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.

 

 

Remember what harassment feels like?

I had forgotten what it felt like to be harassed. Honestly, it’s been awhile.

The sun was shining. I was walking home after dropping my children off at school. Ready for work, I was mentally adding items to my to-do list and wondering what I’d already forgotten.

I sensed a vehicle approaching from behind, but only paid attention as it began to slow, which was odd as it was nowhere near the intersection.

A dark blue Dodge with a lawnmower in the box pulled up alongside. Smiling, the driver leaned out and said something. I couldn’t hear him over the sound of the truck’s exhaust, so I stopped and turned; assuming he was lost, I smiled, ready to point the way.

He raised his voice: “You’re like an angel. You’re so beautiful,” he shouted, before laughing, reaching over and high-fiving the guy beside him on the passenger seat. He put the truck back into gear and drove off, not before giving me wink and a wave. I think he thought he had made my day. 

There I stood, dumbstruck, wondering what the hell had just happened. 

There was a time, back in my teens, twenties and early thirties, that I was always on the lookout for this type of situation, but always failed to see it coming. Now in my 40s, I’ve become complacent. I haven’t been harassed in, like, forever. One man leering out his truck window, however, and it flooded back. I know this feeling. Every single woman I know, and every woman I don’t, knows this feeling. 

It’s dread, combined with embarrassment, anxiety, fear, anger and helplessness. 

I remember the first time I felt this way. I was 13, it was halloween and I was dressed as a cheerleader. My mom, who taught elementary school during the week and Sunday school on the weekend, put the costume together for me to ensure it wasn’t too scandalous. The skirt was short, but with the tights I wore, she said it was OK. She stitched a letter on my sweater, and bought me pompoms, which I adored. My long brown hair was held up in a high ponytail by a thick red ribbon, and I’m sure that ponytail was swinging back and forth as I walked home from school.

The truck pulled up beside me and there were three young men inside seated together on the bench. I remember exactly where I was. There was no sidewalk on this part of my route. I was walking on an unpaved shoulder with the road on one side and a wooded ravine on the other. I remember thinking that I could turn around and run the other way and that they might not be able to catch up to me if they had to throw the truck in reverse.

My heart still pounds thinking about it, and about what might have happened but didn’t. They commented on my cute costume, laughed, and whistled as they drove away. It was my own fault, I thought. I should have worn pants. I should have waited and walked home with a friend. I wouldn’t make that mistake again. I’m an idiot. There was nothing to be afraid of. I should take it as a compliment. At least they weren’t insulting me. Or wait, maybe they were just making fun of me?

My best friend had a similar experience, but the man in the car was alone when he reached out his window with a quarter in his hand and said: “Give me a call when you turn 16.” She turned and fled. She was out of breath when she called me. She lived in a rural area and walked the same path home from the bus each day. There was no shortcut. We both wondered whether she should tell her mom. We both worried that maybe he’d come back. We both decided that she should just take it as a compliment. We were 13.

After a while, you get used to it. You get used to that feeling as you walk past a group of men and they stop talking, mumble to one another and then laugh. You get used to the feeling of people looking at you, leering. We cross streets, we walk in pairs, we look straight ahead and walk really, really fast.

I worked in a department store in my early 20s. If I had a dollar for every man who told me to smile, or who asked what I was up to after work, or who wondered what a pretty girl like me was doing working in a place like this, I wouldn’t have had to take out a student loan.

This is why we have ladies only gyms, and why we pretend to be on the phone when we use public transit. A male relative once observed that women drivers always stare straight ahead at stop lights: “Why is that,” he asked me, sincerely. 

I explained that we stare straight ahead because we can see you looking. If we make eye contact, or smile, you might think we’re interested. Sometimes you follow us. The scenery is not worth the risk.

Eventually, the catcalls stop, though. Eventually, we slow down, take out our earbuds, and remove the keys from between our knuckles. 

So we forget. And we think maybe times have changed. Maybe girls don’t have to put up with street harassment anymore. Maybe men have gotten better. 

And then this happens. I’m a grown ass woman walking in my middle-class suburban neighbourhood on a sunny Monday morning, but to a man in a truck, I was object on display — I was something he felt entitled to comment on.

