Quarantine Life

Quarantine Life

This post has spent 10 months, and counting, as a draft. The first draft was a little giddy, a little overwhelmed, and a little OCD. My mind was occupied with questions like: holy moly how are we going to keep up with work and adult-ing while also keeping the kids occupied and content? Yikes, I just touched my face. I should go wash my hands. And my face. And rinse out my mouth with mouthwash. Do I need to wipe down my keyboard? Yup; better safe than sorry. How do my children, who spend all day in pjs, still manage to generate so much laundry? Oh, and the toilet paper! Seriously? And why toilet paper? What is wrong with people? Also, wouldn’t this be the perfect time for America to be introduced to the bidet?

I also had an optimism that in retrospect makes me feel nostalgic. This is a forced pause on life, I thought, and so it is a wonderful chance to still our minds and really, deeply take stock of life. How are we doing? What are we doing? Am I doing what I want to be doing? Living according to the values I espouse? What can we learn from this forced freeze of life and the busy-ness that seems to follow us every day?

But as the weeks rolled past, and the finish line kept moving back, I started observing other things. How, for example, people were reacting so differently to this thing. There were those mourning the loss of social gatherings and even daily interactions with work colleagues, or for the kids, their classmates. And then there were those who just said, “I’ve got my drink of choice and a pile of books. See ya. Someone come get me when this is all over.” I saw it even in my kids. Same genes, same household, and such different personalities: the introvert who would go hole up at every opportunity, the structure-craving child who started (and still starts) every day with, “what’s on the schedule for today?” And the laid back child who wanted something to do and didn’t really care what it is as long as someone else was doing it too.

I’ve also noticed how this increased time at home together was making our family grow closer, as we’ve spent more hours this past year than ever before playing games, watching movies, taking hikes, or working on puzzles together. Then at moments I’d think, did I really think my kids were growing closer? Then why did one just perform a maneuver that I’m pretty sure was designed to break the other’s leg? Console one, scold the other. And breathe, mama. 

Then of course, as if the pandemic wasn’t enough, racial injustice, as old as America itself, came into Americans’ frame of focus in the form of police brutality. Important, necessary conversations started happening. People showing up in huge numbers across the country forced us as a society to begin a new chapter in the work of reckoning with this ugly legacy. It is work that will not and cannot be marked “done” with a simple reading of a certain book or watching of a recommended movie. There is much more to say on this, and much of it is being said. (I’d love to add my voice to the discussion in a longer reflection, but that is a post for another day.)

When change happens sometimes, it happens in leaps. Inequities in the effects of this pandemic on different segments of society, layered with racial injustice, have laid the groundwork for just such a leap. And I’m praying every day that we land in a better place than we are now. It’s up to us to make sure we do.

Add one more layer on: the jeopardy of our democracy. Guardrails have been and are being tested in a way that haven’t been seen in my lifetime anyway. On the one hand, any half-way informed or engaged citizen is learning more than they ever did about how our elections work, about why evidence is important to proving something, and about the difference between having an opinion, and believing that opinion is fact, then acting on it in ways that are harmful. That engagement and awareness are a silver lining to all this. On the other hand, an alarmingly high number of people believe, as fact, allegations about our elections, courts, etc. that are simply not true. And they don’t know how to, or don’t think to, research those allegations enough. Or they don’t want to, because they want to believe what they believe. So where do we go from here?

Perhaps it is the irony of these days that is so disorienting. In civic life, we are having important conversations and sharing earth-shifting ideas. Ideas of how to achieve equality, and what level of equality is justified. Ideas of where to find common ground. Ideas of how to heal our damaged and polarized country. (I’d love, again, to explore these ideas more in a future blog post.) Exploring these ideas and the arguments being made takes time and energy, and I am encouraged to see new people taking the time, spending the energy.

