Saturday, 25 June 2022


 Reading: The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum

Listening to: "Don't Kill My Vibe" by Sigrid

Outside: Gusts of chilly-hot air, summer's turbulence from the ground to the ground-up clouds

"Travel and education make the familiar unfamiliar." 

                                    - Ball State University English professor, circa 2003

I was the good kid. A summer-pool-shimmery, high-energy, chlorine-scented child with wispy dirty-blond hair who wanted to read as much as I wanted to make mud pies. I wanted to do good, and be good. I wanted to make my parents proud. I was taught to stand up at my little desk, put my hand over my heart, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance in my elementary school classroom every morning, alongside my friends and classmates. 

I was taught to believe that America was the best country in the world. You've heard it all: it's the Land of Opportunity. It's the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. If you disliked baseball or apple pie, you were labelled "Un-American," and that was a pejorative term. 

It wasn't until I moved to England in September of 2006, at the age of 23, that things became skewed.

 When 4th of July rolled around, I was shocked beyond words when one of the customers of the local convenience store I worked in growled at me, "We let you win." He said this with gloating contempt, and I was chilled right to my core. How dare someone say that about Americans, about our glorious triumph on that hallowed day in 1776? How dare someone spit on the American flag like that? I was hurt. I was angry. I was furious.

Over the years, and there have been almost 16 of them, I have learned to chill the fuck out. Along with my estimated 200,000 fellow American ex-Pats living in the UK, I have learned that, no, America is not the greatest country in the world. It is merely obsessed with itself. 

It is the jealous, narcissistic ex-husband who won't leave well enough alone. 

For instance, Americans abroad are hounded and threatened with fines and time in federal prison if we don't continue to file our taxes, if we don't show them how much money we have in every single named bank account, trust or retirement account kept in foreign banks. America is one of the very, very few developed countries in the world that still requires its citizens abroad to do this. Uncle Sam is staring at us all the time, looming over us, creepy as hell. 

America insists its highest baseball tournament must be called the "World Series" when there is no other country involved. It puts itself at the center of it all. It thinks of no others, considers no others. It is everything but united. It is damaging.

Like the obscenely slow uptake on the changing of horrific, went-on-way-too-long slavery laws of the 1860s, and the tragic, wasteful war that followed, in order to fight that change, America is moving slowly yet again. Actually, no, it is moving backwards. In the 50 years that followed Roe Vs. Wade, we are still arguing about women's rights. About gay rights. About gun laws. We are still fighting for equal, affordable healthcare for all.

 We are still screaming outside abortion clinics - which, in many or in perhaps all states, will now be closed - at women who have made the incredibly hard but necessary decision to remove a fetus from her womb while at the same time, we are still shedding tears over the children killed at Sandy Hook, Columbine and Uvalde and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds more schools, shopping centers, workplaces, gas stations, and yet doing absolutely nothing to change gun policy

Safety laws have formed to make us buckle up when we get in the car, take off our shoes at airport security, and use the Jaws of Life to get the lids off medicine bottles. Gun laws still do not change. 

Slavery took generations before it was finally, finally made illegal. 

Women who have made a healthcare decision or an elective decision for abortion are now no longer given that freedom. 

Homosexuality is still, even after all these years, stigmatized - why? Why is the LGBTQ+ community still not recognized as actual people with full rights? Why is this still a thing to be argued about?

America is a country full of contradictions. 

The Land of the Free. Who is free? 

The young man who can't afford his asthma inhaler?

The woman who has no access to birth control? 

The gay couple who wishes to tie the knot but can't?

The homeless man who lost his job, his car, and his house, because he got cancer and his insurance wouldn't cover the extortionate cost of treatment?

The seven-year-old who crouches under her school desk, terrified as fuck, because she's participating in yet another pointless Active Shooter Drill? 

Are these people free? Are they really?

And here we go again - a woman has to put her needs aside for someone else. Has to obey what other people tell her to do. She is controlled. She is Britney Spears under an endless Conservatorship by her dad.

