So you guys sort of know me by now. I’m a nice lady. I love babies and little kids and puppies. I watch shows about unicorns and neighborhood helpers and Scottish Vikings with talking dragons.
I try wicked hard to be appreciative of all the people in my life who are helpful and kind. Thanks, nice grocery store produce guy who always smiles and says hello! So grateful to you, kind stranger who holds the door to the library open for me!
You get the idea.
I work hard to be the kind of person who will have acquaintances come to my funeral just because “She was just such a nice lady!”
But the pandemic has made my efforts to be nice and grateful ever more challenging.
In the first place, I’ve hardly ventured out of this house since March. Sure, I go to the local grocery store, the pharmacy and the (cough, cough) liquor store. But I haven’t been in a position to tip a waitress for months. I haven’t been mingling with strangers or chatting with people I meet around town.
It’s hard to stay tuned in to everyone around me as my circle continues to shrink.
Today I realized that there are people who appear in my life every day, but whom I hardly ever acknowledge.
I’m talking about you, dear beloved local small town mail carrier!!!! In our case, the mail carrier is a woman who leaves doggie treats in the mailbox. She knows the names of all of the dogs and all of the kids on our entire side of town. She is so warm and friendly that my grandkids sometimes use old boxes to play “Laura Brings a Package”!
I used to think I was appropriately thankful for Laura. But now?
Oh, my dears. We are in pandemic mode. We are staying home. We are staying safe.
We are happily embracing the perfect excuse to sit on the couch and order stuff online. I mean, sure, I used to sit on the couch and order online before this whole pandemic thing, but I used to pay at least a little attention to the weight of what I ordered. And to the frequency. And the cost.
Way back in the BC era (before Covid, obvs) I used to feel slightly guilty as I’d click “place order”. I thought that I was a bit too lazy, a bit too entitled, a bit too privileged, if you know what I mean. I’d feel mildly embarrassed as Laura unloaded my small-to-medium-sized packages. And I’d thank her, wave to her, talk to her face-to-face.. Those were the days.
Now things are different.
In the first place, I have shed every semblance of guilt associated with online ordering. Back then I was a lazy old wench. Now? I’m a forward thinking, neighbor protecting, smart woman.
And I have embraced the “no touch” delivery, too. So when my dear friend the mail carrier comes by, I usually let her drop the goodies on our porch. I don’t go out to greet her even though I enjoy chatting with her about music and life and politics and pets. I stay safe in my house. On my couch. With a cup of tea in my hand. Because….Covid.
But yesterday I realized that things have changed. I became aware of the fact that I have officially become an ignorant, selfish old bat who totally takes other people for granted.
I learned this ten minutes after Laura dropped off our “mail” on the doorstep. As she drove up, I relaxed, ignored the delivery, finished what I was doing. Then I casually strolled down the steps and opened the door.
And HOLY FREAKIN’ HEAVY. There was a box the size of a Volkswagon on my porch. And three more packages on top of it.
I was able to bring the top box inside the door, but I had to use both arms to lift the second box and then, after a minute, the one under it. By the time I had brought all three boxes upstairs into my living room, my arms, neck and shoulders were aching. I looked at the giant box outside my door. I tapped it. I pushed it. I tried to rock it back and forth.
I gave up.
It weighed roughly 698,350,287,650,001,293 pounds.
And I’m not exaggerating.
When my young, strong, healthy daughter arrived at my house, the two of us managed to wrestle the giant box into the front door. It only took us about an hour.
We used scissors to get the box open.
Oh, my goodness, hahahahaha! Look at that, I said out loud. Two 25 pound bags of birdseed!
Awesome for the birds. More awesome for me.
NOT so awesome for Laura, the wonderful, kind, hard working mail carrier who I now take totally for granted.
Here I am. Looking for some advice.
What’s a really good Christmas gift for the person who has delivered ten badillion pounds of boxes to Nonni’s house, just so that Nonni won’t have to step out the door?
They say that times goes faster with every year. It’s as if the reward for surviving a year on earth is to make you ever more aware of how little time you have left.