To be honest, I debated posting this, worried that readers would tell me to be flattered, and to take it as a compliment. Perhaps the trolls would suggest that the driver must have been blind, or that I’m just too sensitive, and that our society is too politically correct, and why can’t women just lighten up and take a joke?

But I’ve been deflecting, walking quickly, making jokes, and saying “thank you,” to unsolicited comments about my body and my appearance my whole life, and it’s made me feel small, and stupid. It guts me to think of girls who are still made to feel this way as they walk home from school, work out, or try to do their jobs, and who are told to “just say thank you.” 

This has never been flattery; it has always been harassment, designed to make us feel small, and remind us that we are here for your pleasure.  

We are not. 

 

 

Hands free

Imagine for a moment that it’s a spring day, and you’re walking down the street with all the time you need to pause, look in a window, fix your hair in the reflection, and keep on going.

You are sauntering; your long arms are swinging by your sides, and there’s a light breeze that’s keeping you cool but not messing with your mind. No jacket is required. Winter is over, and your arms can move without being imprisoned in their nylon jail; without that irritating “swipe, swipe, swipe” of a winter coat.

And you’ve got nothing in your hands.

Imagine that. Nothing in your hands.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast and the host was interviewing actress Amy Sedaris. During the interview she described a man they both knew as “the kind of guy who walks down the street with nothing in his hands.”

Listen: WTF with Marc Maron podcast with Amy Sedaris

I stopped listening at that point, and began imagining what that kind of freedom might feel like.

I can’t remember when I started carrying everything, but it’s been awhile. To walk down the street with nothing in my hands, or looped across my shoulder, would feel as foreign as writing with my left hand, standing up to pee, or being wrong.

I got my first purse when I was about five. It was shaped like a bunch of bananas and had a sharp metal zipper across the top. It held quarters and my Avon lip-gloss that came in the shape of a chocolate chip cookie.

Remember when your mom would take you to baby showers and they’d play the game “What’s in your purse?” Look it up, people still play it.

The winner of the game is the woman with the most ridiculous things in her purse. The ladies would all sit in a circle and someone would read out a random item — usually it started simply, with “keys,” before moving onto more obscure items, like bear spray, a spoon, a bottle of mouthwash, and a roll of duct tap (all of which, used together, could probably be turned into a bomb.)

Whenever you raised your hand and hoisted up your spoon or pepper spray to be admired by the crowd, you’d be awarded a clothes peg. By the end of the game, the woman with the most clothes pegs lining the hem of her skirt would take a prize home in her enormous handbag.

I was always annoyed that my own mother didn’t think ahead and salt her purse with random oddities, but as an adult, I recognize one clear truth: The winner of that game was the loser. The actual “winner,” is the one with the rotator cuff problems; she’s the one who can’t find her lip-gloss when it counts; she’s the one who can’t get through customs without a serious misunderstanding.

The real winner is woman without a single clothes peg, or the guy walking down the street with nothing in his hands.

This guy isn’t carrying anything for himself, or anyone else. Nobody’s asking this guy for snacks, or to please carry his BeyBlades. Nobody is begging him for gum, or a quarter so he can get a bouncy ball out of a machine. Nope. He’s so free he can’t even remember where he put his cellphone, and he’s so chill that he doesn’t even freak out about it.

The freedom of not carrying something — the freedom of not carrying everything — blows my mind.

I know I’ll never be described as “the kind of woman that walks down the street with nothing in her hands,” but as far as goals go, it’s not a bad one to strive for.

 

 

 

Three girls

I might have been four or five.

It was raining, and had probably been raining for days. It was a Saturday and my brother had a soccer game at St. Mary’s Indian Residential School in Mission, BC. This would have been in the early 1980s.

We arrived, my brother joined his team, my mom joined the parents on the sidelines, and I joined the other siblings on the playground.

There was a slide — one of those huge, skyscraper-sized metal ones that would have taken my short legs three straight minutes of climbing before reaching the summit. You’d never find these slides on a modern playground, but back then we took risks.

I don’t remember the ascent, nor do I remember pausing and wondering how foolish I’d look if I just shimmied back down. I don’t remember sailing along this metal ramp to the bottom, either.

