Quarantine Diary Day 62: Yes, Still

As other states start to open up while Illinois residents remain under a stay-at-home order through the end of May, I’m starting to field questions from my friends and family in less densely populated areas.

  • “You’re still working from home?”
  • “You’re still getting your groceries delivered?”
  • “You’re still homeschooling?”
  • “You don’t think you’ll want to travel this summer?”

The questions are new, but the sentiment–“Is this all really still necessary?” & “Don’t you think you’re taking things a little too far?”–is not. It’s the same tone people take when they find out that I still go to AA meetings after years of sobriety.

  • “You’re still doing that AA thing?”
  • “You still go to how many meetings a week?”
  • “Exactly how long does it take to work the steps?”
  • “You haven’t had a drink in how long?”

Though the questions are different, the answer is the same.

  • Yes, I’m still sheltering-in-place/going to meetings. We’re talking about a deadly disease. As long as it’s still out there, I’m going to do what it takes to keep people safe, and I’m not just talking about myself.

Speaking of deadly diseases, some of the questions people are asking about coronavirus are the same questions I reckoned with when I first started trying to get sober:

  • How bad is this really?
  • How long is this going to last?
  • Will things ever go back to normal?

As it turns out, the answers are the same whether we’re talking about the coronavirus or alcoholism:

  • It’s bad.
  • It’s going to last a long time.
  • Your life will never be the same again.

It’s not all bad news, though. If tearing down and rebuilding my whole life taught me anything it’s that we’re going to come out of this better than we were before.

Quarantine Diary Day 61: Twenty-Seven Questions About The Fleabag Finale

We finally watched Fleabag. I say “finally” like I didn’t hear about it for the first time only a few weeks ago, and like I didn’t just figure out what it was–a British TV series starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge–last Friday. It took me a minute to get around to watching it because every time I saw it mentioned on social media or heard my husband say that someone had recommended it, I developed Memento-style short-term memory loss and immediately forgot all about it. Conversations about it went something like this.

Me: So, _________ recommended this show on Amazon, I think it’s called Fleabag?

Husband: Yeah, I know. We talked about it last week.

Me: We did? I’ve never heard of it before.

Husband: Yeah. It’s one of the shows the cashier at Trader Joe’s recommended. He said it’s great. Remember?

Me: No. What’s it’s about?

Husband: It’s a British comedy.

Me [groaning loudly]: Ohhhhh, never mind.

I say “Ohhhhh, never mind” like I historically haven’t loved them, like the UK Office wasn’t my gateway drug into the golden age of television just like everyone else in my generation, like I wasn’t obsessed with shows like Fresh Meat and Pulling and Gavin & Stacey and even, briefly, a pretty bad show about teen parents called Pramface, like the first few episodes of Breeders didn’t absolutely delight me as recently a few months ago.

Here’s the thing, though. I’m pretty bad with accents. I’m embarrassed to admit it, because I’m afraid it’s a trait that carries whiff of ethnocentrism or at least lack of sophistication, and when I go on to explain that it’s just hard for me to follow a show or a movie where most of the dialogue is spoken in heavily accented English, I feel lazy and selfish and like I should just try harder and be better, goddamnit! I don’t mind watching shows with closed-captioning. In fact, I prefer it, because I’m also pretty bad with rapid-speed dialogue and hushed voices and lots of background noise. Maybe I just have poor hearing? I tend to forget that closed-captioning/subtitles are an option, though.

Here’s the other thing. Without knowing anything about it, I assumed Fleabag was about a man. I think it was a quick association of the word “fleabag” with “dirtbag” and another quick leap to all the raunchy comedies out there about shitty dude and while it’s true that I’ve known and loved these comedies and the men who make them over the years, I don’t need or want to watch another show about a shitty dude. I don’t even want to watch a another show about a decent dude. I definitely don’t want to watch anything with a redemption narrative: shitty dude has realizations, tries to become decent dude, starts treating women like they have value instead of like garbage but ultimately still sees them as objects.

Back to last Friday. Just as I was groaning away the prospect of struggling through a British comedy about a dude, husband pulled up the show so we could watch a trailer and I didn’t need to see anything more than Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s mascara streaked face before I changed my mind.

Me: We’re watching this.

I’m very interested in female dirtbags, though, in women with unpleasant and irredeemable characteristics. I like women who are a little gross.

We finished the series in four days. It’s really short, but also really wonderful. Now that I’m finished, all I want to do is talk about it with girlfriends, but moms’ night out isn’t happening anymore, so I’m taking to the internet. Mostly, I have questions.