And yet, in our private lives, or at least my private life, it’s a lot like a very bland Groundhog Day. There’s a daily routine. Morning: get dressed in comfortable clothes if I don’t have to physically go into work (never mind that these clothes are a decade old), with not a lick of makeup or attention to my ever wilder hair. (And on days I do have to go to work, “normal” clothes are shed in favor of my unfashionable loungewear within 15 minutes of being home.) In the evening: reverse. Back into pjs, preferably, but not always, after walking the dog. Put couch cushions and throw blankets that have migrated onto the floor back in place. Clean the kitchen. Repeat the next day, and on.

Here’s what is not repetitive. The daily decision of how I will think, and how I will act. Doom-scrolling is real. There have been days and weeks over the past year where it literally felt like something historic was happening every hour. It’s been hard not to check for news updates compulsively. But I do have a choice, and I could choose to pay attention to something else, something also worthwhile and over which I actually have control, for a while. After all, the world does not need me personally to be updated on every event the moment it happens. Some days, I’ve failed miserably at that. Like I said: doom-scrolling.

But what I’m becoming more and more convinced of is that while we cannot individually change the world, our individual acts can improve another individual’s world. And in this way, small kindnesses and acts of optimism in the aggregate do change the world. I did not, of course, come up with this idea (Mother Theresa, for one, said it in many ways). But I have found it to be especially important in these times, when the opportunities have been so abundant for individuals to show the best, and the ugliest, sides of humanity.

Every day offers a new opportunity to choose faith, and hope, and love, over worry and fear. We may fail some days, but the important thing is to get up and try again. It’s just like in the before times, when we were striving for so many things (training for a race or ride, or getting that next belt in Tae Kwon Do, or learning to play that new piano piece perfectly). We’d fail and we’d try again. Our striving these days, should we choose to accept the challenge, is more internal. It takes practice, and trying again after failure, to choose to love, to choose to have faith.

For my family, I’m not sure how we’re going to reacquire “normal” life once COVID-19 isn’t hanging over our days. I don’t think we will go back to that life. I don’t think we’ll want to. And I don’t think that’s entirely a bad thing. 



Home Takes Work

Home Takes Work

What does the word “home” mean to you? Is it the place you walk into, shut the door, and take refuge at the end of every day? Or the place you travel to a few times a year to see family or loved ones? Is it a treasured memory in a country far away?

The idea that there is someplace we’re fully able to belong, to relax: that’s home. But it doesn’t happen by itself.

Home takes work. It takes constant maintenance, and effort, particularly when there are children in our home and we are the adults loving and caring for them.

I don’t always appreciate that work and effort enough, or give it enough weight. I think of it as lesser work. But it’s important.

It’s important for giving our kids (and ourselves!) a place of refuge. Most parents strive to create homes for our children with memories that will hopefully give them a strong foundation, and joy, when they’ve long since left that home. It’s a place where a framework for their futures is built, and on which their values, their priorities, their abilities will be formed and then deepened.

So home is important. But for those of us who follow Christian teachings, home is not everything. It’s certainly not the biggest house we can buy, furnished with the nicest furnishings and the most up-to-date technology, clothes, etc. It is, rather, the place from which we launch, striving always to complete our mission, whatever form it takes, and the place to which we retreat when we need to rest and recharge.

As I type this, it is snowing outside, threatening to make a very long week go out on a yet more hectic note. And so rather than dwell on all the worries that tomorrow could bring, I think I will call it a night, grateful that the kids are all sheltered, warm, and sleeping, and safe, and give myself that same respite.

Standing on the Edge

Standing on the Edge

Recently, I came across an unfamiliar word: koselig. It is the Norwegian word for coziness, and it resonated with me. I’m not sure why. It’s certainly not because I have any desire to be anywhere near anything wool, fleece, or fuzzy. Indeed not: it’s currently 28C/81F.

But this post isn’t about the weather. It’s about koselig, and the fact that as a couple and as a family, we are currently at this odd juncture of waiting for a pretty significant change to come into our lives (in the form of baby #3) and at the same time anticipating a settling in. A settling in, or a “koselig:” a finality, a completeness that brings a psychological coziness.