But I remember the finale — my blue jean-wearing butt splashed straight into a mulch-filled puddle. It was my trademark move at this age; one I’d repeat many more times before nailing the landing.

I don’t recall trudging over to my mom, rubber boots squelching full of dirty mud puddle. I don’t remember how itchy I must have felt as the mulch jabbed and poked my legs inside my soggy jeans.

I don’t remember my mom shaking her head, sighing, and looking at her watch to see how much time was left in the game. I don’t know if she considered just pulling my brother out of the game and taking us both home.

I don’t recall her hand on my shivering back, ushering me inside the huge red and white school, or if she spoke to a grown up when she arrived, or what they might have said.

I remember walking downstairs, though, and entering a big, carpeted room. I remember that the curtains were orange and drawn and that the light filtering through gave everything an odd, ginger glow. There were three girls in the room, and they seemed old to me, but were probably only 13 or 14. They all had long dark hair and they smiled at us.

I don’t remember wedging myself behind my mom’s legs and peeking around them. But I suspect I might have done just that.

I know my mom spoke to the girls; she must have — my mom speaks to everyone whether they want to hear what she has to say or not. I don’t know what she said, but they must have come to an agreement, because one moment my mom was there and the next she was gone, and I was alone with the girls in the orange-tinted room.

There was a couch, and I sat on it wet jeans and all, scootching my butt into its deepest corner. I must have put my hands over my face, because I remember how the room looked through fingers. I probably cried. I did that a lot at four or five, so it seems probable.

The girls took turns leaning in and talking to me. And they had scarves, so many scarves. There was a bottomless drawer in my grandma’s bedroom full of flimsy rainbows that my cousin and I would dig through and twine around our necks, heads, wrists, and waists.

The girls had these scarves, too, and they whipped them around their faces, behind their heads, and they reached forward, tickling the hands in front of my face, trying to coax them away. They were laughing, and telling stories. I listened, rapt, and terrified. These were scary stories. I stopped crying at some point, but continued to shiver — perhaps it was cold, more likely it was fear. They told scary stories through delicate scarves until my mom came to collect me.

We would have clambered into the big green Jeep with the wooden side panels and made the short drive home. I would have undressed and maybe even jumped into a rare mid-morning bath to get the mulch off my skin. My mom, I presume, did laundry.

We would have had lunch, of that I’m sure, but whether my mom continued on with chores while my brother, sister and I played, or whether she put up her feet and read a book, I can’t say, but I hope she did the latter.

I rarely thought about those three girls; the ones who didn’t get to go home with their families after the game. Or about all the other children who wouldn’t spend lazy Saturdays playing, having baths, being cared for, nurtured, loved, included.

But I think about them now, and often; now that I have children of my own.

I got to go home that day. I got to go home every single day. I can still go home today if I want.

And I don’t know how to reconcile that.

St. Mary’s was the last functioning residential school in Canada, and closed in 1985.

The great sleepover debate

I said no.

I say no often to my children without giving it much thought, but this seemed like a big no; there was a harshness to it. Saying it hurt a little because I could feel he wanted it so badly, and he’s such a great kid, and he’s almost 10, and I was probably being over protective.

“No. You can’t go to the sleepover birthday at the local ski hill. I don’t know this boy. I’ve never met him or his parents. It’s an hour away on a snowy road. No.”

Sleepovers are a rite of passage, and I remember my first attempt vividly.

I was about six, and I was to sleep over at my best friend Tami’s house. I’d visited countless times before, and our parents were friends.

There was a build up of excitement; I could barely eat as butterflies parked in my belly.

Finally, Friday night arrived and it was amazing until the lights went out, at which time I sobbed and begged Tami’s mom to take me home. She did.

A few weeks later, I tried it out again and made it through the night. I graduated to other sleepovers — sleepovers that found me giggling on my grandma’s balcony with my cousin Becky, or up watching Labyrinth over and over, pausing only to make prank calls to the boys from school.

(Keep in mind, this was before call display.)

Sleepovers were great. Sleepovers are great. I want my kids to have sleepovers and to host sleepovers, but I’ve been fielding invitations from parents since my oldest was about five, and I say no far more often than I say yes, because I’m torn between wanting my kids to have amazing experiences with their buddies, and wanting to make safe choices for them.

