Emergence / Back to school (Pt 1)

Hi friends! I wrote this gigantic note to send you round about June 11 of this year. I thought about sending it, or something, for many, many weeks. It wasn’t ‘finished’ I told myself. I needed more time, I told myself. Well, here it is, just the same as it was, but much later. By calling it Part 1 I intend to convey that there will be a Part 2, at least, in which I plan to tell you about the new traffic light. And also some other things. But first, let’s travel in our time machines back to the end of school, just a few short months ago…

I received my second injection of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on May 12, 2021, seated in a booth at Charlie’s, a local dining establishment that I have yet to but certainly will someday patronize. This is where Mommy got her vaccine, I will say as we look around like people arriving in a new world sitting there together inside a building that is not our house. 

May 12 + 2 weeks = May 26

May 26 = Full vaccine effectiveness (approximately)

May 26 + 2 weeks = Yesterday

As of yesterday morning, I was still firmly entrenched in my highly monotonous while also shockingly unpredictable Covid lifestyle. Dave working from an old table set up in our bedroom. The two of us here all day every day together. No one leaving to go to work. No one leaving to see a friend. Sometimes we would drink coffee (the dog knows this as “mugs time”). Sometimes we would drink whiskey (the dog knows this as “crystal time”). Sometimes we would sit on the deck and listen to birds. 450 days worth of month after Covid month. Talking about cicadas or pipelines or political shenanigans of various stripes or migrating birds.

He would do the weekly grocery shopping, initially because he was deemed the more careful half (and I deemed myself the smarter half who was willing to not have to go to the grocery store anymore). But eventually, after 450 days, after my first dose of the vaccine, and then my second, and then the passage of four more weeks, why hadn’t I been to the grocery store, my regular grocery store, in 14 months?

But before we get into what changed yesterday, let’s catch up on a few highlights in roughly chronological order:

Covid vaccination, shot #2: When I arrived at Charlie’s there was one nurse giving shots and a short line of folks waiting. It turned out he (the nurse) had been there since 7:30 that morning (it was 2:30 pm) giving shot after shot after shot because the other two nurses had not ever arrived and the line had never stopped. The only thing I knew to do was to try to help that man laugh, and I’m pleased to say that it worked. 

I came home with a rapidly sore-ing shoulder and listened to Maggie play the piano while my eyes started closing (in broad daylight, that’s when I noticed Dave googling “reaction to Moderna vaccine”). I read several chapters of Pride and Prejudice and went to bed. I couldn’t figure out where to put my shoulder. I was overwarm but couldn’t take off the covers either. After a dozy but restless night, when Maggie touched my forehead her hand felt particularly cold. Low-grade fever. Made the children’s lunches (they got hot dogs and sliced apples that day), got back in bed, and stayed there until I had finished reading all of Pride and Prejudice. Walked downstairs. Ate some rice. Kids came home. Started watching Pride and Prejudice (BBC version, 6 hours). (Only day during all of Covid that I have watched daytime tv and also probably the only time I’ve chosen the film to be watched, except that one time we all watched Willow and the children were horrified when the dog/wolves chased, caught, and presumably ate the nice old woman at the start of the film. I tried to remember a time when seeing a nice old lady chased and eaten by dogs would have been shocking to me). Finished watching all six episodes of P+P and by the time it was over I was feeling pretty much like myself again. A little woozy on occasion but mostly no big deal.

Colonial pipeline. Incidentally (is it incidental? I think it is not), the morning that I was due to get my second shot, I received a text from my friend and neighbor. She had driven to multiple gas stations that morning and had had trouble finding fuel. If I wanted to be able to bring my children to school and back, I should check to make sure I had enough gas to last for a few days. Maybe we should consider carpooling to save gas in the meantime, even though it is currently frowned upon by the school due to Covid concerns, etc. 

(Sept 21 note: Shockingly, when I have mentioned Colonial Pipeline during recent conversations with friends about The End of Days, frequently they don’t know what I’m talking about. In May, Colonial Pipeline shut down the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S. leading to shortages across the East Coast, after hackers, affiliates of a Russia-linked cybercrime group known as DarkSide, gained access to their network through a single compromised password.)

“Our goal is to make money and not creating problems for society,” (per the DarkSide website). I totally relate guys. I too would like to both have money and also not creating social problems. Thankfully, DarkSide has announced that “From today, we introduce moderation and check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future.”