I remember being a young child, and the way that each season took on its own lifetime. Winter was endless repetitions of snowfall, sliding down snow mounds and frozen toes. Every school day contained an entire lifetime of social interactions, moments of boredom and waiting for the bell of freedom to ring at last.
Why did time move at such an oozing, ponderous pace?
And why does it race by now? Why does it seem like summer has hardly come when the leaves start to turn?
I don’t know. I don’t have any unique philosophical response for you.
But I do have a theory.
I think time seems to be racing by for adults because we have so damn many reminders of it hitting us on the head.
We wake up to an alarm, reminding us that the night just flew by while we were tossing and turning and trying to keep the ice pack on our elbow. We head for the coffee maker and realize that it’s time, again, to take our morning medicine.
Just looking at the weekly medicine dispenser is a reminder that another day has ticked off our lifetime. Every Saturday, we’re reminded by the empty slots in that dispenser that ANOTHER week is over, even though we swear we just filled this stupid thing like yesterday.
It’s the same when we hear the sound of the trash collector’s truck, and remember that it’s TRASH DAY again. AGAIN!!! Didn’t we just put the barrels back in the garage last night??
As if the hourly, daily and weekly reminders are enough, the bills remind us of the passing of every damn month, too. What? The mortgage is due already? Didn’t November just start? How is it fall already?
Am I ready for Christmas???
Little kids don’t note the passage of time because they don’t have to. They wake up for the most part when they are done sleeping. They eat when they’re hungry or when a meal magically appears in front of them.
A school year is 180 days of the exact same routine. Week after week after week, PE is on Friday at 10. Repeat that enough times when you are little, and it becomes as much a part of your life rhythms as your heartbeat.
But when you grow up, a school year if filled with things to remember. Open house, gym shoes day, drum lesson day, football practice season, vacations. The repetition of the year is filled with concrete reminders of its passing.
Jobs, bills, medical appointments, getting the snow tires put on, they all serve as reminders of time’s passage. The gentle spinning of earth isn’t a smooth and endless flow for adults, as it for kids.
Instead, it’s a furious train filled with deadlines, hurtling past us every minute of every hour of every single day. It’s filled with reminders that we need to hurry, that today is over, that autumn is waning, that our lives are one season or one hour shorter.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to slow that down and go back to savoring the endless days and weeks of summer vacation? I’d like to be able to do that.
Even if it meant forgetting to put out the trash once in a while.
OK. So I have been really good during this entire uncomfortable pandemic disaster.
I have, like, hardly complained at all. I’ve been washing my hands so much that my cuticles. Actually. Hurt. I ordered some high end special cuticle cream but, whatever. They’re still dry and sore. It’s awwwwwwful!!!!
I’ve been wearing a mask every single time I step foot outside my door. I mean, yeah. I don’t want to catch any creepy crawly virus thingy. Especially this new one. It comes from, ugh, bats. So gross. So even though my nose gets itchy and my glasses fog up, I still wear my mask. I am SO noble and brave.
I even went on “Etsy” and bought a mask that would hopefully make all those sweaty people in the grocery store think I’m smiling at them, when really I’m trying not to breathe in any of their noxious peasant fumes.
See? I look adorbs, right?
Anyhoo, I am totally being a responsible adult human. I haven’t been out for dinner in ages. I have to cook, like every single day. It’s exhausting.
I barely get to the dispensary once a month. It’s been hard on me. But I have hardly uttered a single peep of complaint.
Except to my therapist, who listens to me once a week on the phone, if you can believe that. She doesn’t even see my face, or my amahzing haircut, which I got from a friend, because I’d never risk my safety by going to a public salon.
So you can tell that I have been so good for the past 8 months, right? I’ve been practically a saint.
But even I, the most unKaren of Karens, even I have a limit.
And I reached it today.
You see, I was supposed to be having my old, ugly, stained kitchen remodeled this fall. I was supposed to finally be getting shiny clean new cabinets, a modern, updated, awesome floor and brand new countertops.
I’ve only waited 25 years for this moment.
I went through all the steps, including designing and ordering the custom cabinets, buying the flooring, the backsplash, the new sink, dishwasher and fridge, and picking out paint colors. I even have my GROUT picked out, for God’s sake!