It should not be this way, and should never be this way.

I look at my American flag, doubting its glory. It is cloth shaped into stars and stripes, and meant to represent honor. Valor. Victory. It is meant to represent freedom. It's a symbol of fighting for what's right. 

This flag has become a symbol of darkness. Divisiveness, hatred. Discrimination. Hurt. When did the American flag start to represent stepping on people and destroying their lives? When did things go wrong? Why are basic human rights always so threatened in America? Why must life in America, for millions of people, be so much harder than it is in other developed countries? Or was it always that way? From the very first moment the first white settlers decided to take over the forests of Roanoke and Chesapeake and Manhattan?

When will America ever get its shit together? Come on, America, you can do this. All the other developed countries of the world are way ahead of you, and have been for a long time. It's time to flex those muscles you've bragged so much about and actually do something good for once.

So yeah, I was the good kid. I went along with what everybody said. I didn't rock the boat, I didn't rattle the bars of the cage I didn't realize I was in. I stood up and said the Pledge of Allegiance, lest I be taken to the side, hot and red-faced with embarrassment, and get taken to the Principal's office, where they'd call my parents and I'd get in Big Trouble. 

Now, going on 16 years outside of the United States,  I'm the bad kid.  I have seen free healthcare for all, I have seen more flexible working hours and more paid vacation time, I have seen affordable university education and more libraries, I have seen safer streets, schools, and shopping centers. I have seen equality between men and women, blacks and whites, gay and straight. I drop my daughter off at school in the mornings knowing I will see her again in the afternoon and I will get to ask her about her day. I look at her and know that she will have a choice about what to do for her body, that her healthcare decisions are entirely hers and hers alone. I am confident and proud of the fact that she, and my son, will someday be able to marry the person they love deeply, man or woman. I do not have to worry about their safety now or their legal rights later. I do not carry the crushing weight of that worry around with me like a stone like millions of Americans, tragically, do.

In my view, you can be right or you can be kind. And like I tell my children, if you have a choice between being right and being kind, always choose kind. Always, always choose kind. Even if that means breaking the rules.

Rosa Parks refused to move from that seat. 

Human rights are a thing, people, and we should do everything we can to uphold them.

Happy Saturday, everyone.

Friday, 20 May 2022

A million miles away

Reading: The Deep by Alma Katsu
Listening to: "Into The Woods" - a Mysterious Folk/Pop Playlist
Outside: Rainclouds roll against a blue backdrop

When people going through their own tough times turn to me now for guidance, I have only the simplest advice. Make sure you take care of yourself. See the sun every day. Breathe fresh air and go outside. Do something that makes you happy... Exercise, because you need to be strong for the grief you're going through. It takes a lot out of you. 

        - I'LL SEE YOU AGAIN by Jackie Hance with Janice Kaplan

I am a million miles away from where I was since my last post

Dave at Scarborough, April 2022

Back last October, I was finding my feet again after a turbulent year of Maternity Leave. I was circulating between diaper changes and formula bottles and handling our mail with a pinched finger-and-thumb, my face reflecting the same Icky-ness expression someone has handling an apple sauce-covered bib, or vomit-soaked sheets. My whole life had become an endless cycle of preparing for mess, for steeling myself against a virus that was trying to destroy everything. I was toddler-proofing the house. I was coming up with a secret phrase with Lena, incase someone tried to kidnap her. I was, in essence, operating under the illusion that I have control over life.

In the seven months that have passed since then, I said goodbye to two very important people in my life. One was my husband's father, who was a smiling, loving and ever-helpful part of our lives. The other was my very, very close friend, who passed away unexpectedly only four days after my father-in-law. 

I had no idea it would be only four short months until those two people would disappear. Sixteen weeks of having them walking and talking and working and laughing.

Disappeared? Well, they have and haven't. I can see my father-in-law in Dave's eyes, and hear his voice every time Dave speaks. He is there, always, in a comforting way. 