Besides for the fact that these guys seem to think they have a legitimate business model (and maybe they do, that would be an interesting question to consider in the future. I mean, if they are going to attack companies that make money off of selling death chemicals through false marketing then, I don’t know, who being the bad guys?).

But I’m not here to question the particular business model at this moment. I’m here to talk about my carpool dilemmas at this juncture during the crisis of 2020/2021/TBD (aka what life is like now, even for people who used to think there was such thing as a bubble, which there still is but it is a less convenient and predictable bubble than it used to be but still a hell of a lot safer).

Bubblemom’s (that’s me) reaction to the pipeline thing: THIS CANNOT BE HAPPENING! MY KIDS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE IN SCHOOL FOR THE NEXT X WEEKS WITH NO SNOW DAYS, NO COVID SPIKES, NO EARLY SPRING ALLERGIES, NO MORE RANDOM HOLIDAYS, NO CAPITAL RIOTS THAT LEAD TO REMOTE SCHOOL, NO RUSSIAN-SPEAKING GANGSTERS DISRUPTING THE FLOW OF A SUBSTANCE WE BURN TO HEAT THE EARTH BUT ALSO MEANS I CAN GET MY KIDS TO SCHOOL FOR JUST A FEW CONSISTENT WEEKS OF THE YEAR.

4.4 million dollars in Bitcoin later everything was okay. Though Dave did drive around looking for gas one night, using more of our carefully guarded petrol than I was comfortable with while also not locating a supplier. I know I don’t need to mention the people putting gas in garbage bags and how that made me feel. I don’t know how that made me feel. 

There is a chance that the Colonial Pipeline is going to be feature prominently in my future writing. I considered moving somewhere we could live off grid. I thought about getting on my bicycle again (do I know how to put air in the tires?).

Ladies and gents, and also not ladies and not gents, we are living in a new era. The post-Colonial Pipeline era. Have you seen DarkSide’s website?

I copied this screenshot from the BBC. I hope writing that last sentence makes it legal to do so.

This is not from a Kurt Vonnegut novel.

It seems clear to me that we can no longer go on pretending that life can ever be predictable. Well, I guess that in itself is predictable though. We can predict with confidence that completely unexpected things will always continue happening day after day, things we just can’t plan for or be prepared for.

But let’s move on to Brood X cicadas: I haven’t googled this or anything but i’m told this is a wide-reaching but also bounded phenomenon. If you are missing out, here’s a synopsis: there are dead bugs EVERYWHERE. Also living bugs. They land in your hair and hold on with their sticky little claws. If you went out at night, around 10 pm, you could literally hear them emerging from the ground. I recorded it. It sounded sort of like someone unwrapping the cellophane from a box of frozen croissants. They climb up trees and at some point decide to split their back open and then sort of lie backwards as this very juicy white caterpillar thing with wings and dark spots that look like fake eyes and then flip over to get in the right direction so their wings can dry and then go somewhere else to hang out for a couple of weeks before starting to all sing in unison but not harmony. I also recorded that. This multi-pitched sound that starts before sunrise and goes on all… day… long. It’s fine and also quite loud. Then they die. Also they die while walking to the tree, trying to get up the tree, if their wings don’t open right, if something eats them, if a child becomes interested in science, if your husband wants to cook them, if they emerge somewhere that used to be wooded but now is a road, if your tires are the tallest place they can immediately find to climb, if something like a fungus eats their butt. 

I see them frolicking outside my window right now. Soon they will mate and die and then the eggs will drop down into what is now wooded and then live underground for 17 years before the next time. Where will I be then? I was in downtown DC last time. There were a few extra bugs around but my life then was not so attuned to the natural world. (I call them bugs with a sense of irony, as we all know they are technically ‘insects.’) I was working in nature conservation, but in other places, far away places, not watching the signs of nature daily out of my window.

I had already met Dave though, last time the cicadas came. I had recently met him and thought he was just a dashing British scientist who had too many shoes for a man. And now we are walking around in the dark harvesting cicadas that we have talked about cooking but not yet cooked. They are in the freezer.

End of the school year + human emergence: So tomorrow is the last day of school for my kids. Against my better judgment I agreed again this year to be a class parent. Organizing gifts for my nearest and dearest is not a strong suit, to say the least. My parents both still have an IOU for their 70th birthdays. So organizing a class gift = trauma. (Not really, for anyone on this list who is a former teacher for whom I was class parent, you are certainly an exception.)

