Three Weeks at Home and Counting
I painted a little mural representative of Tucson, Arizona on one of the windows of our door wall a few weeks ago. I was mourning the cancellation of my mom's planned visit to Michigan as well as the reality that we would likely be cancelling my and the girls' trip out to Tucson and on to Costa Mesa at the end of April. I cancelled it last week. I loved our time in Tucson in January, an impromptu trip after the grief of December. While there I daydreamed about relocating to the sunny desert surrounded by mountains and saguaro cacti. Finding a home with a pool. Enjoying outdoor living all year round again. Being near my mom and bonus dad. Starting a new adventure. Closing the chapter on our time in Michigan. Over the remainder of dreary Michigan winter I found myself hating the gray and the cold and the snow. How I longed for the sunshine again. Painting my mural felt like balm for my soul. A reminder of what could be. Maybe. Someday.
Bina has been scratching at my mural since I painted it, picking off bits of the vibrant color. I noticed just a couple scratches across it at first. Asked her if she had done it. Yes. How? With her fingernail. This morning I heard the back and forth noise of more scratching on the window. Distressed, I asked her to stop. I told her I liked my painting and wanted it to stay. She said she could not see out the window because of it and did not want it there. Now, normally the curtains are pulled across the entire door wall because the dogs bark at everything that moves. A squirrel. The wind. Nothing. I explained that she could look out the window of the door wall right next to the one I painted on. This did not satisfy her. She eventually collapsed into a puddle of tears. I sighed. Do I want to fight this battle? It's a washable painting. I could just wash it off. This poor kiddo has expressed every day the last several days that she misses her friends. I do too. I miss everything. I thought of the spiritual implications. Here is this reminder of what could be. What I had hoped for. The reality is that it is obscuring my vision right now. I cannot see clearly with it there. It has to be wiped off so we can see clearly again. I grieve the loss of my dream. And we press into what is in store for us right now. So I pulled a Norwex cloth out of the cabinet, wet it, and proceeded to wipe off my mural.
Last week we did a free trial of ballet class via Zoom. The dance company where Bina has been taking ballet and tap lessons this year decided to pursue shortened online sessions as we wait for this pandemic to run its course. Bina was quite adamantly against doing ballet through the TV. I enticed her to try by explaining that she could show baby sister how to do it. When the class started, Bina shut down. She did not want to participate. I carried the baby and tried to model by doing all the things myself. Eventually I was able to rope in Bina by telling her she could hold baby sister's hand while doing the different movements. She did not maintain interest for long. I was flustered and frustrated. I did not have high hopes for this medium myself because I know that Bina does not participate when others are watching. Let alone responding only to the instructions of her teacher through the TV. The setup was not what she was used to. She was not interested. She did not want to do it. Bina loves ballet. She loves going to class and seeing her "ballet friends" as she calls her fellow classmates. They have been working hard on their routine for the recital. We recently got to see the costumes the teacher had chosen for the class. Now I doubt that there will be a recital. I do not want to force Bina to do something she does not want to do. I know she loves ballet, so it is not ballet that she is rejecting. It is the change. The deviation from normal. She is four. This is strange. And she does not want to do it.
I discussed this dilemma with David and we decided to sign her up for the Zoom class. My first thought when I found out about it was "this is not going to work for 3-6 year olds." Especially not mine. But, we thought maybe it is better to have some semblance of normal, even if it is not quite the normal she is used to. Maybe she will adapt to it. Class was to start on Monday at 11:30am. I mentioned it earlier in the morning and she expressed her frustration and desire not to do it. We went on a walk. I tried to explain how I knew this was not what she wanted but that it was the best we had to work with right then. We arrived home from our walk and she refused to change into her ballet clothes. I regretted signing her up for the Zoom class. I did not want this to become a point of frustration every Monday. David tried to encourage her to change clothes and participate. No go. We decided not to push it and just skipped the session. Maybe we will try again next week. Maybe not. Either way, my heart is just so sad for her. For all of the little dancers. For all of the kiddos mourning the loss of their normal routines, for those who found safety and joy in those routines. This is a sad time. We are adapting, adjusting. Slowly but surely. No one knows exactly how long this will last or how long it will take to recover. No one knows exactly what the new normal will look like when the dust settles.
What does our "new normal" look like right now? More TV than usual for Bina. Disney+ family movie nights. Scooters in the kitchen. Toys strewn about the house. Mommy losing her mind about said toys. Lots and lots of baking: brownies, muffins, cake, cookies. Bina constantly asking to just be with me; to do things together as a family. More vacuuming than usual. Lots of stroller walks. Happy dogs getting more exercise than they have gotten in years. Hearts painted on windows. Chalk drawings on the driveway. Sadness over the loss of our ability to leave the house and interact with other humans. Great excitement when we encounter neighbors on walks and can talk from six feet away. Almost daily FaceTime with my mom. Marco Polo with a group of mamas from my Mothers of Preschoolers group. Zoom for Bible Study Fellowship and my Friday Morning Mamas group. Video counseling. I check the news, WXYZ Detroit, NPR, and BBC. I listen to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's briefings. I listen to podcasts while washing dishes or doing laundry. I listen to Brene Brown's new podcast, Unlocking Us. I started listening to the Pantsuit Politics podcast again. Lots of ups and downs. Lots of rupture and repair. More frustration and more grief and loss. Uncertainty. Fear of the unknown. Fear of going to the store to buy groceries, risking exposure. And all the while, little glimpses of the kindness of God.