I’ve had to develop rules, which include:

  • If I don’t know the child, or the parent, the answer is no. You’d be surprised how many sleepover requests come to my house from children, and parents of children, who are complete strangers. I couldn’t pick them out of a police lineup, I have no idea who the parent is, what they look like, how many children or dogs live in the house, what they do for a living, or whether they have gang ties.
  • If a parent decides at the last moment that the pizza/movie birthday party is now a sleepover, the answer is also no. No. No. No. First of all, WHO LIVES LIKE THIS? Making the decision to extend a nine-year-old’s birthday party into the next day — on a whim — seems insane to me. I can’t work like that. I like plans, and I like having them in advance so I can give my extremely anxious brain enough time to freak out.
  • If there have been multiple playdates, and I’ve gotten to know the kid and the parents and have successfully creeped them on social media, then yes, yes, a thousand times, YES!

When my kid visits your house I want to know that he feels comfortable enough to tell you if he’s scared. If he feels sick. If he’s hungry or thirsty. And I want your kid to feel that way with me before he spends the night.

We’re told to provide our children with the tools they need to engage with the world. We talk to them about stranger danger, and about bullying, and about participating cautiously in cyberspace.

But we’re also told that most child predators are not strangers, and that they’re the next-door neighbour, the basement tenant, the babysitter, the uncle.

As a kid I didn’t notice when I graduated from midnight My Little Pony marathons to sobbing over Heathers and making prank calls in the basement. When my parents said no, which was often, I thought it was just because they were jerks.

Turns out they weren’t jerks. And I’m not a jerk, either. My kids will do sleepovers. But let’s not rush it. Let’s get to know each other a bit, see how they play together for a few hours before they spend the night. How about you invite me in for a coffee while they play so that I don’t have to resort to the social media creep?

That’s a lie. I’ll creep you anyway. I’ve already creeped you. But it’s only because I care.

Thoughts that keep me up at night

What problem are the removable liners in sports bras trying to fix? Is their primary purpose to solve the ages old horror of vague nipple shapes under tank tops? Or were they merely created to provide a nice, rounded shape to the otherwise lycra-flattened boob? I go to the gym often, and I run, and because of this, I own a lot of sports bras. If you’re like me, you’ve spent time fishing these fleshy-coloured flaps out of the wash, or poking your fingers inside the little slits on the side of the bra coaxing out the bunched-up liner, only to later attempt to reinsert it in the original position. There’s swearing, and origami involved in this process. And if you’re also like me, you’ve got a drawer full of odd-shaped fleshy flaps — like socks — that you hang onto because someday you might find the match, and then once again be able to hide your nipple shapes while you run. Let’s face it — some dude designed this terrible contraption, and then other dudes around other boardroom tables all over the world nodded their heads and agreed that it was a fabulous idea. And so here we are, ladies, drowning in mismatched fleshy flaps, hiding our nipples when really all we want is to go for a run and have everyone just leave us alone with our deep thoughts.

•••

At Costco, my 9-year-old is not allowed to try a piece of buttered toast until I say it’s OK. Which is fine. There might be peanuts, gluten, dairy and other dangerous things in that toast, and Costco doesn’t want to be responsible for my child’s anaphylaxis. I get it. But at what age do they start handing kids food? I’ve never seen anyone asked for ID at a Costco sampling booth, so do they have a standard “age at which you look responsible enough to know and understand your own food sensitivities?” Is that legal drinking/pot-smoking age? (19 where I live), or is it younger? Is it understood that by age 14 or so you’ve lived long enough to know not to eat dairy if you’re allergic? If there’s anyone out there who provides samples at Costco, I’m dying to know.

•••

My friend is preparing to sell her house, and as a result has been frantically renovating her bathroom and retiling the fireplace. She bought the tile for the fireplace two years ago, but it wasn’t until she decided to sell that she actually opened up those boxes. Meanwhile, I have a beautiful, two-person jetted bathtub in my garage. Someday, most likely in the weeks before we list our house for sale, it will move upstairs into our master bathroom. Until then, this gorgeous tub will collect dust (and empty pop bottles) in the garage, while also preventing us from parking inside. I’m often motivated to buy the things I need to renovate, but am very rarely motivated to actually renovate. It makes me sad looking at that gorgeous vessel knowing that I’ll probably never bathe in it, but even that sadness, and the bitterness of knowing that some stranger will delight in the beautiful bath, doesn’t prompt me to roll up my sleeves. It makes me sad — but not sad enough to actually renovate.

