Halfway Point?

Because I am married to a Math Man, we talk numbers a lot in our family. I mean, maybe not everyone would agree with my quantitative qualifies, because I am clearly the word nerd in the group, but for real, it seems like a LOT.

Since COVID life started for us in mid-March, we started keeping track on the calendar with just how many days it has been because honestly, how else would we keep track? And somehow, today is day 79. Seventy-freaking-nine of not seeing grandparents or friends in person, of playing at parks or participating in school and activities. I may not be a numbers expert, but it sure feels like that’s a crap-ton.

And again, because, Math, I also happen to know that today marks 79* days until school starts again in the fall. That means we are really only at the halfway point of this bizarre, unwanted extended summer that really doesn’t feel like summer because we don’t feel comfortable doing pretty much any of the things we’d normally do outside of our own yard in “the before times” summer.    *He tells me that it’s somewhere between 79 and 80 between tonight and tomorrow and oh my gosh are you kidding me, so many numbers and math! 😉

And that is a lot to process because, as those of you living with small armies of dependents you are responsible for raising/creating whilst existing in the midst of the most uncertain and stressful time any of us have ever experienced, we’ve sort of already reached our max of Together Time.

Are you feeling that, too?

In case you didn’t know, I’m a quiet person who likes quiet time and my house is never ever quiet anymore (not even when the children are on screens; in fact, sometimes when they play video games, they are louder in both celebration and frustration than when off them). And it seems that none of us is ever getting a real honest break or time away to do our thing. The closest I’ve gotten is driving to pick up groceries or grade papers off-site and neither of those tasks are vacation-like in any way!

Normally during summer we’d have a week or two when we’d be all home without something scheduled, but otherwise it would be this kid here for that camp or that kid there for something else, and goodness, without any outliers to break up the days, the constant togetherness is overwhelming. And we are still 79ish flipping days away from a real change in that.

Sidenote: I would be freaking the freak out if I wasn’t with my kids right now. That is not my wish at all. I am glad that we are privileged and able to be together during this time. And also, it is a lot to handle. Both things are the truth.

I keep trying to figure out how we can split things up a bit better but so far I’m still coming up blank as to how to make it happen. My latest approach is to let them pair or group up naturally to go off and play whatever and not interfere as long as it stays relatively peaceful. Sometimes that works (until it doesn’t), and then we try again. I don’t know how much that is different from pre-COVID life, actually, but all the same, I wish we had some better ways to shake things up (and spread the heck out from one another).

The way most days go, at some point (or ten) they end up in a prickly cluster in which they literally will not separate even though they are clearly not getting along (see image below). We are fortunate to live in a town with yards and a house with multiple rooms and not an apartment in a city where we’d be really really stuck together, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference to this crew – they still gravitate to one another and bicker.

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As it is, we’re just going to keep our fingers crossed and our hands washed and our masks on and hope against hope that all of this (and by “this” I mean the many, multiple, multifaceted layers of HARD that was this week in our country, but that is another blog post for another day) improves.

We’re willing to do the work to make it so (even if one of those “this”s means being on top of each other for another 79+ days).

 

How Are You Doing *Really*?

Has anyone else noticed the awkward pause these days that has started happening when a conversation starts with the classic, “How are you doing?” question? This has always been a loaded inquiry that most of us never really answer truthfully (because who has time and usually the person asking isn’t a) looking for a novel-length amount of truth or b) a safe place in which to give such), but wow is it a total load of crap in COVID life.

And I say this as someone who still finds the words falling out of her mouth upon seeing people across the street or in a driveway (at 6+ feet of social distance)! Just like I can’t seem to kick the habit of asking, I also can’t help but sad-chuckle when it happens because you can see the truth written all over people’s faces (with their raised eyebrows and sort-of-there smiles) and you can definitely hear the disbelief in their “suuuuure, fine, yeah, you betcha’s” that now always comes after a pause as we all consider the absurdity of even asking or answering that.

Yesterday, though, I caught a twist on this question when I happened to see an Instagram story from my beloved Sara Bareilles in which she was participating in a tag-each-other challenge of answering the question, “How are you doing *really*?” which is to say, if you were going to answer that honestly, what would you say?

My answer has been rattling around my brain for the last 24 hours and if I’m being honest, it keeps landing back at “not great.”

For one, I live in a state that is already opening back up even though we never really shut down and have yet to see verified, complete (i.e. transparent) numbers of COVID cases decreasing.

For another, I live in a county that lives next to another county that both have some of the highest number of cases in our state and originally we were told we’d all have a couple extra weeks (until June 1) to keep restrictions in place to all of the sudden having that ripped out from under our feet by the Governor last week when he decided, “J/K” and said that our counties too would be loosening guidelines starting today. Excuse me, what?! The whiplash on that one sent me on a tailspin last week that has yet to let up.