A few weeks ago, in anticipation of the big kitchen overhaul, I packed up ALL of my cooking stuff. Food, spices, dishes, cups, pots and pans, cloth napkins and tablecloths. I emptied my entire hutch, carefully wrapping every glass and bowl in newspaper.
It was HARD. WORK. But I did it. All by myself.
And then I waited.
And you know what?
COVID got in my way! Damn, stupid, inconvenient COVID messed up the supply chain, backordered equipment, and generally just gummed up the works.
Even worse, so many inconsiderate people out there are getting sick and dying and causing a big ruckus. It’s gotten so bad that I have had to postpone my remodel until the freakin’ SPRING~!
I know, right? Poor me! Don’t you feel so awful for me?
Sure, my family and I are all healthy, and we have decent jobs and enough to eat. OK, so none of us are being evicted and nobody has lost health insurance. I mean, fine, we all have access to clean water, safe foods, enough medicine and decent internet connections.
But still. My cabinets are OUTDATED! This is an outrage.
Now I have to put ALL my spices back in my old cabinet. I need to unwrap those dishes and glasses.
It’s almost too much for me.
This is one of those moments when I feel my inner “Karen” emerging.
Sympathy cards will be graciously accepted.
Well, it won’t be our usual Thanksgiving this year, that’s for damn sure. We won’t gather in our house, surrounded by 30 or 35 of our favorite relatives and friends. There won’t be a 25 pound turkey with ten different side dishes. I am not anticipating 7 pies and a cake, plus boxes of chocolates, two delicious vegan appetizers and three kinds of bread.
It won’t be a full day of beloved faces moving in and out of our kitchen. We won’t be celebrating for two full days.
Here we are.
It’s Thanksgiving 2020.
The election is (sort of) over. The weather is turning (sort of) colder. And the damned Coronavirus is raging across the globe.
We are all tired. We are sick to death of “social distancing”. We are angry. We are sad. We are lonely.
We want to gather our children, our siblings and parents and friends and uncles and aunts and cousins and everyone. We want to hold them all against our hearts and tell them that we are so very grateful to have them in our lives. We want to feed them. We want to argue over football and politics and favorite pies. We want to laugh at the whipped cream on our nephew’s nose.
But this is 2020.
Instead of cooking for 35 this year, I’ll be celebrating the holiday with my Mom, my younger sister and my mother’s home health aide.
My Mom is 90. She is physically more frail than I ever thought I’d see. She has dementia, and is hanging on desperately to her most beloved memories. Time with her is a sorrow and a joy all rolled into one. Her children feel every moment ticking away. And we feel the pull of her happy past, tugging at our hearts as we think of all of the holidays past.
My sister is my closest woman friend. She is my anchor. My rudder. She keeps me balanced and whole. She makes me laugh out loud. She takes me on vacation, shares her memories with me, pushes me to look outside of my own preconceptions.
And Mom’s health aide, Lynn, is a woman I am so blessed to have met. She is intelligent, kind, thoughtful, confident, fun. My Mother loves and respects her in a way that is a gift to me. This new friend brings a unique perspective to our family. She has only known Mom as the elderly, fragile, but still feisty woman that she is now. She is able to embrace and accept Mom for all of her strengths.
This Thanksgiving will, for me, be more about gratitude than any that has come before it.
I will miss my children this holiday. I will miss my grandchildren. I will miss the crazy cooking frenzy that usually precedes the day and I will surely miss the crowd of well-loved faces around my table.
But I will be so grateful this year. I will be so grateful that my sons will share a meal with each other. That my daughter and her family will celebrate together and will all be healthy. I will be so happy that my husband will be at their table for the holiday.
Mostly, I will be grateful that my family is still safe and healthy. I will be eternally grateful to still have my Mom in my life, and to be able to make her famous stuffing in her kitchen. I’ll be grateful to have my sister at the table, and to be able to put on party hats and sing her “Happy Birthday”.
I’ll be so very grateful to know Lynn, to have her on our team, to know that Mom trusts her and loves her.
Happy, sad, gentle and lonely Thanksgiving to everyone. This is one year in a century. It is one for the history books.
It can be our saddest.
Or it can be out most grateful.
I’m working hard to embrace the latter.
