The Day Before

Jr in our happy place

 

 

I used to write.

Constantly and continuously.

Like breathing in and breathing out.  I wrote.  In journals and blogs and letters and cards – long essays and stories; short perfectly crafted emails; for pleasure, for introspection, for work.  My life was filled with the beginnings of ideas jotted on scraps of paper or margins of more formal notes for work.

My entire understanding of the world came through how I wrote it down.

But I have realized – completely – I don’t write anymore.

 

In March I sent in the deposit for a membership to the local private swim and racquet club that I had been saying for years we should join.  I told no one – not The Mr, not Jr., not Dr Sissy or my parents.   I just filled out the membership, got the confirmation, and held it in my head as a signal that I believed better days were coming.

And the school year ended – summer opened up for us like a blooming carpet of possibilities, leading us to find a new level of freedom in the outdoor spaces Colorado does so very well.

With few exceptions, Jr and I found ourselves at the club every day – weekends were marathons with fully packed coolers and gallons of SPF used.  Weekdays he would amuse himself around the house until I wrapped up my workday and we found our way to our favorite table in the late afternoon shade. 

It was our happy place.  Our safe place. There in the uncrowded expanse of the pool deck, with space to spread out and ample access to snack bar soft pretzels,  we could frolic fully without sacrificing our care of the work and the warnings from Dr Sissy and BIL and all of their medical professional counterparts who were (and still are) pleading for caution as we navigated our newest version of “normal.”

There were other activities too – lunches on the patio of our favorite local haunt, backyard happy hours with our favorite winery friend, and long weekends for Jr and The Mr spent with my parents at their condo in the mountains while Binky the aging wonderdog and I enjoyed the silence of a temporarily empty house. 

It was supposed to be our in-betweener summer.    “Outside good, Inside bad” was the motto, and we felt like we were so far away from the previous summer spent circling our little neighborhood and floating our tubes in the extra large backyard paddling pool.  We were on our way to Jr returning to school safely, and in the meantime we were just lounging in our little oasis – me refilling my mimosa while Jr practiced his front flip off the diving board endlessly.

Life was good.

But it staying that way wasn’t in the cards, was it? I started to see the worry and hurt overtake my sister and brother-in-law on our frequent Duo calls again.  Nervously glanced at the calendar as the first day of school crept closer. Did my best to temper Jr’s concerns about upcoming changes in his world.

I have been blessed with such a kind-hearted kid. Actually, I would bet we all have – kids are amazing, aren’t they?

He wants to know everything (sometimes he thinks he already does,) and he wants to try everything and he wants to show people how to care about others.  Which is awesome, but is also a lot.   Goodness knows as a grown up, I certainly haven’t found a way – so instead we took advantage of every last minute of summer we had together.

The day before the school year started, we found ourselves out in the center of the pool, Jr on his watermelon floatie, me whirling him around and around playing “washing machine” as he likes to call it.

I spun him away, laughing and waving as he floated just out of reach – and he momentarily stopped smiling and paddled back quickly.

“Mom – don’t let go.  Spin me and spin me – but hang on.”

And so I did – and there we were –  just him and me hanging on to each other – laughing and spinning in the sun and willing time not to move and stretching the moment out into forever.

I knew I wanted to write about that moment – to capture it and keep it and hold a piece of it.

But I don’t write anymore – because writing it down won’t keep tomorrow from coming, won’t let me protect him or anyone else I love. Won’t make the world kinder or the truth less terrible than it really is. 

And because like all who are not entirely consumed by selfishness, and like our world itself, I am forever changed.

Still, somewhere in my mind and my heart – him and I are spinning alone together in the clear blue water, sun on our faces, not letting go.

 

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Hindsight

 

Well.

That was a year, wasn’t it?

It doesn’t feel great to look back at posts and pictures from this time last year – it’s devastating, actually. Smiling faces filled with hope and excitement – minds filled with the concept that they were somehow ready to take on whatever 2020 had in store.  We knew nothing. We were fools.  How could we have been anything more, though, I suppose.

I suppose also, that there is hope here too, as we move toward 2021 – less certain, more desperate, and completely void of the previous NYE’s bravado – but hope, still.