For yet another, we now have to be the ones calling the shots about where and what our kids will be doing as some summer activities begin in the next couple weeks. We are of course always in charge of that and ultimately still are, but as things like baseball and dance start up again in June and some families around us start to participate, we have to explain to our kids why that won’t be the case for us. And sorry folks, but we won’t be doing either because to us the reward doesn’t outweigh the risk and that’s coming from two parents who very much love to watch their children do these very activities. I don’t know how we’ll explain to them that we aren’t when others are, but instead of as a state reevaluating at the end of the month, supposedly, here we are, being forced to send those emails of decline. Now. Two weeks before any sort of evaluation and real look at the state of affairs in our state.

And for yet one more, in a comedy of errors that has dragged on for a year and freaking half, we are still faced with what to do with our unfinished house projects. The carpet that we ordered in late February and have been putting off installation of for months now comes next week. Do I feel great about that? Nope, but I also want very much to have my house put back in order so I can actually put stuff away and have my house the way I haven’t had it (a.k.a. mine and done) since December 2018. DECEMBER 2018!!!

img_7893And I can’t think of a better metaphor for quarantine life than this: six weeks ago our side door, the one we use All. The. Time. broke. Just broke. I came in it. Ben went out it. And then it never opened again. Thankfully this less-than-a-year-old door was still under warranty and it didn’t cost us anything to fix, but that break happened SIX WEEKS AGO so all this time we’ve been without that, feeling even more trapped in our own house than we would have otherwise in this bizarre time. The good news is that the actual fix only took 20 minutes and the dude who came to fix it was super nice AND (even better) wearing a mask, so that helped alleviate some of my tension, but y’all, the anxiety train is running fast these days with the thought of what it will take to get to the point of actually being done with all this (renovation and Coronavirus, to be clear).

So how am I doing, really? I’m a mess. I’m wondering who to trust and what to believe, questioning what is safe and what is right, unsure of what to do and anxious about pretty much every choice we make. Are they the right ones? Who knows. Is this really any different than normal life? Maybe not. But it sure feels like the stakes are higher and the tension DEFINITELY is, so even if this isn’t all that different than the typical uncertainty of life, trying to figure out how to move forward from “this” has left me spinning.

I hope you get a second to think about how you are doing, really, and maybe even get a chance to share it with someone or write it out a bit. I know that’s not the magic bullet for everyone, but these times, they are worth a ponder and finding a writing utensil to document, that is for sure.

The Pre-Nap Steps

I don’t have to put Wilson down for her nap every day now that “summer” has started “early” (more on that in some other post) but there are still many days that I do and the process itself is so drawn out and ridiculous, and also sweet and cute, that I wanted to record it here. Please note, none of this takes into consideration all the steps that take place downstairs prior to Nap Time.

But for real, it is remarkable how true she is to this format each and every time:

Two books limit. Unless she insists on three. Or changes her mind five times mid-story as to which two are THE two. Try to commit titles to memory so you can later write them on 1,000 Books before Kindergarten sheet for Library.

Turn on noise machine and pick her up so she can turn off the light. Often this involves her identifying the hanging animals on the wall and/or the various baby cross stitches for three of the kids that live on the walls in her room. Confirmation must be given for each item identified.

Sing the “Family Goodnight Song” but only the versus for the girls and Mama and Daddy.

Sing one round of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

Sing one round of “You Are My Sunshine.”

Place her in crib. Make sure she already has Margaret Tiger AND Margaret’s blanket (this step must be done before you go upstairs in the first place, but then must be double checked at this point in the dark).

Cover her with blanket.

Pause when she pops up to insist on giving you a kiss. “I kiss you, Mama!”

Cover her with blanket.

Pause when she pops up to insist on giving you a hug. “I hug you, Mama!!”

Cover her with blanket.

Tell her “night-night” and “I love you” 20ish times, back and forth as you attempt to cover her for good.

Walk out continuing to say, “Good night, Wilson. I love you!” until you are finally in the clear.

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And that’s it! Just thirty-odd simple steps and you’ve put the toddler down for her nap! Also, this is not her in her bed, but in mine yesterday where she kept crashing my mother’s day reading party by bringing books to throw in my face to be read to her instead. Cutest little book monster I’ve ever seen.

 

May the Fourth

Of the many elements of Quarantine Life that I never could have predicted, one bright spot has turned out to be, of all things, Star Wars.

What?

Yep.

Star Wars.