THE REST OF THIS POST IS ALL SPOILERS

Here are my questions:

  1. What is Fleabag’s name?
  2. What is Fleabag’s mom’s name?
  3. Does anybody care about the Godmother’s name?
  4. What is the significance of the breaking of the fourth wall?
  5. Is Fleabag insane?
  6. Or is she just grieving?
  7. Was she like this before Boo died? Before her mom died?
  8. Why was the Priest able to see her breaking the fourth wall?
  9. Why is the Priest so sexy?
  10. So, is Claire a lawyer or what?
  11. How adorable are Claire and Klare?
  12. Will Jake be okay without Claire?
  13. Do we agree that the bassoon is a cry for help?
  14. Do other instruments fall into this category?
  15. Can a guinea pig bond with a hamster?
  16. Is Hillary’s cage too small?
  17. How will Fleabag process what happened to Boo?
  18. Has Fleabag made amends for what she did to Boo?
  19. Why aren’t there more shows featuring women with unkempt hair and bad makeup?
  20. Is there any hope for a future between the Fleabag and the Priest?
  21. What is the significance of the bus being cancelled at the end?
  22. Does Question 17 contain the answer to Question 16? (Please say no (I know you won’t.).)
  23. What’s up with the fox?
  24. The Priest definitely has an alcohol problem, right?
  25. Would it be very foolish for me to open up a cafe when the pandemic is over?

Look, I know the ending was perfect, and that resolving any of these questions would have diluted the artistry of the show as a whole, but I am who I am and I want what I want and who I am is a sad sappy sucker and what I want is closure. Also, a happy ending for the characters I love and just desserts for the characters I hate. At least Fleabag delivered on the latter in spades.

I do have one more question, which sort of undercuts the last paragraph, and it is this:

  1. How is it that a show can leave so many major issues unresolved and still feel so satisfying?
  2. Is it because that’s how life is?

That was two questions. Goddamnit. This is the last one, I swear.

  1. Will I resort to this Question/No Answer format for future posts?

Almost definitely. [Wink]

Quarantine Diary Day 60: How I Got My Kid To Go Back To Sleep

Let’s talk about the nightmares. Not the waking nightmare that is life in a pandemic, but the regular sleeping kind, and not my nightmares (though they are wild these days), but my kid’s. Pre-COVID, my seven-year-old went to bed easily after an involved but mostly pleasant bedtime routine, sweetly sang and chattered to herself for fifteen minutes or so after I left the room, and then promptly passed out. She slept through the night, every night, and generally didn’t disturb the household until she popped out of bed refreshed and ready to play at 6:30 the next morning. She averaged maybe a nightmare a year.

A few weeks into COVID, that all changed. First she had one bad dream: I had given her an owl for a pet and she kept it in a cage in her room, and after a week she realized it was dead, that it had been dead the whole time. We got her back to bed without too much drama, but the memory of it lingered, and scared her off sleep for the next week. Just as the fear was starting to dissipate, she had another , and then another a few days after that, and then it was three nightmares three nights in a row, and then there was one hideous night where she had three separate nightmares, each necessitating a trip to my room, my husband and I trading off increasingly drawn-out and unsuccessful attempts to comfort her, and much begging to just sleep in our room. Bedtime became an anxious, pleading affair. She desperately wanted to sleep in our room or us to sleep in hers. I tried to be her soft place. I held her in my arms, sang songs, prayed, breathed deeply, and talked her through guided meditations, but turned to stone when she tried to disrupt the family sleeping arrangements. I am the jealous guardian of sleep: of my own, my daughter’s, and everybody else’s. I know about kids climbing into bed and never getting out, and wasn’t about to let that happen on my watch. Even with me policing the parental bed, none of us were sleeping much. Most nights I spent hours lying in bed, wired with adrenaline, just waiting for the next scream.

The nightmares were all variations on that first bad dream: dead owls, dead squirrels, a dead guinea pig, a dead anthropomorphic fried egg named Gudetama. It was the animals that threw me off, made me slow on the uptake. That and the exhaustion. What is going on??? I fumed. Why is this happening to us now??? How can we make it stop???

It wasn’t until the specter of the nightmares manifested in the middle of our daylight hours that I realized. D had been resisting taking walks outside with me for days. I knew she had seen a dead squirrel in the park with her dad and was afraid of seeing another one, so we kept strictly to the sidewalks. Still, every time we saw a squirrel scamper in the distance, she flinched. “The squirrels aren’t going to hurt you, kiddo. They’re more scared of you than you are of them.” She looked up at me with fear in her eyes: “What if a squirrel runs up to us and dies?” I started to respond—“Why would a squirrel run up to us and d_____”—and then trailed off when it hit me. She knew all about the virus. She knew she wasn’t allowed to touch anything outside because it lingered on surfaces. She knew we had to cross to the street when we saw the neighbors coming because it traveled through the air. For all she knew, coronavirus was everywhere, all the time, infecting all the animals she ever loved, and probably all the people too.

This, of course, was the result of us trying to keep our kid informed while shielding her from the worst truths about the pandemic. We didn’t talk about the death toll. We reassured her that most people who got sick got better. But kids aren’t stupid. They know life doesn’t shut down for a bad cold. I asked my therapist what to do. “It might be time to talk to her about death.”