Last year I looked forward to stepping up into my coming promotion – and I have been fortunate to maintain that role.  Fired up and ready to continue climbing the corporate ladder, my thoughts were on maximizing bonus potential and growing my path.   As 2021 begins,  I am overwhelmed with the privilege of maintaining my employment, and consumed with thoughts as to how best to continue to lead my amazing team through this continuing unprecedented time.

I had such lofty goals for our family – expanding our activities and including my parents in more of our adventures near and far.  Nurturing Jr’s love of team sports, perhaps steering him away from his scooter obsession. It turns out that mastering new scooter tricks is a fabulous solo sporting activity, and my most fervent wish for my family is to get my medically high-risk father vaccinated as soon as possible, adding him to the list of people I love that are on the path into the light after so long in the dark and cold of this overwhelming fear, along with Dr Sissy and BIL who thankfully have received their first doses.  And then turning my attention to my mom – who is the sun and the moon to Jr, and hopefully someday myself and The Mr, and please oh please smarty-pants scientist people – my son and all of the other kiddos who seem so often to be counted last on the list of those we worry about in all of this.

I started 2020 in a battle to continue taking the medication I have relied on for over 20 years to keep Multiple Sclerosis from using my immune system to eat away at my nerves  – a battle I won, ironically, in late February.   Just in time to find out that the medication that tamps down that messed up immune response also made me a sitting duck for a novel virus we were just starting to learn about.

I hold no expectations for 2021.  I wonder, really, if the idea of understanding what the future should look like in any way is forever lost on a large number of us, at this point.  I hope that my inability to conceptualize that does not dampen my son’s ability to dream big.   We will need those dreams and the promise within them.

Before I spiral off into the abyss of sadness and anger and horror that has been a constant looming presence for these many months – those same months have brought clarity on all there is to be so thankful for. 

Big things like the amazing power of science and the determination of those who use that power to solve problems and those who combine it with their immense humanity to treat and care for those who are ill. 

The strength of the will of people to fight  the darkest depths of hate and shame and selfishness, and band together to elevate goodness and drive change.   The collective magnitude of thousands and thousands of teachers and educational professionals moving mountains to try and meet their students’ needs – far beyond just academic – wherever those students are (and getting up the next day and trying again, even when it feels like they are only one grain of sand getting constantly blown by a giant unending wind.)

And little things too-  for many it has been a new pet added to the family, for me it has been the opportunity to care for my aging doggie, and spending my days and nights concentrating on his needs and appreciating every moment and every snuggle with him.

The fun that the holidays bring, particularly for Jr – his willingness to believe in all the magic of the season may be growing short-lived, but this year when we needed it most, he was open and excited to see what Hopscotch the elf was up to each morning, or hold court in his usual competitive rounds of dreidel with his stuffed Grinch (and this year, the family’s newest member, his beloved plush rooster, who if you ask me, may be a bit of cheat.) A particularly perfect virtual visit with Santa after a day of cookie-decorating filled this mother’s heart with more thankfulness than I can find words for.

Time draws short, and in a few hours, 2020 will well and truly be hindsight.   Our understanding of all that has transpired will grow in the days (and months, and years) still to come.  

Even if I can’t envision it – I hold hope that the light has found us by this time next year.

 

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Seven

View of me in the laundry room

View from a meeting

This week my coworkers watched me do laundry.

I’d love to say that the display of domestic prowess was intentional, but alas – no one has been begging me to demo my epic dryer lint trap removal skilzzz.

Seven Months.

That’s how long it took me to have a visible snafu.

Seven Months of working from home while pretending to be a 9 year old during playtime, and a principle, Para pro, lunch lady and IT rep during school time.

Seven Months of plotting meal after meal after meal that people will eat and won’t get bored of.

Of fighting back the clutter that comes with ALWAYS being here. Of date nights that consist of sitting on the front porch with The Mr. like it’s the balcony of a resort, watching the neighborhood.

Of doing a bajillon different jobs all day, and getting up 3 times a night with the geriatric dog I am honored to be hanging with as he ambles through the darkening twilight of his life.

