Last Friday was my children’s final day of school for the year. Sam finished first grade with a class-wide game of Bingo via Zoom and Maggie with a 30-child Zoom followed by watching a movie together (on Zoom). She opted to leave before the movie so I can’t vouch for how well that went. Given that our internet connection was dropping on and off throughout the day/week/month, it was probably for the best (Comcast has sent us a new modem, we received it on Saturday, the day after school ended).
I had a few COVID stories to share, maybe I’ll start with those as a way of reminding us of a simpler time, three weeks ago, when all we were doing was trying to avoid spreading germs, wondering what we were going to do with our children all summer long, and worrying about an economic depression, with November, and Joe Biden’s health, looming like a terror in front of us. Remember the good old days?
And now we find ourselves worrying about white supremacist groups posing as ANTIFA on Twitter and instigating a move from the cities to the suburbs while we have conversations with friends and relatives about preppers and whether we were naive to never buy a gun.
I have never watched the show “Doomsday Preppers” but note that my spellcheck automatically changes ‘preppers’ to ‘peppers’ — so if you are amongst those who started watching the show because you thought it was about an end-of-days food, it would be understandable. Apparently the show, a platform for conspiracy theorists with potentially violent ideologies, was cancelled in response to a Change.org petition arguing that it was irresponsible for NatGeo to continue to air a program promoting “the extreme views of individuals on the fringes of society.” According to the petition, with 26% of American adults suffering from some form of mental illness, the risk was too great that a future episode might inspire violent action. The show was cancelled at the peak of its popularity in 2014.
As I write this, outside of my window the sun is shining. The trees are still, no breeze. The birds sound way happier than seems appropriate. The mountain laurel is blooming like nobody’s business and all that kale we planted what feels like only weeks ago is everywhere, as predicted.
So, before we move on to more distressing topics, I’d like to share a few bright spots.
First: Maggie, after reading My Side of the Mountain, has decided to move in to the large tree in our backyard. She wants to burn out the inside but we told her she has to wait until we are sure it is actually dead (this could take years, but I have not brought this to her attention). She has outfitted herself with several crackers, a pyrex container full of water (no, not a water bottle, an open pitcher that birds can share with her, yes, health issues), a bird book, a journal, a flashlight, and a few other odds and ends. She has spent the past two days outside, well past dark, when, for one reason or another we have been compelled to ask her to come in to sleep. She claims that she fell asleep in her ‘shelter’ the first night but with the possibilities of Lyme disease, West Nile, the Plague (I think that’s what fleas spread), and any other parasite-spread disease we told her she could try again but in a tent. Yesterday morning she insisted that she would collect all of her food for the day from the yard. She ate dandelion greens and mint leaves until about 2 o’clock (in addition to a few of her crackers) when she accepted a gift of hummus and chips that I left in a basket at her ‘door’.
She invited the rest of the family to a dinner party at her new home. She served us from a table she had made with a square of plywood and two pillars of bricks underneath. The meals were served on large leaves and consisted of a selection of mint leaves (this was the appetizer and dessert) and another leaf containing dandelion leaves and a few cherry tomatoes (these she had taken earlier in the day from the kitchen). Her brother raised the question of their provenance but happily ate his share. It was actually one of the nicest moments in the last three months, sitting in the backyard at the homemade table eating off of leaves. I think she is still wearing the same clothes and we probably need to do a serious tick check. But she was so happy out there, writing in her journal. She learned a lot about chipmunks and which birds we thought would actually be edible. She and Sam were hunting together with homemade spears (no animals were harmed in this adventure but had she unexpectedly caught a squirrel, we probably would have cooked it).
Second: I also wanted to tell you about Sam’s teacher visit. For context, we have been relatively isolated at our house since March 13. The kids have gone for bike rides with Dave. And we have gone hiking in quiet areas and socially distanced several times. I have not been the store once. Dave goes once a week and he also had to go the dentist when his crown fell off. Otherwise, we have not left, we have had no visitors, we have occasionally greeted neighbors as they passed our house. We have been fortunate that we can hole up here (get it, Hole up??) and contribute to decreasing the overall number of interactions in our local area.
So that means that my seven-year-old son has not had an in-person conversation with anyone but our family since March 13. And on Saturday, the day after school ended, his teacher asked if she could stop by our front yard to say hello. On Saturday morning, before she arrived, Sam ran upstairs to prepare. He selected his favorite Lucky Dog t-shirt. It’s green, with a picture of Snoopy holding a four-leaf clover (Sam was born on St. Patrick’s Day). Wearing his shirt he came downstairs: Mom, do you know where my tie is? He has this little blue clip-on tie, a hand-me-down from our neighbor. If my heart could have melted, it would have. Sam has a Corona-hawk haircut, two huge front teeth that are descending to take over his mouth and shift his face from my little boy to my not-little boy, and there he was in his Snoopy t-shirt with a tie clipped to the front to mark how special this occasion was to him.
Third: I’ve mentioned that my family has been reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. We finished the third book on Thursday, the night before school ended. I think it took over ten minutes to make it through the last two pages. Dave would get halfway through a sentence and as understanding dawned, when it looked like what was about to happen was about to happen, they would interrupt: Wait, is Frodo…. Horrified. I thought you said…. I want Frodo to get married (etc etc). It was an emotional moment for all of us. But I was again reminded that naming my son after Samwise Gamgee was not a mistake.