I did start talking to my kid about death, but those conversations are complicated and controversial so I’m not going to get into it now. Instead, I’m going to tell you the bedtime hack for anxious kids that I discovered while I was trying to sort out what I could possibly say to my daughter about death that would provide her with comfort and security given that my belief system has been abstracted to the point of being unrecognizable to believers and non-believers alike.

This is how I tricked my daughter into going to bed relaxed and happy instead of working herself into the kind of fearful frenzy that only breeds bad dreams–i.e., how I taught my daughter to stop worrying and learn to love bedtime:

Every night, the moment I hear the words start to come out of her mouth–“Mama, I’m scared I’m going to have a bad dream”–I shush her and say, “Echo: play music by the Beach Boys.”

Every night, without fail, the lush harmonies and dulcet tones of “Good Vibrations” and “God Only Knows” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Sloop John B,” which now form the soundtrack for entire evenings in our house, sometimes beginning right after dinner, lull her my daughter into a sense of well-being better than any drug I’ve ever taken. She dances and sings and climbs into bed at ease. I promise to stay outside her room for five minutes in case she needs me and listen to her chatter herself to sleep. If I stay longer than five minutes it’s only because I’m writing these diary entries. She hasn’t had a nightmare in about two weeks now. I’m still having freaky dreams on the reg, but can’t complaint. At least we’re all sleeping through the night.

sunrise sunset

Quarantine Diary Day 58

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This is the time of year my husband runs the holiday gauntlet: Easter, daughter’s birthday, mother’s day, and my birthday all crammed into a three week period, each special day involving gifts and elaborate meals and tender feelings. This year, husband was a little nervous about mother’s day. He apologized preemptively. “I’m sorry,” he said, “we can’t do any of the things you like the most.” He was right. Illinois is still under lockdown until May 30 and mother’s day was slated to be 40 degrees and rainy. I told him it didn’t matter, I didn’t care, I understand the logistical and emotional challenges of making a day feel special when every day is the same.

On Sunday, husband and daughter let me sleep in before waking me up with breakfast in bed–a smashed cinnamon roll concoction with macerated strawberries, bacon, and coffee–flowers, homemade cards, and gifts. You know, the usual. Okay, maybe not quite the usual. Daughter drew me a picture of my favorite things: us taking a walk, chatting up a stranger, while it rained cheetos, beets roasted in a mysterious outdoor oven, and two narwhals (mama and baby) hovered in the sky. She also gave me a double-sided paper cutout of a whippet (inexplicably her favorite dog, not mine, never mine) and a polaroid picture of a plastic dog house from the animated series Puppy Dog Pals (a recent birthday present and her new favorite toy). Husband gave me a jar of melatonin gummies, a tin of sardines with lemon, a bright yellow cotton dress, and a polaroid of me and daughter he’d snapped a moment earlier. I ate in bed and red The Times and read a book to daughter and when I finally got up I thanked them profusely for my gifts, an embarrassment of riches. I had no idea the real gifts were yet to come.

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The first of these gifts arrived the moment I stepped out of bed, when husband informed me that he had planned the day so I could “watch” virtual church services or not, whichever I preferred. I come from a world where the security and stability hinge on religious sameness. Religious differences block whole families from being formed, and changed beliefs upend families ties that have stood for generations. God forbid you lose your belief; you might just lose your whole family. The gift that made my family possible, that saves my family every day, is probably the gift I most often overlook: the freedom to believe what I want, and the freedom to change my mind. I opted to go to church, if you’re curious. My weekends need the structure these days.

The next gift came when church services wrapped up, and husband asked if I wanted to go for a walk or a drive. It was drizzling pretty hard, so I chose drive. When I climbed into the passenger seat, I saw two bags of David’s sunflower seeds in the middle console and, at my feet, two cases of CDs, 96 sleeves each, the same two cases I hauled around for for all of high school, college, and law school as I drove thousands and thousands of miles on Arizona highways and cross-country road trips. We popped in the first mix that husband ever made me fifteen years ago in 2005. We popped shells in our mouths. We wound our way up the north shore and tried to explain to daughter what it was like to live in a time when you had to work to hear the music that you loved. This is the most thoughtful gift of quarantine: the gift of being known.

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The next gift came the moment we got home, when husband handed me a bag of cheetos and a bottle of sparkling craft tea and told me I had an hour to do whatever I wanted, because he and daughter were leaving. He didn’t tell me where they were going and I didn’t ask. I haven’t been home alone in over eight weeks. I read. I called my mom. I ate half the bag. Later, I found out that husband and daughter spent the hour sitting in the car in the parking lot of Home Depot watching episodes of Puppy Dog Pals on husband’s phone. This is the most precious gift of quarantine: the gift of being alone.

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I won’t bore you with the details from the rest of my day except to say that it continued to be beautiful and delicious and relaxing in every way. Did daughter start to lose her mind from the boredom of being cooped up with her parents and the pressure of having to be on her best behavior for mother’s day and the struggle of missing her routine and the emotional turmoil of being seven years old? Obviously. But that’s when I got the greatest gift of all, the one husband doesn’t even know he gave me because he does it every day, and that is the gift of being an infinitely loving and incredibly capable co-parent in the best and worst of times.