School is ending and I have accepted responsibility to procure a gift for my son’s teacher, who I adore. Nothing short of my appreciation for this person, plus my lifelong fear of displeasing and not living up to the expectations of others, could have motivated me to leave my home in my one pair of real pants and enter “the real world” (meaning, not my home and not Trader Joe’s). 

Friends, I could definitely write a whole other thing about the three hours of my afternoon yesterday. There’s a lot to unpack. Let me try to share the highlights:

  • There are a lot of things available to buy in the real world that, when I don’t see them, I don’t need them. When I see them, I wonder if I need them. I mostly don’t, but this uses some of my decision power and I don’t have a whole lot to spare.
  • There are a lot of pictures of people who look happy or like coolly unhappy but smug and unsatisfied in just the way they desire to be and massive pictures of these people are all over the place, telling me stories about what life is or should be that are not the stories I choose to live by when I don’t see these pictures. Such pictures are confusing, especially when your daughter is with you and trying to figure out what a person is, what we aspire to as a culture, what gives life value.
  • You might buy a pack of fancy gum at REI because the mint is grown in the pacific northwest and when you get home wonder who is even going to eat that gum. Why? Why the gum? 
  • Target is like a ghost town. You walk in and don’t know where anything is and also shelves are both full and empty and it seems there is no one working there and is your daughter a child? The clothes for children look so small. Do they have a juniors department? What is a juniors department? She wants to buy a doll with her own money. This is the first time she’s been to a store since March of 2020 so you let her. You go through the self-checkout because again, no people seem to be working there. Is this the trend of the future? Robots will stack the shelves with whatever is available given global supply shortages and you will self checkout your one box of Rice Krispies and pornographic doll (details to follow)?
  • If you have to walk any distance on the sidewalk to get where you are going, this is confusing. You know you are vaccinated so you don’t really need a mask. Especially on the sidewalk. Except you didn’t take a shower and you are liking the anonymity of a mask, definitely. But then again the humidity. So sometimes you keep the mask on, so you can hide from the men sitting at the outdoor bar and freely using profanity and sometimes you take it off and think you might want to smile a friendly smile at the other living beings passing you but that also feels like a little too much. Then you go into the store and put your mask on, to keep others comfortable I guess. Also the sidewalk is uneven and you realize you haven’t done that much walking lately. 
  • If you are a woman, maybe also if you are a man, you might recognize that you have enjoyed not having to walk down the street and want to be not seen. This is a whole can of worms but not being in this situation for many months made me realize how uncomfortable I am – and have been – as a woman being in the world, see below for details of pornographic doll.
  • It all feels so crazy: what people wear, what we’re shown, the stories we’re told, the crowding, the so-much, the need, the excess and the lack, the hyper-sexualization.
  • Also I bought my favorite kind of rice cakes. 
  • And, don’t you think it would be funny if I told all the parents in my son’s class that the only kind of gift card left was for the Cheesecake Factory? I’ve been laughing all day about the idea of a $200 gift card to the Cheesecake Factory. I don’t know why. Maybe I just need something to laugh about.

So then I came home and Maggie had this new doll. She played with the doll for a while. Eventually all of the dolls clothes were removed. So we’ve got a nude doll. Except her earrings were still on. Also her knee-high black socks and tiny pink underpants (these two features are not removable). This doll has a tiny waist and large hips and a reasonably sized chest. She has blue and pink hair in braids (four) and a sort of Scandinavian thing, or maybe Indonesian, going on with a fancy arrangement of hair knots. She looks a bit like a huge-eyed anime stripper. This is the sexiest doll I’ve ever seen (or as Dave and I both remarked, maybe we’ve just been stuck inside for too long). My ten-year-old is holding this nude doll who she purchased today in the toy section at Target. I guess I don’t know how I felt. I mean, the doll is curvy so I think we’re supposed to support that. But she looks like a tiny sex doll.

I neither binge-ate ice cream sandwiches nor did I pour the world’s large gin and tonic. I sat in Maggie’s room with her and answered a million questions about my first boyfriend. If I ever rode in a car with a boy on a date. Bowling.