This time around, parenthood is surrender. I know there is little we can control about this child: how good a sleeper s/he will be, or how loud a crier. Later, what and who will this little person of ours love? Who will s/he become? (There is, of course, a lot we can and will influence, teach, discipline, etc., but from where I stand now, the unknowns overwhelm that which is within our  control.) How will our older kids adjust to the change in our family dynamics? How, exactly, will our day-to-day lives change? I’m a lot more at peace with not knowing the answer to this last question especially than I would have been even one year ago. That has everything to do with trusting that God will see us through whatever this new chapter brings.

“Koselig” is also reminiscent, for me, of rest, and comfort, and a sense of being sheltered. These are sensations that are too often lacking in the do-something, be-somewhere nature of our lives. We–and I’m not sure whether by “we” I mean Americans, most humans, or simply people like me–seem to always be seeking the extraordinary and exciting. But I would posit that the richest moments of our lives, and the ones which we look back on when we need comfort or the memory of happiness, are moments that are ordinary, homey even.

Cooking a turkey at Thanksgiving. Note the stylish cereal necklace, compliments of a certain 4-year-old.

Simple pleasures: swimsuits drying on a clothes line after a day at the beach, a mighty hug and good night kiss from a child, the smell of a home-cooked meal when you walk in the door.

What if we learned to savour these things, instead of always seeking the next sensational thrill? That thrill, depending on one’s personality and preferences, can be the latest purchase from a favourite store, or that newest, rancor-filled political article, or the next meal or vacation on a recent “best-of” list, or any number of other thrills. At some point, I think excitement and novelty became overrated, and small, ordinary joys became under-rated.

As we stand at the edge of this new chapter in our lives, my hope is that we–I–will learn to right that balance and embrace the koselig that is waiting right in front of us.



Five Things No One Tells You About Being a Parent

1. Parenting is Acting. Perhaps this component of parenting will change as the kids get older, but in these early years, I find myself donning a much more enthusiastic version of myself than is natural for me.
“Christmas lights, Mama!”
“Yes, there are the green lights, Maddie.”
“CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, MAMA! GREEN!” Apparently, my initial response was not adequately animated, never mind that this news has been delivered every day since those lights went up.
“Yes! I see the green Christmas lights! Wow! Very pretty!”
Satisfied now, she concludes: “Green. Wow.”

Then there are the days that I wish I could act more convincingly. Those days that I am tired, frustrated, grumpy from having to listen to whining and squabbling all day, only to then have them snap into the best mood ever and wonder why I’m not doing the same.

Maybe in later years, the acting will be more like controlling my irritation at a teen’s insolence, or controlling an overreaction to something. Either way, I think those skills I learned in that fun little acting class in college will have to be revived.

2. Parenting is Heart-breaking. I often look at my children, so innocent and loving and so able to live in the moment (they know no other way), and wish I could protect the happiness and simplicity of their lives. Instead, I know that my heart will break a hundred times as I watch them grow, because I won’t be able to protect them from everything. (Unless we move to a remote corner of Montana, cut off access to TV, internet, and other people. Maybe I need to give this option more thought…) They will lose that innocence. They will be hurt by others. They will encounter hard situations. They will be challenged and doubt their abilities. It’s only as a parent that I’ve learned how hard it is to watch someone you love so fiercely experience hurt or disappointment.

Still, I will be able to protect them from many things. And I think E’s and my role as parents is to steer them away from wrong, and, as they get older, teach them how to endure life, and do so with grace. More accurately, it is our role as parents to teach them reliance on God, and to model it. But that is a post for another day.

3. Parenting delivers a brutally honest look at yourself. No other job, degree, or endeavor has pushed my limits so far and so constantly. And in so doing, parenting has made me see, with brutal clarity, my own shortcomings, tendencies (good and bad), and how they affect my choices and reactions. It is a humbling lesson. The other thing I would say to parents is: watch yourself. I’ve often been surprised by some facial expression that my 5 year old will make, or something she will say, only to realize that she is mimicking…me. Talk about a wake-up call!