The last gift was a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food, which we ate after the tarts we shared with our daughter earlier in the night and after she went to bed, while binge-watching Fleabag. This is the gift of second dessert.

Quarantine Diary Day 56

A Day In The Life Working From Home

8:30-11:00 – WebEx call with team at work. My home WiFi doesn’t support WebEx calls, so I have to make this call on the desktop computer. The monitor is set up above a standing desk, which means that I spent two and a half hours on my feet. I take selfies with my headset and notice that my short hair has grown out into a pompadour.

11:00-11:45 – Prep for management escalation meeting. I’m working on my own, so I move to the futon with my laptop. I have a laptop table–I had to order it during the first week of quarantine and it arrived late, and damaged–but I prefer to sit cross-legged and pull the computer onto my lap. I think I need to start being more mindful about my posture, though. The last couple of days my arms have been tingly and numb. I suspect carpal tunnel.

11:45-12:00 – Lunch. I heat up a frozen Moroccan empanada from Whole Foods, slice and salt an avocado, and finish off the rest of a head of raw cauliflower. I eat quickly at the kitchen table, where my husband is homeschooling our daughter. I distract her from her work and they both get annoyed at me.

12:00-12:50 – Therapy. I started seeing a counselor in January of this year because I was depressed. Anxious has been my default state for so long that I never even think about seeking outside help for it, though I have in the past, and have a lot of good tools for managing it. Depression is different for me. Depression is scary. I’m so grateful that I found a therapist who was in-network for my insurance, accepting new patients, and who I clicked with before we all found ourselves shut up inside our homes for months on end. I’m so grateful that HHS decided to suspend enforcement of parts of HIPAA to allow mental health providers to provide services over apps that may be less than perfectly secure, like Zoom. Is my lawyer showing? Anyway, I care more about getting the help I need than about privacy, but I guess if you’ve read this paragraph then you already know that. For the first month of quarantine, I did my sessions over the phone while I walked around outside, but now I’m using a video app because I’m more honest when I can see the person I’m talking to. I do these calls on the futon. The home office is cold today so I wrap a blanket around my shoulders and drink a cup of tea.

12:50-1:00 – More meeting prep. Ten minutes is not enough time to shift from COVID-19 nightmares to evaluating risk under FDA regulatory requirements.

1:00-1:30 – Management escalation meeting. This is my first management presentation for this client, and I have been working hard to prepare for it. I have also been very nervous! This meeting takes place over Skype, which does work on my laptop, so I am still on the futon. Surprisingly, I am able to speak intelligently about complicated issues from a futon. The hard work pays off. The presentation was well-received, and my team received positive feedback.

1:30-1:45 – Team debrief via Skype. Hooray! That went well! Congratulations! Lots more to do, but good work everyone! It occurs to me that I really like working with a team.

1:45-2:45 – Walk around the neighborhood. I am thrilled to be done with the escalation meeting, and decide to reward myself with a mid-day break. I walk south and west, trying to go down streets I haven’t seen before. I stop to take pictures of churches. There are a lot of churches in my neighborhood, every one of them empty. Thinking too long about all the people who are not getting together inside the churches breaks my heart so I focus on the buildings themselves. I’m listening to Eat, Pray, Love as an audiobook. I have never read it before because I thought I was above it (I am a snob) but it is absolutely delightful. I resolve to get my daughter’s passport application submitted before quarantine ends. I don’t know when we’ll get to travel again, but I want to be ready for it.

2:45-3:45 – Work. It’s interesting to me but boring to write about so I won’t.

3:45 – 4:30 – Game day with my family. For some reason, I’m not totally clear why, my daughter is supposed to play a game for school today. My husband mentions that I should join them if I have time, and I do, so I do. Husband tells daughter to pick a short game but she picks Ramen Fury, which is long, but I don’t mind. Daughter sits on the mini-trampoline that has been sitting in the middle of our living room since her birthday two weeks ago and bounces up and down. She loves this game, though she spends more time and energy trying to screw things up for the other players than she does trying to win. I do poorly.

4:30-5:00 – Back to work. I have to send some emails.

5:00-5:15 – Write. Usually I spend this time walking around the neighborhood and talking to a family member on the phone, but I’m tired from my long walk this afternoon and eager to finish yesterday’s essay about rest.

Quarantine Diary Day 55

In the parallel timeline in which coronavirus never made it into human bodies, I’d be in the final week of tapering for my fifth marathon, which I was scheduled to run this Saturday. The taper is the final phase of a marathon training cycle when a runner gradually decreases the mileage and intensity of her workouts in the two to three weeks leading up to a race. The taper is critical to recover from the accumulated fatigue, repair muscle damage, and restore the glycogen stores, metabolic enzymes, and hormones that have been depleted during training. A lot of runners have a hard time with the taper. It is kind of a mindfuck to slow down, to back off the training, after months of buildup and go go go. I don’t. The taper, in my humble-braggy opinion, is the best part of marathon training. It is explicit permission–nay, instruction–to rest.