To explain, my children were gifted Disney Plus from some family members for Christmas which was cool but not getting much use until, well, Quarantine Life began. I mean, we’d watched a few things on there in the first few months of the year but since mid-March? Holy moly cow. We have gotten very good use of that gift!

What inspired me to take advantage of the Star Wars element of Disney Plus, though, was, ironically, a different show – LEGO Masters, which our entire family loved the heck out of this Spring on FOX. Side note: I promise – our entire world does not revolve around TV, not even in the middle of a pandemic, even though it might seem like it based on this post.

If you watched that show (and if you didn’t, you definitely should!), you’ll remember that near the end of the season, they had a Star Wars themed episode and even though I knew my kids sort of knew what Star Wars is, I thought they’d appreciate the LEGO side of things more if we watched one of the movies first.

Well, the weekend we chose to tackle that turned out to be crappy, crappy weather, which meant one movie turned into three. Whoops! And, let the record show, we chose to go in release date order, so we started with Episodes 4, 5, and 6. I know there are big feelings around making that decision, but considering that I grew up watching them in that order made that choice make sense for me.

Another side note (or two): Star Wars has a significant place in my family history. If I’m remembering correctly, it’s the first movie my parents saw together in the movie theatre (but I’m going to have to fact check with my mom to make sure I’m not twisting details). And my brother loved Star Wars growing up, both the “old” and the “new” (Episodes 1, 2, and 3) that started coming out when we were in high school-ish.

I remember watching the originals with my brother as kids and definitely saw one of the last 90s ones in the theatre, but beyond that, I’ve been out of touch with this world for years. It is *not* Ben’s thing and that’s totally fine. He said maybe he’s seen some of the old ones, but even then, he doesn’t have any real connection to it, so if it was going to be anyone in our family to introduce it to the children, it was going to be me. And by children, I mean Big 3, because no way could Trumy handle these films at this point.

And, honestly, I have loved it. It has been such a joy to share that time and that story-line (confusing as it can be) with them over the course of the last couple months. And yes, in that time we have had enough crappy weather days to watch ALLLL the episodes. Last side note (maybe): we got thrown off near the end by the realization that there are also Star Was Stories movies, not just Episodes, so we may have gone off course by skipping those, but whatever – we wanted to watch all nine movies, and we did. Yay!

What I didn’t expect from all this was the different way this experience would connect with each of my kids.

For Harrison, it was a hilarious throw back in time because years ago his beloved franchise, Angry Birds, released two different (and freakishly accurately done) versions of “Angry Birds: Star Wars” in which they essentially went through all of the first six movies in AB format. And somewhere along the line in his obsession, we got him an AB SW encyclopedia that he read cover to cover (probably multiple times), so he knew a TON of what was going on in the those first two trilogies. Thankfully he knows not to give away spoilers, so he did a good job of not ruining anything for the other kids as we watched.

For Raegan, it was all of the amazing female characters in the movies. Yes, there are img_7741some issues within the stories, but there are some seriously strong women portrayed and I loved watching her respond to that in the films. I think she loved all of the main female characters, but I know for a fact she loved Rey the most and that she is going to have a character connection to her for a long, long time to come. We even had to attempt some Rey hair because, I mean, why not, right?! We’ll work on our costume skills; check back by Halloween for how far we’ve come.

For Lincoln, it was a whole lot of extra, unanticipated snuggles during the movies. He liked all of them and definitely liked acting them out in the yard after the fact, but he was a little less thrilled with the actual fight scenes in the actual movies, which meant that during each of them, at some point or another, he ended up right next to me on the couch. And of course I don’t take pleasure in my kids’ discomfort, but I definitely enjoyed being a source of comfort to him in the midst of that. I honestly don’t think he got as much out of the story as the other two, but the nice part of watching from home was the ability to pause, answer questions, and discuss as we made our way through them all.

And then, to bring the WHOLE thing full circle, B and I decided to get the children a surprise in the form of, yep, LEGO to commemorate this time of life and our movie watching that helped us get through some of the longer hours and days. What I didn’t realize until this morning, though, was that we had to perfect opportunity today (because again, some crappy wind and weather this afternoon) to present them a May the Fourth gift! So now, we LEGO which has been a huge and helpful strategy for our family during this whole quarantine existence.

And you know me, I love a good theme and a good story! 😉 And, LEGO! But let’s be real, having three kids trying to navigate building the same set did not come without squabbles and attempts to take each other’s turn. Such is life in a busy, big family, especially when we’ve been with just each other for close to eight weeks! But at least the building got started and not every moment was fighting.