My dear friend, on the other hand, is the one who haunts me in my dreams. My grief for him has been heavier, pulled by its own gravity. (This kind of grief is different, even, from the kind I feel for my mom, who passed five years ago.) 

In my dreams he is baffled by my surprise to see him, and maybe even slightly embarrassed that I hug him so hard - and for way too long than was our customary two-second limit - that I insist on it. He seems to question my sanity. And he disappears every time I have held on too long - an empty chair at our shared desks in our Sheffield office, an empty floor in front of me, the air still swirling with his warmth. 

When I go for a jog around the neighborhood, I am running through my guilt (What kind of friend was I if I wasn't there to help?), my regret at my last stupid text (Why wasn't it something deep and meaningful, or simple, like a heart emoji?), an echo of his last voice messages rolling endlessly around in my head (asking me how I've slept, telling me to take care of myself, always reassuring). 

Every morning I wake up and with every new chat on my FB messenger, his chat sinks lower and lower down. This cannot be. And yet it is.

Every day I work, I am facing the same computer screen, doing the same job. We worked together proofreading death notices, and we still work together - he still asks the same questions he used to ask me - what's the deadline for this newspaper, how many breakpoints for the County Times, and in my mind I'm still asking him all the same stuff, too. He is everywhere around me, all the time. 

My life has taken on a different tinge. I am powerless to tell him about something cute my toddler son has done. But sometimes I feel he already knows what my boy has done, how Indy can say "Thank you," now, and how he can say "I'm sorry." 

So I continue to toddler-proof. 

I have random safety-checks with Lena, now eight, who rolls her eyes at my seriousness when I ask over our dinner plates, "Somebody pulls their car up next to you when you're walking home from school. They say I'm in the hospital, and I've asked them to bring you there. Do you get in the car?"
    "What's the phrase?"
     She always knows. 

I do the best I can.

So, I guess, for whoever needs to read this: impact people. It's the most we can do in this world. Be the reason they smile, give them a wink or a hug or a "Hi." Make them laugh. Make them miss you when you're gone. Meanwhile, also:

Look forward to that homemade fruit smoothie.

Be the art.

Indulge. Fix that door, repaint that room. Plant that tree. Make a toast. Listen to your favorite song again (and again). Save nothing for special, because every day is special. Be the most unabashed version of you, because nobody else can do it. Let the ghosts in your heart speak. Listen.

Have a beautiful Friday, everyone.

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Crunchy leaves and spiderwebs in the eaves

Reading: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Listening to: "Just Like Fire" by P!nk
Outside: Low gray sky, a first breath of sweet wind

Holding my newborn daughter, I got it. I got the love the guts you, the sense of responsibility that narrows the world to a pair of needy eyes.       
- Michelle McNamara, I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer

If you're reading this, life has continued. 

We're here again, sidestepping leaves as they dance across our path. Ordering Christmas presents in an unheard-of frenzy, desperate for those bicycles and Paw Patrol toys currently locked in the holds of ships docked and still. We are hoping Santa gets those precious presents to us in time. Our soft miracles await them.

We're admiring the glistening ghosts of sun-caught spiderwebs in the porch corners. We're taking our children to school. We're masking up to walk into Aldi, bleaching handles and counter tops. We're hanging Halloween decorations, we're mixing up bowls of individually-wrapped treats. Stocking the sanitizing gel. 

We're dusting off the costumes, blowing off the cobwebs layered over our seasonal thrill, that secret sweetness of pre-midnight moonlight, the giddy tap of little soles on pavement. Our campfire kindling piled on to crackle and flare. Dormant emotion stirring again. We're getting ready.

I close my front door, my Twig Owl Wreath watching as I turn the key in the lock. Tiny cute scarecrows grin and follow my progress down the front path. I'm almost twenty pounds lighter, and much less-haired, than I was this time last year. I have given my daughter - lithe and no longer guileless in her approach to age eight - to her teachers for the day, so they can measure her knowledge and encourage her love of learning. I have given my baby - no longer the needled-and-bruised newborn newly-released from emergency surgery, but rather the attentive and confident one-year-old eager for a new changing table escape route - to his grandparents for the day, so they can dote and inspire.