Remember March? Remember what it was like back the early days of our efforts to flatten the curve, when we still thought the kids might go back to school and the we might all keep our jobs? We were babes in the woods. The IOC was still refusing to admit that the Olympics were postponed. The organizers of the marathon I was planning to run certainly weren’t in any rush to cancel their event, a tiny little thing with less than 1,000 runners in all three races (5k, half, and full marathons) an hour and a half outside of Chicago, and still two full months away. If there was a chance the marathon was still on, I was running it. Training, I figured, would be a breeze with all the extra time on my hands. The first Saturday after we started sheltering in place I ran 15 miles.

Running has always been something I had to work to fit into my life, around family and work and recovery, but I worked hard to make it happen, because I love the sport to a degree that borders on obsessive. Ever since I became a mom, I’ve wished there were more hours in the day, assuming that I’d use the time to run, maybe train for an ultramarathon. All I needed was more time, and then the miles would add up faster than I could count them

For the few weeks of shelter-in-place, they did. My usual six miles on Tuesdays and Thursdays turned to eight. An easy four miles on Friday turned to ten. Cross-training on Mondays turned to more running. Even after it became undeniable that the marathon could not possibly go forward in May, I stuck to my routine of running long on Saturdays, twelve, fourteen, sixteen miles.

I was so grateful to be able to run. In those early weeks I thought, “How lucky I am that I have this sport that I can do outside and all alone? How lucky am I that I don’t need a gym or an instructor or a group? How lucky am I that I have this sport as a coping mechanism, a healthy outlet in which to shoot all my screaming fear, skyrocking anxiety, and scary depression? How lucky am I to have an excuse to leave the house? How lucky am I to have something that lets me turn all this time on my hands into time on my feet, a ritual that magics idleness into productivity.

As my weekly mileage started to creep up, something weird happened, at least it was weird for me. Running started to feel less like fun and more like a task. I was starting to dread waking up early for weekday runs. I was starting to get bored on long weekend runs. I was starting to get tired. Lots of experts have written about how the conditions we are currently living under are, counter to intuition, exhausting. Rolling Stone called the phenomena moral fatigue. Health policy wonks chalk it up to stress and anxiety. I knew this was something different, though. Even pre-quarantine, my body and mind had been giving me inklings that I might be pushing too hard. One of the last conversations I had with my therapist before COVID-19 took over all our conversations was about my ambivalence about going out with my local running club. They run fast and all I wanted to do was run long and slow. Also, even though I was training for them, I kept putting off signing up for races, because that level of commitment felt like too much. In hindsight, I can see that these were early indicators that I was burning out on running.

This kind of burnout is new to me. It’s not like I don’t know about rest. I keep a strict bedtime and take two full days a week off from any type of exercise. In quarantine, I am working less, not commuting, eating nothing but home-cooked meals, and getting closer to eight hours a sleep a night than any previous point in my adult life. So I took a hard look at my training schedule and realized I’d been building or maintaining my mileage without scaling back for about six months, and running without any meaningful break for over year. In the past, injuries and life events had forced me to take hiatuses, which I always resent, but I’ve been blessedly injury-free and able to run as much as I want for a long time now. In other words, I forgot about the concept of periodization, or the process of dividing training into smaller periods of varied volume, intensity, and frequency. The body needs easy weeks every three to four weeks. I also forgot about seasons. The body needs time off. I knew I needed a break, but I resisted giving myself one. Running was habit. Running was an escape. Running was, if you’ll forgive me for perpetuating disordered thinking in the name of honesty, an excuse to eat more indulgently than I otherwise might.

A few weeks ago, my body and mind conspired to put a stop to the madness. I woke up early on a Monday morning and put on my tights and sweat wicking gear, instead of heading out the door to run I sat down on the couch to write. My legs were tired but my mind was firing off ideas. 45 minutes later, too late to finish the miles I had planned, I was posting my first Quarantine Diary on this blog. That night, I noticed how much energy I had. I was excited about my new writing project. I was, for once, not completely wiped out. It was hard to get to sleep that night. I couldn’t wait to wake up and write again. Ahhh, I sighed. So this is what I’m meant to be doing right now.

Old habits die hard, though. I wrote frantically for the next two weeks, squeezing in time before and after work and parenting. In the evenings, my husband would call up the stairs, “Am I going to see you tonight?” After bottling up my words for so long, I had no shortage of ideas, until very recently. Yesterday morning, I mined the well in my mind and came up dry. I wasn’t overly worried. Something would bubble up before the day was done.

