn’t hang my identity on “band geek.” 

I was “journalist” for many years, which was a label I loved and have yet to remove completely; and of course, I have been “mom” for the past 11 years, which is label that has threaded itself into my DNA. 

For 14 years I was “wife”. It was a label I wore nearly as proudly as “mother.”

But today I am an ex. The prefix is one I actively resisted. This is not a label I longed for, in fact, it is one I actively dodged for more than two years.  

I had no interest in being single, separated, divorced. And yet here I am — two of those things, and probably months away from being the third. 

Today, I am somebody’s “ex”, whereas moments ago I was the same person’s partner. Ex is a label I’ve used a hundred times to refer to other people and their former partners, but when attached to me it feels wrong. I wanted to brush it off like a cobweb that I walked through on my way to take out the garbage; I wanted to cut it off carefully so as not to tear the fabric of my favourite shirt.

In pirate adventures, an x marks the spot where an amazing treasure is hidden, but put an e in front of that x and all you’ve got is a person with baggage and several sad stories to tell. Now that’s me: Teller of sad stories; carrier of baggage.

I’d much prefer being treasure. 

Today, I am an ex, and instead of being “parent”, I am (legally-speaking) a co-parent, which is another label that will no doubt give me a rash. As I get used to wearing these scratchy tags, I busy myself by unpacking in my new home, setting up my new space, and ensuring my children have two of everything so they never feel like guests, or have to live out of suitcases. 

And when I look up from my busyness, I realize that it is now dark outside and so quiet in this house. I’m spending my first nights alone. I miss the taken-for-granted moments. I miss the every-day silliness at the dinner table, and the serious talks before bed. I have heard from other moms — other exes and co-parents — that I will come to appreciate these quiet moments. That when I wash these labels enough they’ll become soft and comfortable. That when I watch my children thrive, I will relax, and I will be grateful for those tags.

But I’m not there yet. In the quiet moments, these first ones, the labels chafe and are unbearable.

Yes, children are resilient creatures, and I take comfort in this. But when it comes to the resiliency of this mother, this co-parent, and this ex, we will just have to wait and see.   

Building a fantasy quarantine team

I’ve been thinking about my massage therapist a lot these days.

I wonder how he’s doing, and how he’s keeping busy, and I’ll be honest, I’m a little envious of his wife who had the forethought to marry an RMT. Was he an RMT when they met, or did she direct him toward his career path? Either way, I consider her an absolute genius.

I did not pick my partner based on the skills he could bring to a pandemic. I mean, his sense of humour has been a blessing, and he is wicked good at making Excel spreadsheets, but he is not an RMT, or a chiropractor. Neither of us are particularly good teachers, either, as it turns out.

Who makes the team?spreadsheet

Determining my fantasy quarantine team has taken up quite a bit of my imagination over the past several weeks as I itemize specific skills and discount others. Until recently I didn’t realize how handy it would be to be socially isolated with a hair stylist, or an esthetician.

And I would trade all the Excel spreadsheets in the world in order to add a fitness trainer and a nutrition coach to my roster, as all this self-isolated snacking is getting decidedly out of hand.

I also wouldn’t mind adding a bartender and a barista to my team, either.

There is room on my team for a pet groomer. I was eyeing up my husband’s electric moustache trimmer recently and noted that it was the PERFECT size for trimming the fluff around my doodle’s backside, but after a few moments of reflection I opted against it (because I’m a good person, and that would be a mean thing to do).

Mostly, though, I just miss my massage therapist. Being socially isolated with someone of his talents would be wicked handy. My home office is not ergonomic, and this momma has a neck kink like nobody’s business.

Open to trades

What do I have to trade? I’ve got a couple of budding comedians and fashion critics on the block. One of them can tell you just about everything you will ever need to know about Pokemon, and can also relate any aspect of your life to a Garfield comic. The other one will regale you with ego-boosting observations like: “What are you even wearing? Your shirt is super wrinkled and looks weird, but your hair is the worst part.” When he’s not offering up unsolicited comments on your attire, he will just jump out at you with a surprise high kick, or tackle you into a mid-afternoon wrestle-hug, which is another reason I’m on the lookout for an RMT.

Who is on your fantasy quarantine team?

Cleaning with a vengeance

I had just completed my weekly rage-clean when I paused to admire my hard work and also to reflect upon whether this style of cleaning is typical.

Am I the only one who uses anger as detergent?

Certainly, my husband and I both rage clean to different extents. I rage clean the parts of the house that people see. He rage cleans places that are used so infrequently that you forgot they were even part of the house. Like the closet under the stairs that contains our stash of gift bags, loose tissue paper, buckets of unused paint and one red hummingbird feeder. Or he’ll clean the furnace room, or the shed. I’ve even seen him rage clean a fish tank.images

During pandemic season when we’re all cooped up inside, shedding our hair and skin cells, and dirty socks in the same square footage 24-hours a day, seven days a week, I have more opportunity to observe the personal hygiene of my family, and I am frankly appalled, which means there is more rage with which to clean than ever before.