4. Parenting Changes Everything.
Where you used to drive by a playground with barely any recognition that it was there, now you make a note to add it to the list of possible kid activities within walking distance. And if the kids are in the car, you try to draw there attention away from it. No time to stop now.
Where you used to see a room’s decor, you now survey what is breakable, what objects are within reach, whether a surface is stain proof or not.
Where you used to plan the weekend around what you wanted and needed to do, now you plan it around what will keep the kids occupied and happy, and, therefore, you sane. Errands and cleaning will have to be squeezed in some other time and way.

5. Parenting is the Biggest Adventure you can embark on. Nothing else seeps into every corner and moment of your heart and time the way being a parent does. It demands the best of you, brings you to your knees, fills you with joy and pride, fury and shame, worry and love. I’m still early in my journey, but I anticipate the coming years knowing that I would have my life no other way.

Tree Branches

I’ve been looking at my hands a lot lately. They are my father’s hands. Since his death especially, I feel like they are often prominently veined, just like his were. Those of you who are medically trained may tell me it’s the heat, or something about my circulation, or whatever. But I think it’s simpler: the veins on my hands pop out like my Dad’s, with a frequency that they didn’t in last summer’s heat, or really anytime before Dad died. And that to me is a reminder that he lives in me. Literally. The map that created the cells of my body was made by his and Mom’s cells. The way I’ve learned to see the world was strongly influenced by the way he saw it.

I look at my toes. They are my father’s toes, with the second toe defiantly sticking out longer than the big toe. I look at my chin, and it is the chin that my father passed along to me from his mother.

I am comforted by these things. They reassure me that he is not gone at a time when I miss him and when his absence feels so absolute. They remind me of his lessons and his values when I need to be reminded. I don’t know what physical characteristics I will pass on to my children, but I know that one of the best things I can do to honor my Dad and his memory is to make sure my children know and learn from his spiritual characteristics. That, I’m finding, is a profound undertaking.

I remember a time when my older daughter was around two or three years old, and my Dad was sitting with her. She was looking at his hands and tracing the veins on them. He asked her if she knew what they were called. She answered that they were branches. He loved this response, and recounted it to me as evidence of how smart his granddaughter was. Indeed, veins are like branches; spreading out from their source, providing nourishment and life to their extremities. It occurs to me that this is what he did, and what each generation ought to do for the one after it: he and my Mom raised and nourished us, and provided shade from the world when we needed it. Now, as we raise our children, we take that nourishment and pass it onto them. And so the tree grows, providing shade for its youngest members, and for those with whom life has been a little too harsh, and who need the respite, however temporary, of family.

"The Days Are Long, and the Years Are Short"

My transition to motherhood remains among the most momentous changes of my life. Getting married was cakewalk. Finishing school and starting my first full-time job aren’t even in the same ballpark. No, those first few weeks, then months, then years of motherhood shook to the core everything about my life and everything I thought I knew about myself, my abilities, and my expectations. 

One of the assumptions I’d made early in my adult life is that the hours of my day exist for me to make the most out of each one. I mean in a how-many-things-big-and-small-can-I-check-off-my-to-do-list kind of way. I used to be a very efficient person, if I may say so myself. I could do things in a day that would now take me, well, a lot longer. I’ll get to that.

“The days are long, and the years are short.” I heard this adage only recently, and it has become my mantra. Any parent will tell you that your lives when your kids are young are full of monotony, routine, and stress. Each day takes such physical and emotional effort that you are spent by the end of it. The days are indeed long. Perhaps because of the monotony and routine, though, the years seem to fly; and the children grow out of each phase before you have a chance to fully savor it. Yet at the same time that I look forward to the day when interrupted sleep and changing diapers will no longer be a part of every single day, I know the funny things they say, the looks of unconditional love and trust they give us, and their unique and sometimes heart-breaking view of the world at this age is priceless, and that I will one day look back with a deep nostalgia for this season.  I know from talking to parents of older children that what is to come will cause us to remember only the sweetness and simplicity of the kids at this age.