I turned my attention to my tarot deck. I don’t know how to say that it feeling like a hard left turn or without sounding like a flake, so I’ll just acknowledge it and move on: I have a tarot practice. Usually, I just draw a card for the day without thinking asking a specific question, but yesterday I asked, “What is the next right thing in regards to my writing?” I pulled the four of arrows, or swords. From the guidebooks: “Rest and sleep are vital to restore stamina and vitality.” “It is not a weakness to require rest at times.” “This card may also be advising you to keep some new idea to yourself.” The imagery of the card blatantly subverts the ethos of “I’ll rest when I’m dead” and warns instead “Rest now, or you last long.” Sometimes tarot is so on the nose it’s annoying.

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I’ll admit I could stand to wrote more sustainably, and that I probably should if I want to keep doing. And, fine, since the tarot insists (okay, okay, invites), I’ll grudgingly admit that it’s not just the work or the running or the writing that’s wearing me down. My whole life has been an existential sprint from one thing to the next, from college to law school to big law to marriage to parenthood to homeownership. You might think I slowed down when I got sober, but I didn’t, I just changed directions. That’s when I started waking up at I’ve been at 5:00 am to pray and meditate and exercise. When I slept in, inadvertently or intentionally, I felt like a lazy piece of shit. My discipline in matters both physical and spiritual was not just a point of pride, but a matter of life and death in my mind. If I let go of my vice grip on my schedule, what else would slip?

These days, there’s no reason to wake up that early. Work is slow. Running is slower. I have nowhere to go. What if I slept in? What if I took it easy? What if I stopped running, kept eating, and put on five pounds? What would my life feel like if I ran but not a marathon, if I wrote but not a book, if I worked without trying to impress people, if I parented without trying to be the best, if I gave up my endless quest to achieve? I think it might feel like waking up after a good night’s sleep.

Quarantine Diary Day 54

What are we wearing these days? For the first two weeks, I was still reaching for things that you put on a hanger in the closet. You know, blouses and button downs and cardigans and slacks. Work clothes. When it dawned on me that nobody I know in a professional capacity was going to see my lower body for a very long time I switched to jeans, but kept the work shirts because the threat of spontaneous home invasion via Skype, Zoom, and Teams loomed large. But the video calls did materialize in the numbers I thought they might. And when they did, I was startled to realize that it is not a forgiving head and shoulders shot that people see, but rather an unfiltered image of my whole head that dominates the screen. When the weather shifted a few weeks ago, I realized I have a whole drawerful of perfectly good baggy t-shirts and tanks just begging for their time in the sun. My whole professional life I’ve mourned the fact that I can’t just wear a fifteen year old raggedy concert tee to work, and now that time is here. So, these days I wear t-shirts to work, and oversized housecoats, because that’s the kind of future crazy old lizard lady I am. I gave up bras years ago, so nothing’s changed there except for any residual guilt I might have had about, well, you know. As yet unclear as to the next time I’ll have to appear in court or take a client to dinner or speak at a conference, I packed away my suits. And if you’re worried about weekdays blending indistinguishably into weekends, don’t. Remember we’re not leaving the house on weekends, either. They are, therefore, suitable for athleisure and by athleisure I mean full body sweatsuits. There’s still the matter of the ultra closeups of my face and head, but I can’t do anything about the fact that the pixie cut I was so stoked about in November is growing out into a floofy triangle and it’s not like I’m about to start wearing makeup now. I don’t think it’s too much to ask the people who have to look at my face to look at it the way I do every morning, which is to say, with admiration and appreciation and understanding that this is just how I look. Now, I know I had a head start on my sartorial unschooling, having left my office job over a year before social distancing started, but still, I’m eager to see what happens to professional mores if work from home continues for much longer. I hope we all go feral.

 

Quarantine Diary Day 53

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In January 2019, I walked away from an offer of partnership at the law firm where I’d worked for seven years.

I traded the tenure-like job security of equity partnership at an established firm to become an at-will employee, and the most junior attorney at a six-person firm.

I downsized from a fancy office in downtown Chicago to a shared workspace in an industrial part of town where I had a month-to-month lease and logged in to connect with my new coworkers, who were mostly all remote.

I gave up the prestige of a traditional firm with a storied history to join a progressive, woman-owned boutique with an alternative compensation structure and a niche practice area.

I gave up 40% of my salary. 

Partnership at a law firm was not the plan when I went to law school or when I graduated or when I accepted my first job offer or even when I started working at the firm that would become my home. I stuck it out through the grueling associate years, paying my dues, because I liked the people and I liked the work and I was good at it. When it became apparent that I was on the partner-track, and that I had what it took to be successful (i.e., manage cases and bring in business), I figured I’d be there for the rest of my career. That was the model. Most of the partners I worked for had been there for ten, twenty, thirty years.

The prospect of partnership was, on one hand, a relief. I graduated from law school at the height of the recession. Former classmates of mine are still underemployed, a decade later. I was lucky to get a job in private practice, one that paid well, but being an associate is like an eight-year job interview. I spent most of it anxious and afraid.