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Today was a Good Day

Just like any blog post right now, it feels a little strange to document something with that title, as if it were a totally rare occurrence, except that lately, it sort of feels like a full day of a good day really really has been few and far between for us. I actually can’t put my finger on what would have been the last one during or even before Quarantine Life started that could be given the same title. Instead we’ve been clinging to what my therapist calls “Glimmer Moments” – little bits and pieces of good that are always mixed in, even on the hardest and longest of days.

But today was indeed a Good Day.

The weather was perfect – warm sun, cool breeze, big puffy clouds floating across the sky.  (I mean, it IS April 25th, so….)

The agenda was different than normal but still turned out OK.

img_7572Ben spent the whole morning on a Zoom meeting for his statewide education association but was able to just listen to the content and didn’t have to be parked in a chair in front of the computer for the whole thing. During that time the kids and I hung out, working on Lego building and book reading to the littlest two

(we’ve been slacking on keeping track of their 1,000 books before Kindergarten lists, so we’re trying to start that up again), and I even managed to get the dishes done which is always nice when it happens before evening time.

After lunch the baby went down for a nap and Ben took the Bigs for a (socially distanced, don’t worry) excursion while I stayed to work on some projects I’ve been meaning to do but haven’t gotten to yet. One was simply putting the handwritten lyrics to a favorite song in a frame, but the other was a COVID-specific project that we can use as a keepsake for this crazy and uncertain time (because even though we don’t know when, we’re still hanging on to hope that life will return to normal, which will make this a reminder of The During once we finally get to be in The After). It felt so good to sit and work on these things and I was reminded of how meditative creating can be.

From there we headed out to Prairie Loft for our second Exploration Reservation (local and local-ish friends, you should really check it out – such a fantastic way to spend up to two hours out in nature) of the month and once again, we loved it and it nourished our souls.

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This time we went straight for the downed trees so the kids could climb, but then we quickly moved on to walking a ton of ground that we didn’t set foot on last time. We img_2953found a bunch more trees to investigate (including some insanely thorned ones that just blew my mind, so much so that I forgot to get a picture of them), and the kids had a blast getting up, in, and on every one they could. Even Mama got in on the in-tree fun!

As we walked through the grass, keeping an eye out for little trees, pokey weeds, holes, and snakes, we got a chance to talk and question and just be. Again, I think we’ve realized that it is so soul-filling to be able to be together by ourselves but away from our house, and we are so lucky to have this so close to home.

Along the way, we took a ton of pictures and I took some quick notes of memorable quotes because even before the kids said it, I was already thinking, this is SUCH a great day. And what a gift it is to have one of those as we continue to chug along in this great unknown.

“We can find a way – we’re Welsches!”

“We an outdoor exploring family!”

“I like walking with you.”

“I’m having one of those emotional moments like you see on reality television!” (LOL! That one was maybe the best!)

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We ended our time playing in their “yard” area and hunting for four-leaf clovers, which HD managed to find lickety-split. RL and LT found a four and five, too, so seriously – we were on a roll!

From here it will be tacos for supper, bath and bedtime for the kids, some Hard Booch for the parentals, and then a continuation of our Parks and Recreation marathon because just like creating and getting away, Leslie Knope is one of the best things for my heart and soul these days.

Sending you all lots of love and wishes for glimmer moments, and hopefully even a Good Day, while you’re at it.

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I Love You, But…

Oh, my heart. My Bigs are missing school hard these days.

Case in points:

  1. HD’s class does a weekly Zoom which his teacher handles really nicely in terms of img_7299giving them a theme (scavenger hunt, talent show, etc.) and managing the chaos of a dozen-ish squirrelly 10-yr-olds on computers. My child is so excited for each one that he starts prepping his wardrobe and location a solid 30 minutes in advance and is then logged in and ready to go at least 10 minutes early each time. He told me today that he misses going to school because  it “was his entertainment” which is evident in how much anticipation and excitement go into prepping for these weekly hour-long meetings. Hands down, he wishes they could be every night.
  2. RL has had very little interaction online with kids her age and she’s hurting. This is the kid who loves, loves, LOVES school and her img_7333friends and playing games at recess and it is so hard for her to be away from those things. Yes, she’s got her siblings and has had some FaceTime with her Bestie (thank goodness!), but tonight before bed I told her, “I love you, Raegan.” and she responded with, “I love you, but…” and then promptly burst into tears because she just wants to see her people in real life and when is this going to end and when can we go places again and she just doesn’t want to do it anymore, and again – oh. my. heart. She’s feeling a lot of feels right now and a lot of them are the sticky and icky ones and it’s just so hard to watch her struggle in these ways and know that there’s absolutely no way I can fix it or speed up the process. I have promised all the play dates possible when this is over, but of course we have no freaking clue when that might be, so that’s not really helping right now.
  3. LT has struggled the most with doing the packets from school. He too misses his buddies and his super sweet teacher and I think a lot of his anger at the homework comes from not quite being able to read yet and not even making it through a full year of full day school, so the idea of working independently while Dad and I help the other kids here and there just freaks him the frick out. Quarantine School freaks us the frick out, too, Buddy; I promise. We’ve found some ways around this by having him do some worksheets with his BFF over video chat, but that’s a hands-on process for both families, too, and clearly can’t happen every day, so a lot of days are becoming “sure, go ride your bike and play outside time” instead of trying to force the packets time. We keep trying and we keep celebrating any time he does willingly participate with a school-related activity (including the fact that he had to adjust to doing weekly Zoom Speech with a new speech therapist) but this all feels extra hard and challenging, again mostly on the feels front. The fact that he was smiling while playing this Speech Game with Truman was a huge win for this week!