I am back at work, after one year of maternity leave. The hardest year of my life. New Mom Blues. Old Mom Blues. Pandemic Blues. All the Blues.  I check the laces on my Nikes and lean against the beige brick side of my house, stretching my calves. I count to twenty - one of thousands of times I've counted to that number - then switch feet, count again. I'm ready. 

I enter the path next to the road, no pontail, no baby weight. I walk for a little and then step it up, pacing the runner I was since I was 16 and joined the MV High School track team. I'm toning my body, and my mind, which still crawls with the last weakened tendrils of post-natal depression, or regular depression, or just plain sleeplessness. Today I am not the person I was yesterday, or the person I was for the past long year. I have slept. The serotonin is good. It fizzes and makes colours bright again, makes the ground velvet, makes me weightless. I am who I used to be. Who I'm supposed to be. 

I wave at the neighbors across the road, across driveways, faces become familiar through my dark year - people who watched my journey through pregnancy, through baby-in-the-womb to baby-in-a-pram. These who have watched me change. Their dogs smiling at me at the end of leashes or behind fences: Tilly, Betsy, Charlie, Bailey, Alfie. I am thankful for their owners' "Good Mornings," for their homes so close to the red-capped sycamore trees, for their quiet, private cul-de-sacs. I move faster today than I ever have. 

Back at home, I let myself back in the house, an echoing shell without my children. I will occupy myself with Lena's 8th birthday preparations; I will have a delicious lunch. I will stop whatever I'm doing and notice the golden autumn sunlight when it blankets the playhouse in the back yard. I will not obsessively vacuum; I will not clean. Today is enough. Today is coffee and candle light. Today is photograph-touching and baby-home-video watching. I will note the progress of my life - my babies' first squawking baths in the dishwashing tub, Lena's memorization of the entire P.P.A.P. song, Indiana's choosing of the same bedtime book every night; I will shed my broken skin. I will rejoice in the recharge. 

In the mirror, I'm bluer-eyed than before. 

May your day be everything you need it to be. If you are struggling, for any reason, please tell someone. 

There's a whole world out there waiting for you, and it is far, far too beautiful to waste.

Grandad and Lena at Mam Tor,
August 28, 2021

Happy Tuesday, everyone.

Wishing everyone a safe and Blessed Samhain.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

The times, they are a-changin'

Reading: I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison 
Listening to: "Rise Up" by Andra Day
Outside: rain 

Just as we begin to notice the smell of bleach is making us salivate like Pavlovian dogs, and as we notice the sun stays up higher in the sky each evening, lighting our way longer as we instinctively side-step strangers and loved ones alike, the light comes closer to us at the end of this long, unbelievable, horrible tunnel. 

A week from tomorrow, the UK looks forward to a huge step forward on the roadmap out of this hell. May 17th will be an important day for millions. We will be able to join another household indoors. We will be able to dine inside restaurants, walking past those soggy picnic tables we, only recently and briefly, huddled at, swaddled in coats and scarves, with our pints and our wine glasses. Inhaling our first hesitant nuances of Normalcy. Local Test & Trace teams will be busier than ever, keeping track of all of us as we travel further, or remain close, as we emerge out of our houses to get those haircuts we have so desperately needed and only a few weeks ago were able to get again; as the ink in the tattoo artist's needle warms up again. 

Our masks are now a part of our wardrobe; we hold our breath now, in suspension, to see when we can take them off. And we are part of the pandemic, holding our arms out for the vaccine, for the first and the second. We take selfies in our cars or outdoors or in the pharmacy or community-centres-turned-vaccination-stations, our t-shirt proclaiming it, our little paper card printed for the world to see, we are changing.

My household changes, too. Lena gets her very first visit from the tooth fairy, and the very next day, her little brother Indiana turns six months old. 