The mom flu

Once, when I was about 14 I had a sinus infection so severe that I nearly blew my left eye out.

To this day, I have to close my eyes tightly when I blow my nose so as not to accidentally launch my left eye across the room.

It occurred to me over the past several days, eyes closed, blowing furiously into a Kleenex, that I used to be really good at being sick.

As a kid I was sick all the time. I had coughs, fevers, pink eye, strep throat and chicken pox. I even got shingles when I was 13 — a special virus reserved for the elderly — that traced perfect loop-de-loops around my teenaged back.

But at some point it all stopped and I got cocky. My life is a germ factory, and I walk through it daily in short sleeves; my sick offspring literally sneeze into my open mouth and I wake up the next morning without a sniffle.

I rarely get sick, and now I’m out of practice.

Man Flu has its own Wikipedia page, and just recently, Dr. Robert H. Schmerling posted results of a scientific study conducted to determine if this condition is legitimate — if men actually experience more acute flu symptoms than women.

There is no similar Wikipedia page or Harvard study for the Mom Flu, so I feel qualified to discuss the differences between them, and I’ll do so by drawing upon zero actual research, and pure anecdotal evidence. Here is my conclusion: Women rarely give themselves permission to be sick.

Men are no better at math than women. They are no better at driving, at comedy, or at managing money. One only has to turn on the news to recognize that they’re also not that fabulous at running countries.

But they are great at being sick, and most of the women I know (sorry for generalizing ladies) are terrible at it.

This Mom Flu found me at home, alone, on my living room couch, on a cold Tuesday morning, confused and anxious about what was going on.

“What does a sick person even do,” I asked my dog.

He suggested a rousing game of fetch or a trip to the dog park, but there wasn’t enough Kleenex in the world to make that possible, so instead I washed the dishes, cleaned the kitchen, tidied up the boots by the front door, started a load of laundry and took out the recycling. Then when I felt I had “earned” some down time, I made tea and sat on the couch.

Tea done, I got up, put the mug in the sink, and looked around.

“What now,” I kept wondering, as the minutes ticked by on my first official sick day in over a year, completely aware that I was failing, and feeling crummy about it because I hate being bad at shit.

I turned on the TV but it seemed noisy and out of place during the day.

So I folded laundry.

Then I tried to nap, because that’s what I tell my kids to do when they’re sick.

But instead I sat on my bed and stared at my dog, who I eventually took for a walk.

Sick Day No. 1 was over, and I’d accomplished about 20 minutes of productive rest time.

I’ve got a Mom Flu. I’m out of practice, and it’ll take a lot longer than the length of the average flu to figure out how to grant myself permission to relax.

A social life, curated

Social media is such a lie, and I am such a liar.

It has been nine months since I posted to my blog, and it’s not because I ran out of things to say.

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that I have two super powers, and one is never running out of things to say, ever. In fact, I can carry on both sides of every conversation without even pausing for breath.

I talk everywhere, and to anyone. Trying to get some work done? Big deal! I had a hilarious thought! Just about to make an important phone call? Yeah, but wait until you hear this!

I’ve always had a lot to say, but what I say, and what I share (especially on social media) has always been carefully curated. The moments in which I’m absent or silent are the moments that I don’t have the capacity for curating. If I had posted to my blog three or four months ago I would have shared thoughts and feelings that I would have immediately regretted.

I would have risked opening myself up to sympathy, pity, and criticism at a time when judgement was the last thing I needed, and pity would have driven me insane.

And I’m not that brave.

So I stopped writing because I didn’t want to run the risk I’d write something I’d regret — something I couldn’t delete.

But then I looked back over the past several months of my social media posts, only to realize I had been talking. I had been talking quite often, but the conversations I shared were so carefully manufactured that they were almost outright lies.