Dave has his interview for US citizenship tomorrow too, so we reviewed his citizenship questions. I’m wondering if you know one thing that Benjamin Franklin is well known for? Out of about 100 questions to become an American citizen that is one. I find that interesting. Susan B. Anthony is the only woman mentioned, though answers to two questions currently happen to be the names of females at this juncture of history. 

***

Now it is today. The last day of school. Pouring rain. Also the day of Dave’s citizenship interview. He just came back. He passed. Monday he will be a citizen of the US of A. Sam went to school with exceedingly careful instructions about delivery of the teacher’s gift. We role-played it over breakfast. The gift was placed in an extra layer of plastic bag protection and I showed him the envelope that does not contain a gift card to the Cheesecake Factory and pleaded, since I am not allowed to deliver the gift in person, that he suggest his teacher put the envelope somewhere safe on this rain-filled day where all of the assorted paperstuffs of a 2nd-grade year in which the parents haven’t set foot into the classroom are to be organized and somehow conveyed home in the arms of a gorgeous and highly distractible 8-year-old.

On his way out of the door this morning I said: Imagine you are Link and you have a very special mission. And he said: to deliver a gift to Zelda. And I said, yes, nodding vigorously.

I sit here in the pouring rain awaiting some confirmation that the bag, and in particular that envelope, made it safely to its destination. I will lavish him with praise.

School lunches: I know some of you are vegetarians, so I’m sorry in advance but I wanted to tell you one of the nicest things Dave has done for me in all of Covid. Making school lunches has always been tricky for me. No nuts so there is no PB and J. My kids don’t eat sandwiches (?!) and believe me I’ve tried the thing where you just send the food and let them go hungry if they won’t eat it. They go hungry. And there is a steep price to pay, and I feel that I’m the one who pays it. My kids will eat minestrone, they’ll eat kale and chickpeas, oatmeal, eggs and whole wheat toast. They eat salmon and they’ll even eat a raw oyster or two. But school lunch is different. There’s a playground when you’re done, there is conversation to be had, and it just isn’t a time for eating something creative. We had a bagel phase where they were eating bagels but that ended. We tried beans and rice. We’ve tried pasta. 

YES, it is a planning deficiency on my part. If I made a plan for the week and bought a variety of fresh fruits and made a fancy wrap in a tortilla, maybe. I don’t know. But Tuesday morning would come and I would see the lunch bags and want them to eat something but I couldn’t just send a bag of cookies. Enter the hot dog. A hot dog is a never fail lunch option. At first it was a one-time-a-week deal. The day that it was easy to make lunch. And then, about a month ago, Dave came back from the store with two sleeves of hot dogs. Unpacking the bags I saw them there and I think tears came to my eyes. I think I even hugged him at that point.

You think it is okay if I send them with hot dogs, more than once a week? 
Fill your boots, he might have said. That’s when I knew he really loved me.

(Note to feminists, et al.: Dave makes dinner at least half of the time and does all the grocery shopping, so I find this lunch-making arrangement is a pretty fair deal, in case you’re wondering why the burden falls on my shoulders).

This week the children have had three hot dogs. Well, for lunch that is. Hot dogs today, hot dogs yesterday. They are the fancy kind, grass fed, maybe even supporting regenerative agriculture. I don’t know. Whatever the associated ethical or health questions associated with this practice, I forgive myself. It’s okay Jennifer. You are doing your best.

We are doing our best. Heck, probably the DarkSide guys are doing their best.

Borrowing. Maggie had a trip for school, an overnight campout that is usually three nights but this time would be one, masked, with each child bringing a parent along. I signed Dave up knowing it would involve sleeping on the ground under a tarp in a heavily ticked area. Also he really likes birds. 

They had to drive out there and we own one car. Sam had to get to school and back while they were gone and as mentioned earlier we aren’t supposed to be carpooling. The obvious answer was to rent a car for two days, right? My hesitation upon checking out the rental option resulted from the exorbitant cost combined with the inconvenience of having to pick a car up and return it somewhere and also a tiny whisper of either ethics or inadequacy.

You… must… reach… out… to… a… human.

So I asked my neighbor. She could get him there, but not home. Okay, think girl, think. I think I checked rental car options again.