She introduces him to solid food gently and confidently, as if in a previous life she has done this before. Or as if her ancestors, my mom, or her great granny, or a ghost from even further back, is there, guiding her hand. Maybe Tabitha (long "i") Ross Milner is there, maybe she is the starched-and-corseted twenty-year-old she used to be, experienced after one baby and with ten still to go - maybe she gave Lena silent pointers, because spoon-feeding a baby was the same in 1899 as it is in 2021. 

Today I huffed and puffed my way through the beginning of my fifth month jogging, and, for the first time in a long time, indoors. Rain keeps me inside. My poor treadmill was dead, and Dave made it live again. My poor heart was dead, after being inside these four walls for so long. Today I stepped on the treadmill for the first time since October 2019, back before Everything Turned Upside Down. Today, toggling the incline switch as much from muscle memory as from my need for an uphill challenge, I looked around my dining room. My living room. The dining table from Grandad George that didn't used to be there, the table-and-temporary-school-desk-for-Lena. The baby toys piled up in the re-purposed Moses Basket, so big has my baby got. The bib curled up on the arm of the couch, Dave rocking a quiet bundle on his knee. I sweated amidst this brand-new treadmill tableaux. The old music, the Pre-Pandemic music, the before-we-planned-another-baby music, thumped and thudded in my ears for the first time in almost two years, the rhythm matching my feet, matching my heart, and I sweated and marvelled at the differences. The differences. The pandemic, the baby, our lives completely rearranged. 

I've been told to embrace change. 

Through the inertia, the frustration, the hesitation, the fear. Through the days when I think, We will never see Normal again. When I think, We will hide behind masks forever. We will never hug our friends again. We will watch movies made before 2020 and think - That's how things Used To Be. (Tearing up at the senseless ease of it all, imagining what we'll say to our kids and grandkids, speaking in soft tones of our tender lives, how we used to let the kids steer the shopping carts in Wal-mart. How they had little kiddie shopping carts, and the bright coin-operated horsie ride outside the store wasn't taped off. How clothing stores didn't have to count the customers, and you didn't have to line up for blocks to buy a bra. How toy machines clanked and jangled in every pub. How the mall Santa was there every Christmas, listening with bated breath to your every little want.)

I wonder what the ghosts of our former selves think, our selves who saw us through those first awkward days at school, the rising tide of our emotions as we grew and fell and learned, the selves who made sure we got through - a lost puppy, a divorce, a death. Did we get through? Did we change? 

Sure as hell we did. 

Some things can only be carried. 

The isolated.
The rainbows on every window.
The applause on summer evenings to say Thank You.
The cracked hands.
The children who have no-one to play with.
The distance between us.
The visits cancelled.
The celebrations postponed.
The lost.
The alone.

Let us all help each other carry this. 

Let's watch the world together.

We'll watch the sun rise again. 

Warming our faces again. 

Photo taken at beginning of the UK's first Lockdown, over a year ago. 
Our hearts, love and gratitude are still there.

Let's see where this road takes us.

Happy Saturday, everyone. 

Friday, 8 January 2021

This is life now

 Reading: Paris Trout by Pete Dexter

Listening to: My husband coo at our wee baby son

Outside: The sky's unsure - rain or snow? It wants to do something.

Last time I wrote a post, I was still pregnant, heavy as a tank rolling through mud, and waddling my way past a jogger who, I have to admit, made me just the teeniest bit jealous. She was slim and seemed to run so easily, moved so painlessly. I know, I know, jealousy is a horrible way to feel, and yet there it was, just the same. I was still weeks away from my baby boy's impending arrival, and I was trying my best to just enjoy the pregnancy, which is very hard to do so close to that illusive Due Date. Any woman who has been pregnant will tell you, and if she says she enjoyed her entire pregnancy, she's lying through her damn teeth.