As much as I craved security, the notion that I’d spend the next 35 years working at the firm was, on the other hand, panic-inducing. I couldn’t put together an image of it in my mind that wasn’t bleak. The trouble was, I knew that law firms didn’t get much better than the one I was at. Like I said, the people were good, and so was the work. I was well-paid. My work-life balance was miles better than my peers at other firms. I knew I could stay as long as I wanted and be pretty happy. 

When I left the law firm I shocked myself. The reasons I left are manifold and beyond the scope of this post but suffice it to say that I discussed them ad nauseum with almost every person I know and, in the course of those discussions, one point kept rising to the surface: the new job might not work out over the long-term. As much as I wanted it to, and as much evidence as I had that it probably would, I had to admit and accept that I might not be at the new job in five years, or even one. I had to give up the dream of security.   

The only way I was able leave behind the kind of security the law firm gave me is because having the rest of your life mapped is its own kind of death. Certainty in a future you didn’t choose is another, as is certainty in a future you know you don’t want. Walking away from that kind of security was like setting myself free. 

I left the law firm terrified and excited for the future. I thought everything would change. Imagine my surprise then, when the first thing I noticed about my new job was how easy the transition was. The nature of my clients and my work, the fact that I was good at it, all of that stayed the same.

What did shift dramatically were my feelings about my job. I was happier, less anxious about the future. Stepping into uncharted territory was not, it turned out, like stepping off a cliff. True, I did not know what would happen in a year, but I knew what I would be doing for the next few weeks and I was excited about it. Embracing the uncertainty freed me from my fears about the future so that I could enjoy the present. 

The security of the law firm was, of course, an illusion. The law firm I left ceased to exist the same day I started my new job, which is when it merged with, folded up into, another firm. If I’d stayed, I would have joined the new, larger entity as a non-equity partner, not so different from an at-will employee. The big salary was only guaranteed for one year. It turned out that what I was leaving behind wasn’t so different from what I was walking into. 

I have been at the new job for a year and a quarter now. There have been some shake-ups, some twists and turns, in that time but I’m still here. Every time something like that happens, my boss checks in with me. “How are you doing? I know this isn’t what you signed up for.” My response is always the same: “I knew what I was getting into. This is exactly what I signed up for.” 

Now, with the all the upheaval from the global pandemic, the future is hazier than ever. Will we have a vaccine? Will my daughter go back to school for second grade? Will my elderly relatives survive? Will I see my parents and siblings and nieces and nephews this year? What will happen with my job? Will our clients still need us? Will my firm still need me? At one point, all this uncertainty would have been too much to bear, would have made me a veritable flight risk from my own life. At the moment, though? I’m doing okay. I might not know what I’m doing next year or even next month, but I know what I’m doing today, and I’m excited about it. I’m okay in the harder moments, too, because I know that the future never was clear, not even before COVID-19 came along and fogged up all our windows. Today was all we ever had. 

Quarantine Diary Day 52

A few years ago my husband and I tried to rescue a dog, a short-legged long-bodied lil’ tough guy with the face of a lab and the broad chest of a bully breed. He’d made his way to Chicago by way of kill shelter in Alabama and somewhere en route the name on his papers changed from Studley to Study. Stupidly, we brought our then three-year-old to the rescue to meet him and she fell in love.

We brought Study home knowing he had separation anxiety and having a sense that it could be pretty bad but committed to doing whatever it took to welcome him into our family. The first time we left him home, for maybe an hour tops, he tore the doorframe to shreds he was so scared. We hired the best trainer in Chicagoland who gave us a system she all but guaranteed would cure him. The only problem was that we couldn’t leave Study home alone for even one minute a day until he was ready, a point that could be weeks or even months away.

We worked the separation anxiety protocols for months, eventually building up to being able to leave him for 45 minutes, at least during the training sessions. During the months leading up to that point we stayed home. My husband and I took turns leaving the house to run errands or get some exercise. I took our daughter to church alone on Sunday mornings and ducked out of services early to be home in time for my husband to get to the last gym class of the day. While I was at work, my husband had to drive our daughter to her preschool, only half a mile away, because Study had to come with them. Because the preschool required parents to drop their kids off in the classroom, they couldn’t walk. The only option was to leave Study barking his head off in the car for five minutes and hope he didn’t hurt himself. For five months, except for walks with the dog, we only left the house as a family a handful of times, to celebrate my husband’s birthday or take our annual trip downtown for the Christmas market, each time dropping Study off at doggie daycare at $35 a pop. We didn’t mind spending the money. What we couldn’t handle was spending the day sick with worry that Study was scared or anxious or otherwise not okay when he was out of our sight. We stopped taking him when he threw up hard black plastic and we discovered that the daycare had been crating him during “nap time” against our instructions. Study had resorted to trying to eat his way out through the tray at the bottom of the kennel.