One of the reasons that motherhood was so hard for me is that one has no control of one’s day as a mother of young children: the “plan” for the day regularly flies out the window. Think you can leave them to sweetly play in view while you pay some bills then get dinner ready? Think again. The plan will be thwarted by inexplicable fits of crying, accidents, the sudden ability to get into a cupboard she’s not supposed to, and/or whining that she needs a snack–no, she doesn’t want that snack! Planning a nice family trip to the zoo? Or even a routine, productive, day at work?  Sudden illnesses will arrive that only a mother’s constant arms can soothe. Need to make a “quick” run to the grocery store? An insistence that she can zip up her own coat and put on her own shoes–a process that began 15 minutes ago, mind youensuing tantrums, and then a diaper blow-out by #2 leave you in the exact same spot half an hour later. 

Ok, so I change my expectations of what I can get done in a day. Just maintain. Make sure we are all fed, clothed, clean, occupied. Make sure they know they are loved unconditionally. And later, one, maybe two quick tasks after I’ve put them to bed. Among the lessons this era has taught me is to be patient with myself, and that I am not superhuman. Sorry, world, you can no longer rely on me to be the WonderWoman of Efficiency. 

I shall strive to achieve other attributes during this season, though that is a topic for another day. It is amazing to me how much can happen in every season of our lives. It is amazing how much ground, emotional, intellectual, or even physical, one can cover in a single lifetime. For now, this season of young children is marked by sweetness and simplicity, and I am determined to appreciate it for the richness (and sleeplessness and clean-up and inefficiency) it contains.

Life’s Seasons

To everything there is a season,
    A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, 
    And a time to die;
A time to plant,
    And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
    And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
    And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
    And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
    And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
    And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
    And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
    And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
    And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
    And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
    And a time to speak;
A time to love,
    And a time to hate;
A time of war,
    And a time of peace.
 -Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8
This is as true today as it has been since it was written, centuries ago. There is a sadness to this passage, but also a comfort. It is a reminder that, if the season in which I find myself now is joyful and easy, it will not last. And if the season in which I find myself now is difficult, it will pass.

Life changes, and with it, we change. The things that used to satisfy us, the things we used to desire, we desire no more.  Things we did not used to understand, we now appreciate. We have all been told that one of life’s certainties is change. We have also been told that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I say the more things change, the more we confirm that the driving forces behind that change remain the same. Some things are universal beyond the basics of food and shelter: our desire to be understood, to be deeply connected to others, to be seen as who we are. I would propose that changes to our individual lives and to our society (present technological advances being a perfect example) are all efforts to achieve these desires.

So our lives are made up of chapters, each distinct. And while some are overwhelmingly happy and others disparaging difficult, I’d say that most are a unique combination of treasures and challenges. It’s easy enough to wish the hard ones away (and wish them good riddance when they’re over), but it’s much harder to stop and embrace the good chapters, or even the good moments of the mundane chapters. Advice abounds for surviving rough patches, most of it basically saying to just hang on; it won’t last forever. But what about advice for appreciating the moments of bliss? More importantly, how does one hang onto these moments? 

I suppose this is why people take pictures or videos, write journals, or create scrapbooks. We attempt to capture a moment in such a way that an image, a passage, or a sound will bring back the bliss of that moment. It’s as if we–I should say I–want to collect all the good stuff of life and put it somewhere to be accessed and enjoyed over and over. Sometimes we succeed in capturing these moments, but I would venture to say that even this is not enough. 

We don’t want to remember that moment, we want to return to it. We want life to be now just how it was then. We want to return to that chapter, that sweet spot, and stay. Right there. Not move.