Lena and Baby Indiana, October 2020

I am completely on the other side of that now. I went into labour in the early hours of October 1st, 2020, and gave birth to a healthy baby boy at 6:20 am, very quickly and without complications. I was lucky. He was lucky. Giving birth - and yes, pregnancy and labour - during a pandemic presents its own set of challenges, and I was there to meet them, alone, mask, and all. I submitted to the pain as you must, and then, there he was: seven pounds and three ounces of pure miraculousness. 

New Year's Day, 2021

He is three months old now, and I have run again for the first time in more than a year, and believe me, I didn't feel it go easily at all. I weigh in at 9 stone 6, which is the heaviest I have ever been, minus pregnancy, and I could feel every pound as I took the same route around the neighbourhood that I used to take - and continue to take - for each oxygen-infusing walk. 

Me, Makeupless, First Post-Pregnancy Run - January 8th, 2021

I can't believe what life has thrown at us in the space of time between my last run and this one - a broken treadmill, a baby, an extra 20-odd pounds. A pandemic, home-schooling, masks and antibacterial gel and a healthy paranoia when touching door handles, mail and parcels fresh from the Amazon delivery van. Everything, it seems, is teeming with germs, with threat. I'm sure none of us imagined we'd be washing our hands every time we opened a letter or slid the blade of a pair of scissors down the tape over a box. I'm sure we never thought our children would be home for weeks or months at a time, asking us what the word "commemorate" means, because we have now become teachers for some hours each day, doing our best to make sure lunch doesn't boil over, stirring the soup with one hand, feeding a baby with the other, and lobbing letters through the open kitchen door, "c - o - m - m - e - m - o - r -a - t - e...." into a dining room turned classroom, at a child who may or may not want to entirely listen. 

A girl indulging in greats - December 17, 2020

I never expected my child would ever say that she misses school, the lunches, the lessons. Life has thrown at us the unimaginable, life handled clumsily through ill-fitting latex gloves. 

But, through the caffeine-fueled haze that is motherhood-teacherhood-pandemic-survival, there have been other wonderful things. The feeling of a clean diaper on your baby's bottom, the way he snuggles his head into the crook of your elbow as he falls asleep. Your girl pouncing through unexpected snow, making cairns out of ice. 

January 2, 2021 - Snow!

So I guess this is just to say, This Is Life Now. We must submit to it, open ourselves to it, let it become us. 

We are paranoid, worried, humming with exhaustion, washing our hands again and again and again. 

We are bleach-washing our groceries, feeding babies or children or ourselves, we're delivering food, we're texting our mom-in-laws to say We Appreciate Them. We're receiving gifts every day, in ways that are sometimes hard to see: chopping an apple for a snack that will taste sweet, sharing a laugh with our little girl as she does Mad-Libs for the first time, watching our son's eyes over the bottle, his baby gaze contemplative and content, sage-like. 

We are unsure, depressed, busy or bored, working or unable to work, lonely and missing others, missing from pub or kitchen tables, missing the point if we don't pay attention: we are holy

We are just one species on this big rock, surviving one day at a time, doing our best. We have already learned, are learning: it is no use to consider One Year Ago, that last time at TGI Friday's, under the neon lights in a bustling restaurant, the sound of frying crowding our ears - we had that once, and it seems so far away now it hurts. And we will have it again. Until then, This Is Life Now.  Drink your coffee. Zoom with your friends, text, connect. Exercise. Read. Rest.

In the meantime, embrace those you have, and cry for those you can't. Feel deeply, my dears. We relax, soften, and surrender. We will breathe through it one day at a time. Be priceless, lucky, and precious. Be holy. 

Miracles await.

Happy Friday, everyone.

Friday, 18 September 2020

Pregnancy & the pandemic

Reading: Desperation by Stephen King    

Listening to: "Animal I Have Become" by Three Days Grace

Outside: Autumn trickles closer with every scudding cloud

This morning on my daily walk around the neighborhood, I saw a young woman jogging. She rocked a high ponytail and fluorescent clothes, and moved with a grace and lightness at which I could only marvel. She rounded the playing field in an effortlessly honed curve along the fence. She was so thin. She looked like me. 

How I used to look. Pre-pregnancy.