The cycle of rage cleaning

It starts with a clean house; the floors are vacuumed and mopped, the kitchen sparkles, the bathroom mirrors are free of toothpaste and fingerprints. And then little by little it starts to happen.

First, maybe there are just a few crumbs under the kitchen table, which you sweep up because at the beginning you think you’ll be able to stay on top of it. Then there’s the single sock in the middle of the family room; beside it on the table is a partially empty water glass, and before you know it a plastic cup joins it. And then you turn your head and there’s a hoodie just lying in the middle of the floor with a granola wrapper beside it. You shout. Things get picked up, but never everything, and never in a timely fashion.

Then you walk into the bathroom, and what was clean yesterday is now covered in beard trimmings and when you look down all you see are pieces of your own long brown hair on the floor; look up, and you’ll likely even find it up there attached to the ceiling. What is the hair sticking to? Nobody knows.

You Lysol wipe the counter, but those wipes are hard to come by in a pandemic. And you think about vacuuming but to vacuum you have to pick up the 700 Nerf darts and 35 dog toys that are currently scattered around the house. It all seems impossible, so you just pour yourself a glass of wine because it’s 3 pm on a Wednesday, and you head outside because at least it’s clean out there, or sort of clean, because that’s where the dirt lives, and you’re basically just visiting the dirt at its own house, which is calming.

Eventually, however, you have to come back inside because that’s where the food is. Then you decide to make dinner, but to make dinner you have to find some counter space.

They break you

And that’s when it happens. You snap. It’s taken days to get here, but your family has finally broken you, and if you don’t rage you’ll cry, and dammit, you are NOT going to be bested by these little jerks that you birthed, so you slam the cupboard doors, toss plates into the dishwasher (thanking Jesus that you bought the ugly Corelle because it’s the only thing that stands up to a rage clean), and these sounds give notice: Everybody better pitch in or get the hell outta the way, because you have lost your ever loving mind, and the rage clean has begun.

16681986_601420956729865_4856545844268361857_nThe music is loud, but the house that was filled with animals, people and noise moments ago is now empty. Children who wouldn’t leave you alone long enough to take a 20-minute teleconference have all but disappeared into the mist. They have read the mood and scattered to the winds, giving you free reign to curse them loudly while they’re out of earshot. “They are SO GROSS! How are they so DISGUSTING! They are worse than ANIMALS! GAH!”

The heart rate monitor on your smart watch is pumping, because your rage burns calories; your rage gets shit done. Your rage is ALIVE!

But it’s for the greater good

Eventually it fizzles though, and you look around and realize that your house is clean again. You’ve ordered take out. The sound of the washing machine going through its final spin cycle is a lullaby. The vacuum hose gets wound up and tucked away in the closet, the floors are now dry, so the chairs come down from on top of the kitchen table. The gangsta rap that Alexa had pumped moments ago is suddenly Jack Johnson. You can hear the birds sing outside, and when your family returns from their sudden field trip to the driveway to play basketball you greet them with a smile and a “please hang up your hoodie.”

And that’s how it begins, for me, anyway.

The guilt of pandemic parenting

The guilt of parenting during a pandemic is heavier than any weighted blanket available on Amazon, and unlike a weighted blanket which is designed to reduce anxiety and improve sleep, it ratchets it up, and gives your brain more to consider as you lay awake, completely aware of how badly you’re failing at just about everything you’re doing right now.

Where I live, we’re in Week 3 of pandemic parenting, meaning while mom and dad work full time from home, we’re also providing full-time care to our children, which includes some educational instruction.

(I’d like to pause here and acknowledge that our pandemic situation is privileged. Privilege, in this case, looks like general good health, two parents, two pay cheques (for now), food in the fridge, an ample (but not excessive) amount of toilet paper, a bit of a backyard, and more sunny days than rainy ones. There’s even an uncertified therapy dog who is happy to absorb all of the angst and fear that comes from being locked up with your loved ones for days on end.)

I always wanted children, but I also knew that stay-at-home parenting was not my jam. I love grown-ups, and swearing, and solving grown-up problems. I love leaving behind my dirty laundry and mismatched socks in favour of a quiet office that I share with a five-year old orchid that blooms semi-annually. I love the sound of the office HVAC system, and I love my other office mate, a tiny blue space heater that only sees use in summer because the HVAC system lives in Opposite Land. I love going to work, I love being at work, and I love coming home from work to see faces I would die for — faces that I’ve missed so much and thought about so many times during the day. I love the car ride home from daycare because I get to hear all of their ridiculous stories. I love sharing adventures and kid gossip at the dinner table. I love weekends because it means I can stay home with my people because I miss them so much.