The same week that Study graduated to 45 minutes at home alone without panicking, Study bit someone, a friend visiting from out of town. The next day, Study bit him again. Study had been uneasy with people in our house since the beginning, sometimes barking from beginning to end of a visit from a friend, a babysitter, or even the trainer. Because of the separation anxiety, we couldn’t put him upstairs or downstairs or in a other room. So, we stopped inviting people over. Study had also begun lunging at dogs and people, snarling and barking, when we took him outside, so except for solitary walks, we’d stopped taking him out to parks and other public places.

After the bite, we called the trainer and shifted gears from separation anxiety to fear-based aggression. The trainer gave us more protocols, but no promises that they would work. We would need to acclimate Study to our friends and family over six to twelve carefully-controlled sessions each. We practiced with a few friends, but couldn’t figure out how it would work with our families and many friends who live out of state and visit not infrequently, or how we could safely allow other kids, our neighbors and our daughter’s friends into our house.

As hard as the last five months had been, we loved Study. He was part of our family. We spent our days training and playing and walking with him. At night we cuddled him on the couch. Our daughter adored him and he adored her. We knew he would never harm a hair on the head of any of the three of us. We loved him so much that we seriously considered how we could make it work: a life in which we could not leave the house and in which nobody else could come in. Eventually, we realized, that was hardly a life at all, and not fair or what we wanted for our daughter. With broken hearts, we gave Study back to the shelter, and prayed that he would be okay. In what was surely the best possible turn of events, the family that had fostered Study before he came to us–a young couple with no kids and with another dog to keep Study company–offered to take him back. Not too long after that, they adopted him. We failed to rescue Study, but he found his forever family anyway.

Three years later, everybody who didn’t already have a dog is fostering or adopting a fluffy puppy or an adorable mutt and we are–to our dog-obsessed daughter’s chagrin–still without any pets at all. It is not lost on us that Study would have been the perfect quarantine pet. Indeed, here we are, living a life in which we do not leave the house and in which nobody else comes in. It is not fair or what we wanted for our daughter. Still, I can see that our initial assessment–that such a life would hardly be worth living–was wrong. Our new life may be being lived out in close quarters with little family, but it is not small, and it is not time wasted. Those five months at home with Study built us, made us solid. We worked together to solve a problem, to weather a hard time, to make an impossible decision, and to move through grief. These next five or ten or twenty or however many months at home with each other will see us growing still, already a forever family.

Quarantine Diary Day 49

For most of our relationship, my husband and I were brunch people. This is a claim I make knowing full well it tells you next to nothing about us. After all, who, if pressed, can deny the appeal of brunch? Brunch offers indulgence for any palate at a variety of price points. Brunch works will work with whatever social structure you are embedded in, your gang of drunk girlfriends, your church group, your grandparents. Brunch is a European vacation at the end of a long American workweek, with American portions. What I’m saying is, brunch is basic, but it is basic for a reason.

As brunch people, we went out for brunch almost weekend. Among the many reasons we loved brunch:

Brunch is perfect for young parents because there is bottomless coffee plus your kids can scream pretty loudly and probably no one will notice.

Brunch is perfect for homebodies because you can be home before noon and still feel like you got out there and did something fun.

Brunch is perfect for people with complicated relationships with booze because you have the option of drinking a little or a lot early in the day but it’s not mandatory.

Brunch is perfect for people with social anxiety because it has a defined start and end and also you can always talk about the brunch.

If brunch is for jerks, we are the worst. Sadly, in recent years we gave up our habit. I can’t say for sure why. I could blame the worst aspects of the institution of brunch–long lines, crowded dining rooms, and expensive checks, but we were undeterred by those for so long that it wouldn’t be accurate. If I had to point to one deciding factor I would say it’s that we got pretty good at serving excellent breakfasts at home. Pancakes, waffles, french toast, breakfast sandwiches, eggs any way you like, avocado toast, sweet potato hash, over-the-top oatmeal. Four beverages per person, minimum: coffee, bubbly water, juice, tea. As our family life got increasingly busy, indulging at home in our jammies was just more appealing.
Early this year I got a hankering for real brunch, consisting of both savory and sweet, made and served by someone that wasn’t me. It kept not happening, though. Every Saturday morning I came home from a long desperately hungry, my husband had already signed up for a morning class at the gym. Every Friday night my husband asked, “Are you going to want to get brunch tomorrow?” I stupidly said “No.” I don’t know why. I suspect that at some point during our brunch hiatus I had come to think of breakfast at home as morally superior. Look at us, saving money, cooking our own food, eating vegetables. Brunch was for the morally weak. The last time I turned down brunch on a Friday, I regretted it before 7:00 am on a Saturday. I was finishing up my run, a 14 miler, and I was so hungry. I told my running group, “I’ve made a huge mistake.”
That was in March. Since then, I’ve eaten every breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, and coffee at home and I’ve come to see the error of my ways. There is no virtue in denying ourselves the things we love. When this is all over, I swear to the gods of all that is good in this life (Demeter and Dionysus, think) that I will never say no to brunch again. I’m over this hearth and home business (sorry Hestia).