I voted for these two. And for their baby brother. I voted for the kids my sons haven’t had yet. I voted for the children my nieces and nephews haven’t yet conceived.
I voted for the kids whose parents were desperate enough to bring them across the border in search of safety.
I voted for the children of my children’s children. And for the children of people I haven’t met. And the children who will one day be the friends of my children’s children.
I voted for the future.
I cast my vote this year for the earth. I voted in the hope that we can still find a way to stop California from burning. I voted because I believe that humans are creative enough to utilize the power of the sun and the wind to heat our homes and power our factories.
I voted. I voted in tears, and filled with fear. I voted with my heart full of love for my sweet grandchildren and the future that I hope awaits them.
And now I wait.
I wait to see if my countrymen will accept the outcome of this pivotal election. I wait to find out if my country will turn itself around and move back toward a marginally democratic government. I wait, in fear, to find out if it will continue to move toward autocracy. I sit with my head in my hands, wondering if my fellow citizens have fallen for the lure of easy answers, the promise of magic bullets, the lies that promise no more sacrifice and no more worry.
I voted for the people I love most on this little blue planet. I voted for them.
I’m afraid that I have voted in vain.
I’m afraid that more than voting will be required of me in the future.
It is November the first, year of our Lord 2020.
The night is dark. An icy rain patters against the roof.
I shiver as I scroll through the headlines.
Covid deaths are rising around the globe. Caravans of crazed Trump supporters are blocking highways and bridges. They nearly drive a Biden bus off the road. The polls sway back and forth, yanking me from hope to despair and back again. Gun sales are soaring. Grocery store shelves are frighteningly devoid of toilet paper and yeast.
A gust of wind scatters crumpled leaves across the driveway.
The candle in my Jack-o-lantern flickers.
I shift in my chair, trying to get comfortable. The kitchen clock ticks loudly in the silent house.
I. Feel. Every. Freaking. Second. Ticking. Off.
How will I get through the next forty-eight hours?
Should I make a huge pot of espresso and just plan to stay up until it’s all over? Or should I grab some weed butter and a cup of Sleepy Time tea and pray for oblivion?
I am torn.
What if Trump wins?
The mere thought of it has my stomach heaving.
What if he loses, but pretends that he wins?
A pounding headache joins the nausea.
What if he loses, everyone knows he loses, but he refuses to accept the final results? What if it goes to the Supreme Court? The Court Trump so recently stacked in his favor for just such an occasion? What then?
How can I maintain my sanity between now and the moment the polls close?
Is there enough chocolate left over from Halloween to see me through?
More importantly, is there enough vodka under this roof?
I am filled with real dread. Actual, honest to God, shaking in my boots dread. It’s the kind of feeling you get the night before a long, complex, dangerous surgery.
I am sixty-four years old. I have never lived through a time like this one. The surreal has become common. The unthinkable is suddenly on everyone’s mind.
Few Americans doubt that the next days and weeks will be chaotic and confused. Most of us believe that there will be at least some level of violence and civil unrest.
But how far it will go is something we cannot predict. There are moments when I fear that the US military will become involved in suppressing public reaction to the election. But that would mean civil war, wouldn’t it? How is it possible that we are even thinking that thought?
I take a deep breath. My heart is racing and I can’t find a way to stop my thoughts.
I dread tomorrow. I dread tomorrow night.
Most of all, I dread the thought that this sense of impending doom will continue on past the closing of the polls, stretching out into an unpredictable and bleak future.
November first, twenty twenty.
How the hell are we going to get through it?
When I was a little girl, my Nana was often a part of our holiday celebrations. She sometimes came with us on vacations, or on the daytime adventures that my Dad arranged to keep us all entertained.
Nana had a way of laughing even when things went wrong. I have a vivid memory of her hiking with all six of us kids and my parents through “The Flume” in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I can hear her laughing as a sudden storm overtook us. We were suddenly drenched and cold, and none of us was happy.
“We’re making memories!” Nana called out in her laughing voice as we slogged our way through the dripping path. And some 50 years later, I still recall that memory with a smile.