I always wanted children, but I also knew that teaching was not my jam. My mother is a teacher, my sister, too. I watch both and shake my head. Where they excel, I would flounder. Judging by my parenting style, if you put me in charge of a class full of 7-year-olds I would take turns bribing them with Dino-Sours and threatening to cancel Christmas. Adults, with their manners and passive-aggressive side-eyes, don’t scare me, but children are wise and cunning. Eventually they’d figure out that my threats are as empty as the bag of Dino-Sours that I inhaled in the cloak room. At which point I’d probably just run behind a plant and hide because 1. children are terrifying, 2. I have zero teaching tools and no desire to acquire them, and 3. unlike my sister and my mother, I lack the ultimate secret weapon: A teacher voice.

I always loved the routine provided by school, daycare and work, and the thrill I got from stacking all those perfect little glass jars so they balanced so perfectly and shone so beautifully that even the stiffest wind couldn’t knock them over. And yet here we are, in the midst of a pandemic, my glass jars of routine and sanity shattered on the driveway, and I am stuck in my house, working full time, parenting full time, and teaching, too.

I’ve got to say, I’m not a huge fan.

Screen Shot 2020-04-03 at 7.39.19 AMPandemic parenting means that I never get to miss my children, and they never get to miss each other. They are always here, always in my business and in each other’s. They wrestle constantly, stopping only when someone gets a bloody nose or a knee to the nuts, and when I suggest a directed drawing, some Reflex Math, or a visit to the Cincinnati Zoo (online, obviously), I’m met with a deep sigh and a “no thanks, I already know about hippos.”

Knees to the nuts it is, then.

And despite how much I joke about my lack of parenting skills, I always secretly thought I was pretty good at it. Until yesterday.

During my oldest child’s first Zoom videoconference with his class he opened up: “I miss everyone so much. I only ever get to talk to my little brother who argues all the time, or my mom and dad, and they’re always working.”

I overheard his comment while up in my office. Working.

And that, dear friends, is what parenting in a pandemic feels like — a heavy, weighted blanket of guilt — guilt that is bottomless and causes breathlessness even as I write it down.

 

Resolving to be a bit lazier

I could resolve to learn a new language and to play the piano, and when those two things are well in hand, I could take a stab at calligraphy and finally start to take meditating seriously.

And of course, there is all the blogging that I want to do and haven’t. And let’s not forget the parts of parenting that I should probably invest my time in. I’m pretty decent at being a mom. I think if my kids had to grade my parenting the way I am asked to evaluate my professors after each course I complete, I’d probably come out with a solid B. Maybe a B-minus.

I should spend more time reading with them, especially with my littlest, who at only seven is convinced that he’s “not a good reader,” and is “better at other things,” which breaks my heart because I know that criticisms are like concrete, whereas compliments float away like puffs of air.

I need to get back into meal planning and grocery shopping with intention! Now that I think of it, it would be responsible of me to cut down on the frequency of my visits to the liquor store, also.

I want to read more books that move me, and watch television that I get excited about. I want to phone more people more often and actually hear their voices. I want to visit my grandfather at least twice. I want to take more and better photos, and acquire more stamps for my passport.

I want to do more things and have fewer of them.

But more than all this, more than any of this, I want to just be kinder with myself, and give myself permission to do none of these things occasionally. Over the past three days without coursework or real work, I’ve had moments of absolute laziness. I’ve read books that do nothing but pass time, and consumed coffee while it’s still hot. I’ve scrolled through social media, liking and chiming in. I’ve let the laundry sit in the washing machine and rest for ages in the dryer. I’ve slopped Mr. Noodles into bowls for my children, and they’ve gobbled it up without complaint. I’ve cocooned myself in sweatpants, slippers and an oversized t-shirt with a hilariously ironic “Bodybuilding.com” emblazoned across the front.

There has been fresh air, but no frenzy. There has been activity, but no impatience. But it takes practice, this laziness. There have been moments in the quiet shuffle that I’ve looked up and felt guilty. Guilty for not doing more, better, constantly. I’ve glanced at the washing machine and felt a pang, and have reached for the vacuum only to remind myself that sometimes we need days filled with nothing. Like a factory reset.

Tomorrow, the tree comes down and the vacuum cleaner gets picked up. Tomorrow the clothes come out of the dryer, and soon after we head back to work, to school and to schedules.

Rather than resolve to get better at everything this year, I’ll resolve to become kinder to myself, and to give myself permission to do less more often. We don’t have to get smarter, cook better, learn Spanish, have an exciting social life and a rich marriage all at the same time, each and every day.

So here is to 2020. May it be full of exciting adventures, stunning sunsets, laughter and a little bit of laziness.