I'm caught between the two things that make you slow down: pregnancy and a pandemic. I have hefted this weight (at least an extra healthy thirty pounds and more every day) for what has felt like a lifetime. Pins-and-needles feet, sore back, bathroom breaks every twenty minutes. I can't get out of the way quickly enough for children dashing past me at the school gates, or for a spider making its way across my living room floor in the evening's lengthening shadows. I calibrate my every movement with the dedication of a time-worn scientist: how to climb and balance on the couch to hang early Halloween decorations, twisting the window's string of LED ghosts as they play in the sunlight; how to un-squat myself at my Hospital Go-Bag, after kneeling at it, praying to it, patting the bathrobe and the toothpaste and the baby blanket and the snacks I probably won't want; how to roll off the couch or back onto it, and the delicate, desperate reach for a remote control always an inch too far away. I am bigger, slower, full of baby, my voice muffled to the life inside me as I tell him all the things I feel he needs to know. Mommy and Daddy are ready for you, I say. What we don't remember will come back to us, I think. Taking care of babies is like riding a bicycle. I hope.

I have grown, literally and figuratively, during my time in Lockdown. I remained in Lockdown these past six months even after it eased, strictly observing social distancing, still not visiting restaurants or supermarkets, still not going to parks to watch my daughter swing from the monkey bars. My expanding girth taunts passersby. And me. I bite down hard on patience: patience for my daughter's complaints at my gripes and constant need for help; patience for a school year that started late; patience for a pandemic's rise and fall, now, at the roughest almost-there beginning of fall. 

And here! Good things: the slide and clink of ceramic plates like the tinkling of laughter at the start of every tea-time. The postie who lets herself into the backyard and chocks parcels anywhere she can fit them so I don't have to bend down to pick them off the front stoop. These past months of 100% time with my daughter, her last days as an only child, painting rocks and wood pieces in the sun.

Our Mother-Daughter walks - sacred now that the school year has begun - to our favorite trees, so pregnant themselves with late-summer leaves. 

Lena's home-school homework.

Lena's practiced pike. 

My view of beauty-within-exhaustion.

I have whittled and worried about all kinds of things. About everything. Will I give birth alone in the hospital? Will we even make it in time? How can I keep him safe in this world he's coming into, where going without a mask, in some places, is as unspeakably embarrassing, as shockingly vulnerable, as horribly exposed as suddenly discovering you're naked in public? (So skittish we are now in this Covid Era, so ready for distance; the introvert in me, I daresay, rejoices.)

So I guess this is the best of times and the worst of times. Three Days Grace comes back to me again from one of my favorite summers, also distant - windows rolled down in my rustbucket 1991 Pontiac 6000 LE, the bass throbbing through the September-hot blue cloth seats as I gravel-bounce my way past a high-sided cornfield - I'm the animal pregnancy and pandemic makes you. It turns you into a strange creature. You need sleep, quiet, peace, time to just Be. You find yourself yearning for Before, like the taste of a cake you only had once, wishing for that part of you that once reveled at a holiday resort's poolside, or that selfishly indulged in a cramped, beer-soaked pub, cheek-to-jowl with the next table's strangers. How foolish we were, how unthinking. How easy life was then. But we're past the teenager-years now, aren't we? Death has its gloves off, breathing closer, hanging over you. We think twice about handling an envelope from our mailbox, or pulling groceries out of the bag; we wash our hands 8,000 times a day. 

Our eyes are Nicole Kidman-expressive to make up for our inscrutable hidden mask-mouths. 

This morning the young woman ran past, a yellow glowing blur. I gave her a wide berth, as she did me (thank you!!!). I lumbered along, feeling kicks, making my slow way home, every cell shrieking my mammalian need for water, water, water. Her Nikes flashed at me through fresh-cut grass like the winks of lightning bugs on a pond, receding into their own new season, as I shuffled forward, wispy and Corona-gray-streaked, into mine. 

Happy Friday, everyone.

May you all stay safe and well.