Speaking of names brings up the reason for mentioning the books again. After we told Sam that we partially chose his name for Samwise in these books, he started referring to himself as Samwise Holegee. And then Maggie became Modo Baggins. In case you are not familiar with Middle Earth, Frodo is the hobbit whose task is to carry the ring of power to Mount Doom and destroy it and Samwise is his trusty sidekick in this errand. And in case you didn’t see what we did there, Samwise HOLEgee is a change from Samwise Gamgee and Modo Baggins is putting an “M” for Maggie in front of the name Frodo.
Of course at some point the question was raised over dinner, who is dad? It was pretty rapidly decided that he was “Dad-dalf the Grey.” Gandalf is the wizard, a valor, an angel-type who comes to Middle Earth to fight evil. He’s definitely the chief, all powerful good guy, wise and strong and fierce. They also occasionally considered ‘Dad-ragorn,’ this is the Viggo Mortenson character. The warrior/healer/king.
Oh, me? You may have rightly guessed that this whole reading adventure was my idea. That I’m the one who brought the books back from Alabama, who pulled them out at the beginning of the lockdown thinking this would be an enjoyable pastime while home together. What did my doting family immediately suggest in terms of a role for yours truly?
If past experience was any predictor of what was to come, I should have been prepared. But know that I was truly, and I mean this, wounded when the first suggestion, by my beloved children, was “Mollum” — that’s Gollum, a disgusting hairless large-eyed fish-man who is the story’s most pitiful and sad character. My spouse, love of my life, my darling heart, next suggested “Mauron” (pronounced Moron). He felt very proud of his cleverness. Again for those unfamiliar, Sauron is the big baddie. The supreme evil that doesn’t even have a form, he’s that bad. A giant menacing eye of doom. Of course the kids loved this. “Moron, Moron” they chanted at the table. My husband smiled and announced to all that I would probably be blogging about this later. Perhaps in recognition of this eventuality he quickly suggested that I could be Marwen. Does this guy even know me?????? ARWEN?? Sexist asshole. Arwen doesn’t do shit. What, I get to stay back in Rivendell hoping everything turns out and then give some jewelry to Frodo after he saves the world??? Thanks but no thanks. He said the name of another, more powerful, fairy woman who is at least super wise. No dice, Dippin.
I dubbed myself Mom Bombadil. Though I personally think I’m the Gandalf in this outfit. Since the initial conversations I have also been called the “Malrog” (evil fire creature), “Mimli” (at least a good guy but the only dwarf, kind of a brooding cave-dweller), and a “Mork” (the bright side of this being that “Dork” is funnier so Dave is occasionally relegated to bad guy status).
So that’s been happening around here.
And now we come to it.
I wrote a poem on Sunday night.
protect them, I pray
from each other
or from themselves
help us to know how
to plant seeds of healing
help me find courage
if I lack the courage
not to hide in the safety
The air is still and cool
I supplicate to the air
but help will not come
it is time
I read an article by Corinne Shatuck: 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice. I did the first two things on the list. (Google to see if my local police department outfits on-duty police officers with body-worn cameras, it looks like the answer for Alexandria is yes. Google whether my city employs evidence-based police de-escalation trainings, it looks like the answer is yes but not for everyone, but I did not do an in-depth search).
Then I joined a book group that some folks at my children’s school are starting to read and discuss the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.
I don’t know enough and I have not educated myself. Last winter I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehesi Coates. I highly recommend reading this, it is beautifully written and definitely shifted my way of seeing the world around me and to better understand, from a rational but also from an emotional viewpoint, the realities of life for people in America with skin that is pigmented differently from mine.
It is not acceptable that people paid to protect us all should not be held accountable, and should not know they will be held accountable. At the same time, I remember reading about the rate of Covid infection in the NYC Police Department. This sticks in my mind too.
From what I’ve been reading this week it seems that we have to fix the police accountability situation, the systemic racism situation, the police obtaining surplus battering rams from the military situation, the 50% of a municipal budget being for police situation, the whole Trump situation, the gross economic inequality situation, the white supremacy situation, the fact that people are afraid to give comment to the newspaper because of fear of reprisal situation.
With all of that said, in the wake of the past few months and all of the horrific news I’ve read and been more awash in than usual, I find America to be a beautiful place. Look at what we did. We stayed home to protect each other. We wear masks out of respect for each other. We walk next to each other to say that this cannot continue. We want a functional country, we are willing to give things up, to undergo hardship, to help each other, to take care of each other. We lack some kinds of leadership, but we have other kinds in droves. So many people thinking and working for good. Together. Trying to share strength and find solutions. We can help those people. We can be those people.
We don’t know how or when or where things will lead. So we have to find a way to live in hope, and not only in hope but in action and connection. Maybe that means that today you sit at a table in your backyard and eat dandelion greens that you are pretty sure your dog urinated on to help another human being learn the pleasure of giving and self-reliance. If you aren’t going to walk today, you can still listen and learn. You can reach out to anyone. Help anyone. In any way. It all adds up. The more we help, the more we listen, the more we share strength and compassion… Some say we are moving towards a new age of unity and these are growing pains to get there; last, groaning efforts to keep us from that future. Some say we are nearing the end-of-days. I don’t know. But you carry the ring to Mount Doom one step and one day at a time. You fight for what is good one small bit at a time, not knowing what is ahead, but knowing who you are and what you value. What has value. You work together with others to share your vision of what the world can be, and you share that through how you live, the choices you make, where you put your love and attention.
Today, I am putting my love and attention into sharing this with you.