Of falling asleep with a glass of wine at like 7:15 and forgetting that the dryer is full of clothes that still need to be hung up and put away.

For 4 nights in a damn row.

And of constantly trying to squeeze one more little thing that COULD be getting done into a few minutes when you might be able to step away from your computer and listen to a call. And accidently hitting the camera button on Teams. And giving everyone a lovely view of you fighting to get the bin where you store the extra detergent down off the high shelf, while your coworker tries to IM you, but you don’t notice because it’s 2020 and the universe is not here for your dignity, silly insignificant little human woman.

(I didn’t notice until now – but I shifted away from first person writing that. Evidently I still need that distance from it.)

Also since 2020 – I totally lost it when I realized that I was the dumbass who was wronged by technology on a large call, and did what you should never do, and had a breakdown on the phone with my boss.

It wasn’t even about the multi-tasking really. Not when I thought about it more (and you KNOW I f*cking thought about it more. And more. And then also some more.)

It’s the vulnerability, I think. That they all saw me, trying desperately to just keep up with my own life, and kind of failing. I am a leader – they come to me with their problems (no really, it’s true!) When they ask how things are going with Jr’s remote learning, or my sister and BIL doctoring away on the front lines, or my M.S., I am supposed to project confidence and calm.

Aren’t I?

But I can’t.

Because it has been Seven Months.

It has reshaped the entire world. (If you feel the effects less or whatever you choose to call it, good for you – this probably isn’t for you.)

Here I am – every day – blessed to have a few people left around me who will let me cry over a really stupid video conference move one day, but make sure I can laugh about it the next day over Zoom happy hour.

Seven Months ago I would have probably written about this as a hilarious guide to Zoom Etiquette or something. Oh well. That Keri is down in there somewhere, hibernating I guess.

I will say this though – we are Seven Months in to this, people.

Let’s make a pact – if your coworker is making damn fool out of themselves on a call – how about a little throat clear or something to snap their ass out of it?

Seven months is a long time – we need some back up, yo.

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Fire.

Shhhh

Last week the fire alarm went off at midnight.

I don’t mean that it started doing the battery chirping thing or whatever.

I mean that last week, while The Mr was fast asleep and snoring upstairs, and Binky the Wonder Dog and I were downstairs grabbing a little quiet TV binge time in the wee small hours, a deafening shriek ripped the silence followed by a robotic voice shouting “FIRE, FIRE, FIRE!!!”

I threw my bowl of late night pistachios all over the family room in my startled haste to get upstairs and make sure The Mr was up (he is a shockingly heavy sleeper) and as he messed with the main alarm it started shouting “C.O.! C.O.!” instead and the next thing you know we are out on the front lawn waiting for the fire department, pacing back and forth with Binky who is, as it turns out, not deaf enough in his old age to miss being totally freaked out by that noise.

Jr, blessedly, was up in the mountains with my parents at the condo – the “divided bubble model” as I like to call it when we split off into sections of our tight little pod. So he missed the excitement.

It was a faulty alarm, and the very nice fireman got it off the ceiling and told us to replace it and tootled off with his sleepy jr officer in tow.

I would love to say that was the end of it – but we all know that isn’t how late night fire alarm shit goes down now, don’t we?

10 minutes later – the battery chirp DID kick in, and of course we didn’t have enough batteries to go around, and around 3 a.m., I finally concocted a plan, cut the power at the breaker and disconnected the batteries and the whole addled house “settled” for the last few hours before dawn.

I was kinda messed up and couldn’t bring myself to ever do anything that would make the noise again, so Binky and I hid out in the back yard while Zach the Awesome Electrician got us set right the next day, (seriously, if you are on the CO front range and need an electrician, HMU, I have got your dude.)

Normally I actually think I could have done it – even after the night of NO sleep, even after snuggling a totally freaked out geriatric dog for hours, even knowing that loud noises are at the top of my “crap Keri hates” list.

But that is the thing. Nothing is normal now. Nothing is even close. And in that moment I couldn’t handle one more damn thing.