We are at the beginning of week three of shelter-in-place. The girls and I are at the beginning of week four as our activities were cancelled when school was suspended and that happened a week before the shelter-in-place order was given. I have all the feelings about all of the things. Lots of frustration with the narcissistic actions of our president that trigger me from my own trauma that was unveiled in December. Knowing that narcissists will do whatever it takes to protect their image, their ego, is just terrifying at a time like this. It has been helpful to listen to Pantsuit Politics and learn about where the conspiracy theories floating around originate and how our government is setup to work on the federal and state level and what powers each category does and does not have. I like hearing the shout outs to government officials that are handling things well. I honestly had fear when our own governor went toe to toe with the president over obtaining essential supplies. He did not like her tone. Knowing what I know of narcissists, my fear wants her to just play his game. If you do not play the game, there could be dire consequences. Loss of life. And at the same time it is absolutely ludicrous to me that it is even possible that the president of this country could penalize a state because he did not like the way the state's governor spoke to him. What is this insane world we are living in? How did we get here? I totally resonated with this post on Instagram today:
Speaking of Instagram, anyone else struggling to distance themselves from their electronic devices and the news they hold? I feel like Paul in the Bible saying I do the things I do not want to do, and the things I want to do, I do not do. Or maybe it is the things I should not want to do, I do, and the things I should want to do, I do not do. I want all the Easter chocolate and I want to eat it all in one sitting. I want to sit on the couch and consume all the news, scroll through my Instagram feed and watch stories. I want to look at houses in Austin and in Tucson. Plan our escape from Michigan. I want to watch Heartland on Netflix and read books all day. I want an escape. I want out of here. Out of this. But I cannot escape, I cannot get out. And so, I go through the motions as best I can manage. I wash dishes endlessly because we are eating at home all the time and doing lots of baking. I wash and dry clothes and dump them into baskets that still sit for days as they used to until Bina runs out of pants or underwear or pjs. I vacuum and mop. I read the Big Picture Story Bible, less often than I intend. I offer up prayers to God with David, pleading for him to just show us the next right step. I nurse. And nurse. And nurse. And nurse. All day and all night. I wear the baby for nap two hours a day. I am wearing her as I type this. I bake with Bina. I paint storm doors and windows and door walls in bright colors to bring hope and joy. I provide art supplies for Bina to exercise her creativity and I try to exercise my own. I change diapers. I play outside with the girls. We walk. We snuggle. We are human. We are struggling. We are hanging on. The other day I texted two close friends that I had no motivation to do anything. Then I listed off the things I did that day and said well. I guess I am doing the things regardless. Could I be doing more? Sure. Always. Could I be doing less? Definitely. I am doing what I can and trying to exercise self-compassion and grace. We are in uncharted territory. All of us.
I mentioned I have been listening to Brene Brown's podcast, Unlocking Us. There is an episode on comparative suffering and in it she discusses how children are processing things. There is a lot of disappointment right now. We may be tempted to trivialize our children's disappointments. But to them, they are big. Perspective comes with experience, experience that we have as adults and they do not have as children. We cannot expect those without experience to behave as those with experience. Brene says, "lack of perspective is not always about selfishness and we don't make them tougher or more empathetic towards others by diminishing their feelings." Honestly, even with life experience I sure am struggling with things that seem small in the grad scheme of it all. Brene asserts that the best thing we can do is extend self-compassion. Acknowledge and embrace our disappointments. When we have compassion for ourselves, we have a greater capacity to have compassion for others. When we minimize our disappointments -- well it could be worse, I don't have it as bad as that individual -- we actually cultivate less empathy for ourselves and others, not more. I don't know about you, but I have been feeling that a lot lately. I feel like I am suffering, but how can I call my suffering, suffering when there are so many worse off than I am? That attitude gives me less empathy for others, not more. Holding space for my suffering is what gives me greater capacity to hold space for the suffering of others.
A good Biblical practice for times such as these is lament: a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. We do not need to slap a positive spin on everything. It is okay to admit that this totally sucks. That it is scary. That we are sad. That we do not feel safe. That our worlds have been turned upside down. It is okay to mourn the loss of life as we knew it. Necessary, even. We cannot process and heal from what we do not acknowledge.
Acknowledging and expressing grief and loss does not mean that there is no hope or joy. The two can coexist. Taking turns coming to the forefront of our minds. I see beauty in the helpers. A mentor mom from my MOPS group sewing masks to donate and offering them to members of the group for free. She dropped off two for me and my husband. We will use them with a coffee filter inserted when we need to go out to the store for food and supplies. I have seen sidewalk chalk drawings on our walks done by children and adults. Sweet and inspiring. The other day on a walk we came across a single white moccasin on our street. I took a photo and sent it to my neighbor mama friends asking if it was one of theirs. It was, and there was a pair somewhere still missing. I placed the one I found on my front porch and another neighbor found the other, retrieved the one I found, and returned them both to their owner. What team work, I thought.
Juniper is becoming more and more of a toddler every day. Playing and babbling and climbing and scooting around everywhere into everything. Sabina is a doting big sister with so much empathy for her baby sis. Unless of course baby sister is pissing her off. Ha. As I grieve the loss of what we had, I am recognizing and embracing the simple joys of this new normal. Things that have not changed too, like the sun rising and spring flowers growing and blooming. Grief is cyclical. It is not a linear process. And that is okay. I am holding space for me, holding space for you. Sometimes I do it better than other times. And there is grace for all of it. For all of us.