I always hoped, when I was the mom of young children, that we were making happy memories together. I hoped that our holidays made memories, even when we discovered that mice had nested in our Christmas decorations. I wanted my kids to grow up with happy memories, funny memories, memorable memories. Even when it snowed on our camping trips or when we all had strep for Christmas.
Tonight is Halloween of 2020. In the face of the terrible Covid pandemic, few people are going door to door to Trick or Treat. Our neighborhood is silent and empty of kids. My grandchildren won’t be going out for candy.
It is a sad reminder that life is nothing like what we want it to be this year.
But we dressed up anyway, Paul and I, in costumes meant to make us look like our dogs. We pinned on our false ears and tails, rubbed make-up on our noses, and put on the dogs’ collars.
I made a guacamole witch and a “Ghosts in the Graveyard” dessert.
We went to our daughter’s house, where she and her three kids were in costume and the house was decorated with light up spiders and glow in the dark ghosts.
We had a supper of “Mummy dogs” and “Monster pizza” and then the kids searched the house for hidden candy.
There was no traditional “Trick or Treat”. There were no neighbors or friends or other kids wandering with glow sticks. It was nothing like Halloween is supposed to be.
But as Paul and I were getting ready to say good night and head back home, my three-year-old grandson Johnny threw his arms around my neck and asked breathlessly, “Nonni, wasn’t this the best Halloween ever?”
And you know what? It really was.
It was the best because Johnny’s parents made memories for their kids. And those memories will last a lifetime.
Happy Halloween 2020.
In one short week the Presidential Election of 2020 will officially happen.
That is to say, the official date set for the 2020 Election will come and it will go. If we are very lucky, by the time it passes we will finally know who’ll be the President of the United States for the next four years.
If we’re not so lucky, everything will still be up in the air and the entire nation will be suspended in a state of anxiety until a final vote count can be reached.
Of course, even we do have a winner by the night of November 3rd or 4th, we still don’t know whether the loser of the contest will accept the results. There might be legal battles.
There might be street battles.
We just don’t know.
As American citizens at this moment in our history, it is safe to say that every one of us old enough to have seen the news is existing in a state of tension that is reminiscent of the day before major surgery. We’re trying to keep ourselves distracted, but every few minutes we remember what looms ahead of us and our hearts give a collective lurch. We have national high blood pressure, regional insomnia and local heartburn.
We’re a wreck.
Some of us are spending all day on social media, aiming for those last minute memes or posts that might just change one mind. Others are listening to history podcasts or old TED Talks just to keep our minds off of things.
A lot of us are stocking up on food, water, medicine and flashlight batteries, too. And almost as many are stocking up on guns and ammunition.
We don’t know what is coming. We don’t know how angry people will be if and when certain things do or do not happen. We can’t see into our own near futures, as the pandemic rages, the election threatens to unravel and the economy teeters on the brink.
As I was cleaning my kitchen after dinner tonight, I started to think about next week and the weeks after it. My heart gave that lurch. I thought over the items in my emergency kit and the supplies that I’ve pulled together “just in case”.
And it occurred to me that a very strange thing had happened to me.
I’d begun to fear my neighbors.
I was afraid of the anger of other Americans if their “guy” lost the election. I was standing in my own suburban American kitchen, worrying about what I’d do if things in my town, my county, or my state turned violent. Would I physically fight other people over an election? Would I physically try to protect my food supplies?
The utter ridiculousness of it hit me hard.
I looked out my window, into the cold October woods. I could see the house next door. The house with the friendly young couple and their baby girl. Past their house lived another nice friendly family, and beyond them some folks we first met when our son was playing hockey.
On the other side, and across the street, all the way around most of the mile long loop of dirt road. I knew the names of the dogs at most houses, and regularly waved to people as we drove past each other.
I remembered the big ice storm of 2008, when people on the street helped each other cut up the trees that had come down across the road. I remembered one neighbor who emptied the water from his pool into trash barrels and brought them around to each house, so we’d have water to flush our toilets even with our electric pumps shut down.
I thought about times we’d picked up each other’s mail, fed each other’s pets, brought each other cookies.
The idea of fighting with them over something as distant as the government seemed absurd.
And it still does.