Because my poor sweet kid being up in the mountains with his grandparents wasn’t just a spur-of-the-moment thing, but instead a product of an ongoing plan to carefully make sacrifices and choices to allow for us to be physically close to my parents.

And because when I called the non-emergency number and stood out on the lawn waiting for the fire department to show up, I looked at The Mr and realized we didn’t have our masks – and we stood way back as they came, N95s firmly affixed, to clear our house and explain the issue. I wanted them to know that we want to keep them safe too, as they protect us and do their already difficult job in this impossible time.

And because I sat, snuggling that dog, waiting for the sun to start to creep through the blinds in our finally precariously silent family room, ordering batteries and junk food from Amazon fresh for a 6 a.m. delivery, thankful for the option, but at the same time mourning the quick trip to 7/11 I would have made to remedy the situation back in February.

Or maybe, just maybe, it was because every decision I have to make at this point feels like I’m the protagonist in a YA dystopian novel trying to decide which potentially life-ruining (or ending) cliff to run off of – or if I should just stop running and wait to see what the ominous, menacing presence will do to us.

Fire.

I feel like for the past 5 months an alarm has been sounding FIRE! FIRE! FIRE! in my head at loud and quiet intervals depending – but unending.

I have learned never to dare the universe and say, or even think, that I can’t take even one more thing.

Because each day – each hour – each blink sometimes it seems – is GOING to bring something else.

There are moments, maybe not whole “good days,” but moments, where we thrive.

In between, and often, it seems, we endure.

Today – the alarm is quiet.

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More Muffins.

I don’t bake.

That is, I don’t bake anymore.

When I left culinary school, it was largely because my pastry chef assured me that I could indeed, NOT, bake. Like, AT ALL.

So I left school, and I went to work for a coffee shop, where I went in each morning at 3:30 a.m. to work. And what did I do, you ask?

I f*cking baked. And that chef was WRONG because I was good at it.

But I never liked it one bit. The recipes and rules and precision of it all.

Keri. No. Likey.

I love to cook. To riff. To toss things in a pot and see what happens.   My roast chicken coping method is the closest I come to a rule book, and that my friends, is an ART.

Baking is math. I hate math. (Sorry boss…  I know you don’t like me to admit that.)

It’s just not me.

Except that now it is.

March 15th I had to do something.  I looked across the room, at my son sitting on his tablet, content for the moment but concerned about what was then his “extended spring break,” and I needed action.

In the kitchen I had bananas. I had ancient flour in a good airtight container in the depths of the pantry.  I had baking soda.  I had mayo. (yep. Mayo. Google it.) And I had these dudes in my house who were just going to BE THERE like, for WHO KNOWS HOW LONG (ok… they are my family, and they live here, technically – but still…. WTF!?)

So I took out some stuff, and I took out my big ass mixing bowl that gets like, NO action, and I started baking.

I kind of haven’t stopped since those first banana muffins.

muffins

those first banana muffins

Because right now, in the face of absolute chaos, the rules of baking feel good.

I can follow a recipe and if I do it just as they say, it comes out just as it should.

We can’t say that about anything right now. You can follow everything they say and still end up sick, or jobless, or mourning or whatever other shitty thing might randomly dump on you.

Baking is control. In a time when we have no control.

Judging by the amount of #breadporn pics blowing up every time I open Instagram now, I am far from alone in this.

Incidentally, I have mad respect for the bread effort – it was very specifically what I think of as “the French bread incident” that finally drove me out the door of culinary school forever. So if you have bread skills, I salute you.

So I stick with what works. Goodness knows these boys can put away some muffins, and so there is a constant demand from the (albeit fairly captive) audience around The Casa.

Outside of my kitchen, the world, and sometimes even other parts of my house, are saturated in unpredictability. (Seriously, what the hell kind of art project/Tasmanian Devil impersonation is going on in my living room right now!?)

But back in the kitchen the warmth from the oven is making me feel toasty and safe, and the well-loved big ass mixing bowl now has a place of honor in the front of a convenient cabinet, ready to help me restore the order in my mind and in my soul – at 375 degrees, 18-20 minutes at a time.

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