“Look at my life,” those posts cried out, “it’s full of sunny days, big smiles, fitness, family, friends, vacations, and very merry Christmases.”

Truthfully? That’s garbage. This fortieth year has been the most difficult of my life.

Brick by brick, I’m putting myself back together. But the trauma this year has brought has forever changed the way I am, the way I see myself, the world, and probably the way I write.

The lies we tell on social media aren’t intentional, or malicious. We’re all just constructing the stories we want to read. The stories aren’t always true, but we want them to be, we can imagine they are, and there’s comfort in that.

Here’s to 2019. A year of great stories, and greater honesty, openness and bravery. And to greater recognition that behind every perfect and hilarious social media post there is someone with an untold story who is working very hard to build herself back up again, brick by heavy brick.

 

Rainy Sunday reading

My perfect rainy Sunday involves a great book, a fireplace, a soft blanket and a hot cup of coffee.

Oh, and a clean house that smells of pie, and children who are playing together (with educational toys), quietly.

I can’t manage most of this — except the coffee and the book, and usually the coffee is lukewarm by the time I actually get to sit down and drink it. I can almost always carve out a small space in each Sunday for reading, but at this stage in my life, the books I read have to meet certain criteria.

For starters, they can’t be overly complicated. There was a time in my life when I expected a lot from literature. I devoured classics, and poured over Oprah’s book list. These days? I need books that take me away but don’t ask much of me in return.

Oh, and I’d prefer if they don’t make me cry. There’s enough sadness in the world. I’ll come back to the classics and the books that soak up my sobs eventually, but these days I need escape.

So, if escapist fiction — often with a historical bent — with the occasional bit of dystopia thrown in for good measure is up your alley, then read on to find out what I recommend, and I’ll do my best each rainy Sunday to offer a few other suggestions.

(Note: I live in a semi-arid region, so there aren’t as many rainy Sundays as one might wish for)

The catch? You have to share your recommended reads with me. I read a lot, and quickly. I’m always running out of books, so the more recommendations the better.

What I’m reading now

The Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley (books 1 through 9)  flaviadellucebooks

“It was one of those glorious days in March when the air was so fresh that you worshipped every whiff of it; that each breath of the intoxicating stuff created such new universes in your lungs and brain that you were certain you were about to explode with sheer joy; one of those blustery days of scudding clouds and piddling showers and gum boots and wind-blown brollies that made you know you were truly alive.” 
Speaking from Among the Bones, Flavia de Luce, No. 5

A friend of mine introduced me to this series. It turns out that despite the fact my friend is way smarter than me, with many letters after her name, she and I have a similar taste in reading. This knowledge makes me feel way smarter than it should.

But Flavia is truly enchanting, and I’m so glad we met. Set in 1950, 11-year-old Flavia is finding her way through the world out of her home base of Buckshaw, a rambling old English mansion. Her mother died when she was a year old, her older sisters either ignore her or are terrible to her, and her father is absent. She’s raising herself under the sometimes watchful eyes of Dogger, her family’s butler who suffers from PTSD. Her best friend is Gladys, her bicycle.

Oh, and did I mention that Flavia has a passion for poisons, and also solves murders?

Alan Bradley is a brilliant writer, one I wish I had discovered sooner, and I’m so excited for you to get to know Flavia if you haven’t already.

The Timothy Wilde Series by Lyndsay Fayelyndsay faye timothy wilde trilogy

The Gods of Gotham, Book 1
Seven for a Secret, Book 2
The Fatal Flame, Book 3

I can’t remember who recommended The Gods of Gotham to me, or whether it was one of those books that just kept popping up on my recommended reading lists, and I eventually just bit the bullet and bought it, but however it happened, I’m grateful.

The Gods of Gotham, set in the 1840s, introduces Timothy Wilde, the best, yet most reluctant, copper star on New York City’s inaugural police force. It’s dirty, and twisted. I pride myself on being a bit of a plot sleuth, able to figure out what’s going to happen before the author shows me, but there are so many twists and turns and gritty bits in this book that I was completely taken by surprise. Wilde is among the only decent humans that Faye reveals, in her exceptionally well-researched period drama.

These are my recommendations for today, what are yours?