Life will not comply with this desire, of course. And in the end, we wouldn’t want it to. How stale a life that would be if everything was always good and nothing ever challenged us, pushed us, stressed us. We know this. Our lives are made up of chapters. Each chapter, each time, will end, to be followed by another. That’s just the way it is. 

My challenge is to recognize each time as it comes, and to live it. If in nothing else, life will always be rich in change, both welcome and unwelcome. I will still try to capture the good moments, of course, because I do love my camera, and I do love the pen (keyboard?). But I will not pine for those moments. As a Christian, I know that life holds wonders and joy far greater than any collection I could store up, because there is much I do not yet know and much I have not yet seen. While I work to reach that life,  I will still appreciate the good times for what they are, be grateful for them, and when the time comes, let them go. 


There is this running theme in my life of which, until recently, I’ve been only peripherally aware. It can be labeled, simply, family. Like the pattern on a grandmother’s tablecloth,it has colored much of my experience and worldview, though I’ve never closely observed it. Think for a minute about family, and this may come to mind:

“Family and friends.”

“Big on family.”

“Family man (or woman).”

“In the family way.”

What do all these phrases conjure?

Perhaps it is my own growing family, or perhaps the dynamics of an ever-growing extended family, but this past year or two have prompted in me a reexamination, or perhaps a new discovery, of the word, “family.” I happen to be one of those people whose family plays a large role in her life and whose holidays consist of large, chaotic gatherings that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

But not everyone is like this: while some people love their families, others dread having to spend holidays with theirs, or at least merely tolerate it. Still others never grew up living with, and sharing genes with, the same people year after year, and don’t consider themselves to have a family. But for those of us lucky enough (lucky in my opinion, anyway) to have had that experience, there is something undeniably strong about the bond that unites us. Is it because the members of our family have seen us in every state and mood?
Is it because we’ve shared the mundane, from sharing toothpaste to figuring out who does the dishes?
Is it because, no matter what is going on in our life, and no matter what belief we hold, what life we may have committed to, or what phase we may find ourselves passing through, we always have to interact with these people, either daily or at holidays?
It is, perhaps, all of the above. The doubly strong combination of longevity and proximity make family relationships among the deepest many of us experience in life.

And yet, we have no relationships in our lives over which we exert as little choice as we do over who is a member of our family. After all, who would willingly admit a blood relation to that wacky uncle, or that sibling or cousin or grandparent with the really extreme ideas?

Because our family keeps us close to people we might otherwise never have connected with, we hear and see their perspectives on life and its circumstances. Those perspectives may be different from the ones that most of our friends–the people we choose to associate with–hold. That bankruptcy, terminal illness, divorce, job loss, failure, or crisis of faith…you understand them differently when you hear about them from someone inside the situation. Being a part of a family is like having front row tickets to the world’s most dramatic stories: jealousy, love, devastation, triumph, and joy. And, just like from the fictional plays where these dynamics are played out, we obtain wisdom from these new dimensions. Family relationships are rich in part because they give us understanding.

There is another aspect to the foreordained nature of family relationships. With some members of our family, we may be close enough to know about their circumstances but not influence them. With others, we may be close enough to know and to be asked for advice–or to give it anyway. There is a correlation between how close we are to someone and how much we want their decisions to match what we would choose, were we in their shoes. And this is where the heart of the experience lies. We care very much about this person, and we want her to make the “right” decisions in life. Obviously, the advice we give is brilliant and sage and should be followed immediately. Oh, the shock and frustration when it is not heeded! What happens when the ones we love choose to take a different path, one that moves them away from us, either literally or figuratively? I’m not there yet, but I’m sure parents reach this stage, and rather reluctantly. There is a delicate balance between loving a family member and giving him enough space to make his own decisions. Mature is the person who can allow a loved one the space she needs but still work to keep their relationship open, loving, and even close.

Working towards this kind of harmony is a challenge. Understanding a perspective that may not be comfortable to understand is a challenge. And though I cannot claim to have mastered these challenges, I have learned enough in my adult life to know that in the striving, there is a richness and a life that I would not trade for anything.