Friday, 1 May 2020

From the quarantine trenches

Reading: The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Listening to: All the to-do jobs around the house calling to me at the same time
Outside: Clouds taunt with possible rain

What a difference a year makes.

Long time, no see!

In my last blog post one year ago, recounting an April visit with my daughter to the community park, since what feels like a geological age, I spoke about Being the Change. And here we are again, enacting change in an environment that really, really doesn't like humans right now. We are usually scurrying, meddlesome creatures, exploiting land and fossil fuels for our own selfish gain. And now we are stopped, stunned, and peering through our living room windows like pensive house cats, wondering who will go by next, what will happen next.

The birds are louder, the cars are less, the air is cleaner.

Our species suffers: 26,000 deaths from Coronavirus in the UK alone, as of 20 minutes ago, according to Wikipedia. People all over the world are mourning their loved ones, the ones who have passed, the ones who are fighting, alone, in their hospital beds.

Countries compare their death numbers like nervous, knock-kneed schoolchildren comparing grades on a particularly tough test: Who has done the best? Who has done the worst, and why? There really are no answers; there are different testing methods used, and numbers fluctuate and will continue to do so until this is All Over.

Which, of course, as we twitch the curtains at the windows, staring down the street or as far as we can eek out a view between apartment buildings and over slanted roofs, we can't foresee an Ending. We don't know when it will happen or how it will look.

For the first time for many of us, we are experiencing our first Major Crisis. For others, this is something Terrifying That Can Be Gotten Through. They've done it before: The Second World War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War. These changed lives, as our lives are changing. (But while they went to bed not knowing if their street would exist in the morning, we can at least depend on our Wi-Fi to bring us our favorite shows, news, food delivery and Ebay, holding out as best we can, giving us something to look forward to.)

We evolve to face the Unknown, which breathes in our faces, invisible. We are stepping up to it, putting our memes up on Facebook, bingeing on Netflix, ordering pizza delivery. We are joking, connecting in any way we can, via Zoom or Facetime and we are telling each other, "I'm in this with you."

So let's embrace the change. Let's applaud the NHS, those of us who live here in the UK. Let's applaud the legions of hospital staff around the globe, and anyone who must don gloves and mask and face-shield in order to do their daily work. Let's applaud ourselves for staying home and staying out of the way of essential workers. Hell, let's applaud the delivery drivers for that pizza. That pizza's getting us through this damn thing.

Let's slow down, learning along with our children since we are now their teachers; let's make those mud pies and play "pub" at the table in the back yard. Let's learn what it feels like to discover what's really essential, what really makes you happy, through all of this hardship. You may have lost your job, or you may have lost your wedding, your trip, your big 40th birthday celebration that you didn't know about that someone spent a long time planning. You may have lost the chance to hold your brand new grandchild. You may have lost someone. You may have lost a sense of yourself, anxious house cat that you are now.

In all the things that we lose, we must remember that we are all in this together. We mourn together. We heal together. Those good bones of this world are still here, that integral structure that keeps us solid. Those good bones are still here, and we're still inside them, and when we emerge again in an entirely new world - one in which we will wash our hands more often, or still wipe down the groceries upon entrance to the house, or stand six feet apart at all times - we will emerge deeper. Stronger. We will emerge thankful. 

So that when our children grow up, we will tell them about the world from Before. They will hear our survival stories, our sad stories, and our stories of hope, and they will see that the world goes on, connections live on, and that we must always hold hands through the scary times. They will understand the impact of choosing to be kind

Lena hugs and whispers to her new brother or sister, Pumpernickel.
April 24, 2020

We are all in this together. 

So I ask you to write, reflect. Feel deeply. Connect. Connect with your departed ones. Commune, in any way you can, with your family and friends and feelings. Sing, dance, paint, cry. Bake and laugh. Mend and create. Learn and teach and share and rest. Change.

So when the time comes that we can gather again, our reunions will mean that much more.

Stay home, stay safe, save the NHS.

Happy Friday, everyone.