I texted a friend I haven’t seen or spoken to since the fall. I was horrified to do it. Both because I had been so out of touch and because I didn’t want to impose my possibly germ-ridden child or make her uncomfortable if she wanted to decline. Certain my request was both humiliating and unreasonable, I sent a similar message to a second friend. And then, at the moment of my greatest desperation, I sent a text to another neighbor who has always been friendly and I (gulp) asked her if she might have a car I could borrow for one hour one afternoon to pick my child up from school. It felt like a bold move, but my child isn’t supposed to be in cars with other children per school policy. I was confused but also desperate to have two days of eight hours each with no one else in my house. The first eight hours I would have had in 450 days.

These three messages out in the world, I sat in my chair rocking. How dare I impose on these people? Now they are super uncomfortable because they have to respond and deny my ridiculous requests. We should own two cars. I should have kept in touch with more people. I should have been different, better, something so that I could be a one-woman island. So that I don’t need anything from anybody!!!!

Text notification: We’d be happy to drive Sam home on Thursday
Second text notification: We’d love to bring Sam home Friday.
Third text notification: We have an old Camry that we aren’t using, want to borrow it for the whole time Dave is gone?
Knock on the door: Since we can’t bring Sam home, do you want to borrow our other car for the two days (second offer of borrowed car).
Another knock on the door: Here are the keys to the Camry.
Follow-up text: If the weather is bad on Friday and you don’t want to drive our car, let us know and we can pick Sam up.

I’ve written about this before. It was so hard to ask for help. It felt so… vulnerable. And it felt

SO

GOOD

to be supported. To feel support. All felt right with the world. I have people and people have me.

We had friends over for dinner last weekend for the first time since February of 2020. We grilled and sat outside.

We had forgotten how you do things. Dinner, which included tater tots, was not ready until about 8 pm. And it was one of the best nights ever. I said it then and I’ll say it now. Maybe the pipeline will stop working again. Maybe there will be a new variant. Maybe we’ll be inside for another 18 months. I don’t know. But last Saturday night we were sitting outside, it was not raining, we were eating and laughing with friends. I appreciated that night so much because I’m not sure, I’m not taking for granted, that it will always be possible. My enjoying it isn’t dependent on it happening again. Just that it is happening now.

Oh, one more thing that I also haven’t mentioned during the Covid Chronicles, but that, before whatever comes next, whatever phase we enter now where things are going to be changing in some unknown and unpredictable way, I would like to document. I haven’t told you about the man in the van: During much the Covid era, there is a man who has been living in a van next door to me. I can see the van right now, maybe 30 feet from my desk I would estimate. It’s a blue van and the top can open and there’s a bed up there. He can cook in the van too, I wasn’t sure but he can.

The van comes and goes. I don’t know where he goes. Something about Colorado. Vanman is about my age, a bit younger. He is a friend of the family who own the house next door and his van is in their driveway. I think he uses their wi-fi to work from the van. I’m so full of questions. Does his living in the van have anything to do with Covid, I’ve wondered. I’ve thought about living in my own van multiple times during the past 16 months. He’s been there all of this time, and I haven’t asked. 

I know his name, I say hi sometimes but we’ve never had a conversation. When he goes away, there’s an empty space in the driveway and, maybe because I don’t know where he’s gone or when he’ll come back, I feel like there is something missing.

Yesterday when the kids came home from school Sam ran upstairs to check the weather app on the iPad. He ran down excitedly asking me if I would come outside because there was a major thunderstorm on the way and he wanted to see if we could see the clouds. We could, a little. But the house was a mess, there were gifts to organize, dishes to put in the dishwasher, stuff to get ready for the last day of school. Sam stayed outside to watch the storm come in.

I loaded the dishwasher and wiped off the counters. I unpacked the backpacks. I thought about Sam. I thought about how hungry he is for interaction. How much time he spends at home drawing and reading and imagining. He hasn’t been able to play with friends after school. We are busy around here with Maggie’s homework or cooking or working or, I don’t know what.

I looked outside in the usual places. No Sam. I went back to the front yard and there he was, standing by the van. He was asking the vanman questions — where do you sleep? where do you cook? I heard the vanman answering him: well, one good thing about the van is that it encourages me to spend more time outside. It started to rain. Sam remained outside talking to the vanman. Sam, curious. Vanman, patient. Both of them seeming at peace with the water falling from the sky.

I felt happy. Held by the world.

I don’t have to be everything for Sam. I don’t have to engineer everything for Sam. Look, outside, there is the world. He is loving the world, and it is loving him back.

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