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Basically all I’m saying here is that I’m heartbroken for the way the school year ended suddenly and without closure. It sucks that my kids can’t have their amazing teachers, classmates, and social outlets. As much as we know it is necessary and for the greater good, none of this feels right right now. Of course we’re still having some fun and making good memories (Hello, Star Wars Marathons with Mama and the Big 3!) but we’re also acknowledging that we love each other but this is still really, really hard.

In the Mess

Another week, another post. That’s about all I’ve got in me these days, it seems, but it still feels worth doing because this life is different than anything else we’ve done before, and I really need to document it for my own memory and understanding.

Understanding feels in short supply these days. In our country, in our state, in our community, and yes, even in our home. There’s not much I can do about those first three levels of that even though it breaks my heart and my spirit to see the lack of both compassion and logic in the way some people are approaching this virus and this crisis. Because trust, we are all in crisis to some extent and there are many out there who are in extreme and dangerous levels of insecurity (basic needs met) and who are being put at risk right now. And it is really starting to feel like we are going to be at this for a very, very long time if people don’t start working together (while staying separate).

The lack of understanding within my own four walls? Well, I’ll be honest and admit that I’m at a bit of loss there, too. I’ve never been able to find a magic, this-works-every-time parenting book before quarantine life, so I get it that we are all flying by the seat of our pants right now, but that doesn’t make the day-after-day of this any easier.

There’s a LOT of BIG emotions flying around our family. At one point this morning at least three, if not more, children were in full meltdown mode at the same time and while that’s not just limited to quarantine life, if feels like it’s happening more and more as this drags on and on and we just aren’t doing a good enough job to get the needs of our little people met in such a way that keeps the ship a little more steady and on course. And that’s true for ourselves as parents, too. Everything feels just a little extra shaky at all times and I wish I knew what the answer was for each of my people to make this better or easier (and that I could deliver on providing it).

Look, I get that it is temporary and that many others feel the same, but it feels necessary to reiterate that This. Is. Hard. For us, it is doing this stay-at-home life with five children under the age of 11 who fight and bicker all the time and the utter lack of time and space in which to just chill and be (for basically all of us) that is wearing us down right now. As the weather improves that will get better but it’s not like I can just send the kids out to play and expect them to all be fine without supervision and refereeing. Literally every moment of the waking hours (and too many of the night-time, too) is devoted to keeping the peace, providing guidance, and parenting (and working and still being a person going through collective trauma), so it’s no wonder that I feel like I’m treading water and just don’t understand life right now.  (Side note: this post is being written during nap/screen time while Ben mows and I’m just praying that the kids are doing what they need to be doing while I take these minutes to unload my brain a bit).

What I do understand, after five weeks of this crap, is that I need my people. I’m not an extrovert by any means, but goodness graciousness, I need MY people and I cannot wait for this to end so we can be together in peace and comfort again. Thankfully I’m still able to see their faces and hear their voices through video messaging and some driveway deliveries of goodies and care packages, but what I crave right now is time to pull up a seat together where we can share the same air, laugh and cry, and just be together. I miss that very much.

I also need MY space. That’s not really a new revelation either, but I think I will take for granted very little when we can finally return to normal routines, time together, and time alone that isn’t mandated/necessary/critical.

It’s hard to know how to end this post, just like it’s hard to know when and how we will come out of this. Right now we are in the struggle, the fear, and the mess of it all. I know there will be another side of it all, but the when and the how of what it will all become? I’m very curious and anxious to see what that shall be. In the meantime, I’ll leave you this: a facial expression I’m sure he learned from me but that won’t catch up to him on the forehead wrinkle front for a couple decades. 😉 img_7524