I have no idea of the political leanings of any of the people who live on my street. They know ours because of the cute flags I put up near our mailbox this past summer. Still, we’ve never talked about politics. I couldn’t begin to know who to fight anyway.
Standing in my kitchen tonight, with the rain dripping off the eaves outside, I came to an important realization. If all hell breaks loose next week, and the grid goes down or things rage out of control, I will help out my neighbors in any way I can.
After all, no matter who any of us have voted for, it won’t be either Joe Biden or Donald Trump who’ll offer us a hot meal when our generator fails. It won’t be one of them sharing a box of pasta or the last bar of soap.
It will be the neighbor whose dog we know or the one who shared her perennials. That’s who we’ll need to depend on if things go as badly as we fear.
As we hold our collective breath and whisper our respective prayers for the next week, we’d better remember that after all WE are the people, WE are the citizens. We need to make sure that we have each other’s backs if those with the power are fighting about who will get to wield it.
My beautiful grandson Max was born in early April, in the scariest part of the pandemic. He was born at our small local hospital, with his parents masked and gowned and the staff in full PPE.
We knew before his birth that Max would come to us with bilateral club feet. While congenital club foot is a very common birth defect, and can be successfully treated, it was still a scary situation for my daughter and her husband. For all of us, really!
But Max was brought into this world by his rockstar of a Momma, who labored in her Covid protectant gear and delivered all 10 lb 3 oz of him naturally.
He was brought home safely, and all of them managed to stay virus free, thank all the gods and goddesses.
Our little guy was put into casts when he was less than a week old. He wore them for a few months, having them changed weekly as he grew. Eventually he was fitted for his “boots and bar” which he wore for 23 hours a day until yesterday. That was when his orthopedist said that he could start to go barefoot for 6 hours a day. Hurray!
Over all this time, growing and gaining control of his body, Max has had his feet rotated outward and held in place to allow the bones and muscles to grow correctly.
He’s done spectacularly well and he’s going to be totally fine when this is all over in a few years.
So this morning after his Dad dropped him off to me for the day, I carefully removed his bar, then the leather strapped “boots”. I took off his socks and put one pudgy foot into each of my palms. I rubbed my thumbs across the skin of his ankles, making happy sounds and smiling at my boy with tears pouring from my eyes.
I’m so grateful. And I’m so profoundly aware of how lucky we are to have been able to give our little guy everything he needed to insure that his birth defect will never slow him down.
My daughter and her husband are both professionals. They have excellent health insurance. They are able to afford the deductibles, the copays, the uncovered parts of the treatment (including the very expensive little boots).
We live in a part of the country with great medical facilities that are within driving distance. Max’s family has a car so they can get him back and forth to the doctor’s so frequently. They have jobs with good benefits, so they can take the time needed to care for him and their older two kids. I live nearby and am able to help every day.
So it’s all going to be fine.
But as we head at last toward the Presidential election in a week and a half, I can’t help but think of all the parents out there in this country with similarly beautiful children, whom they love just as much as we love Max. I think about the many kids (about 1 in every 1,000) born with club feet like his.
What if their parents don’t have good health insurance? What if they can’t afford the copays, the weekly visits, the boots, the deductibles? I think about how awful it must be, as a parent, to be put in a position where you know what your baby needs to thrive, but to be unable to give it to them.
I picture another grandmother, bathing her grandchild and looking at his feet, still turned sharply in, still deformed at 6 or 7 months old. Maybe the family went through the casting part, but wasn’t able to get the time off to change it every week. Or maybe they had him fitted for his boots and bar, but needed a couple of months to save up the money to pay for them. Maybe they couldn’t afford them at all.
Our Max will most likely have no repercussions from his adventures with club feet. He will probably walk, run, ice skate, bike ride and swim without an issue.
What about those other kids, though? What about them?
The shortsightedness and cruelty of our profit based healthcare system will never cease to astound me. How can we endure a system where babies can’t get the care they need because for some reason in this country we have connected jobs to health insurance?
I’m going to vote for Joe Biden this year because the alternative is too awful to contemplate. But as soon as this election is behind us, I’m going to redouble my efforts to work toward universal healthcare for every single person in this country.
I’ll do it with Max’s healthy, strong feet cupped in my grateful hands.