Learning to Parent a Teen: Stage 1, Managing Stress

So far, I think the three to six months stage of childhood is still my favorite. The boys slept through the night by then and smiled by day. That’s it. Pee, poop, eat, snuggle, sleep….repeat.  Then they grow taller and bigger and much bigger until they tower over you at 6 feet and laugh that you “look old” when you sit on the love seat to read a book.

Now the eldest is fourteen and the world has changed significantly. The “development” books tell you that kids this age look to their peers more than their parents, but none of the books I read have any section on “kids become completely immersed in their digital connection with other kids until their parents become irrelevant and nonexistent.”

And none of the books addressed how to help kids understand that they are woefully lacking in their medical knowledge. That the other teens with whom they communicate regularly are also lacking in medical knowledge. And that answering “It’s fine” every time your mother asks, “How’s your foot?” is just not adequate when she finally sees that the foot does not in fact look FINE to her (you know, the pediatrician!).

Super Tall Guy got a splinter in his right foot at least 2 weeks ago. He’s been “fine.”  He does not, in fact, want to go to the doctor, much less leave the house. He does not need anything for it. He does not have a problem walking. And, he definitely does not want to go get the splinter out the evening that I was entirely free of meetings or boys’ sports. But when I woke him up for school the next morning and he rolled over and said, “Can you take me to the doctor?” I immediately in my mind rearranged what I thought the day would hold….and off we went. Because if his brain has finally opened up a little mental space to push himself out of his comfort zone, that’s the window I need to grab.

Four hours later, a one-centimeter sliver of wood literally sprang out of his foot with some pressure. Too embarrassed for crutches, Super Tall Guy hobbled out of the emergency room and proclaimed himself unable to walk for two days.

For a teen with social anxiety, this pandemic ever-shifting landscape has been the complete opposite of his craving for consistency. The ever-shifting in-person learning versus remote learning has thrown off his ability to focus. I track the school attendance on a separate calendar and have noticed that this 8th grader has not been in school for five days in a row for the past month. And some of that is him either texting me in the middle of the night (my phone on “do not disturb” and I find texts in the morning) or waking up with “I don’t feel good” complaints that prohibit school.  Vague symptoms. Odd symptoms. Could it be COVID symptoms? Could it be, as I told him one day, “You know, when you are stressed sometimes your body can feel sick or not right.”  “Well, I don’t want to be stressed,” was his reply. Clearly you are, though, buddy.

Purple bars are days at least one kid has not been in school! Each has had a quarantine. Both school buildings have closed for two days. Boys have been “sick.” Blue dot – Me home CELEBRATING!

Clearly the household has been under quite a bit of stress. We are all dealing with the stress in very different ways. I have writing out my irritations and my jigsaw puzzles. The younger boys run around outside with the neighbor boys and consume too much screen time and food! The teen seems to be centering it in his body. The six-year old dog sleeps all day. 

The puppy? Well, the puppy accidentally locks herself into the teen’s room after apparently following sweet-to-dog smells….panics that she can’t get out and proceeds to destroy the door!!!

And you would have thought she learned after she probably spent four hours freaked out in the room….but no, two days later as I took the boys to school, she went in there again! This time, the carpet was her nemesis. On the other hand, perhaps it is I who should have learned about puppies and stress….

Guess I have new plans for the weekend – let’s see how that hard wood floor looks under that teen-stained, dog-destroyed carpet!!

PS, the photo is so blue because apparently teens can only sleep, breathe, exist in LED lighting. Who knew?

Learning to parent teens….one day at a time….

Open Letter to My Sons’ School

Dear School Board and Administration,

Do you not understand how thoroughly exhausting this is? How every single day of my life is now shaped by your decisions to constantly alter the course of my children’s schooling?

The phone rings. A recorded message informs me that my two middle-school sons will now be “remote learning” for the next two days. My brain begins its mental gymnastics (again). I begin to process what the new morning routine will look like, adjusting timings to get one kid to school and two kids logging in. My brain strums through what meetings I have to coordinate for the day and what changes we will make for the next couple days.

My brain is constantly reading, processing and filtering emails from the school. This building is now closed. A case was reported in your son’s school, but your child does not have to quarantine. A case was reported in your son’s class but your son is not deemed a close contact so you can choose whether or not you want to keep your kid home in quarantine to do remote learning or to send them to school. Because this building is now closed, your son’s basketball practice has now moved to tomorrow at 8:30 instead of today at 7:30, but the other boy’s swim practice is now shifted to Saturday to allow for….

I take a sip of wine….

Because I don’t know how else to cope with the relentless stress. The constantly changing schedules. The pervasive uncertainty. The steady level of worry of exposure to COVID or the chance of one of us getting sick. The struggle to maintain some semblance of education and growth for the boys while balancing limited social contacts and the boys’ mental health.

Is it a “he’s tired” headache or a COVID headache? Does his belly hurt because he’s hungry or he’s sick? Is there a fever? Was that a cough? Do I send him to school or keep him home? Test him or wait it out? Do I call the school nurse or fill out an absence form or ask to make him remote…..or just say to hell with it?!?!

Do you not understand how tired and stressed we parents are as we try to understand the ever-shifting “guidelines” and “procedures” in this school district? As we try to figure out whether your guidance even makes sense based on data and science? As we struggle with the basic knowledge that we can not and have not been able to trust our community leaders to make the right decision?

I take a sip of wine….

I have spent the last couple weeks starting every email with “I apologize for my delay in responding.” Sometimes I attempt humor (“my kid left the garage door open and the pipes froze; I’ve been a bit distracted”). Sometimes I am honest and confess that I’m stressed and I’ve lost track of…well, of life. Sometimes I just move right along and answer the question I should have answered last week as if there weren’t seven days missing in there.

I’ve nicknamed myself “Last-minute Lynne.” My work is done the night before or it’s late. There’s no in-between. There is no staying on top of things. There is no managing anymore. Balls have dropped. Back-burner heat went out long ago. The to-do list got so long I’ve lost the first couple pages….

There is no relief in sight. Just constant worry. New COVID variants. New guidelines on masking. New impeachment trials and messy politics. New weather patterns and slippery roads. New research and new opinions. New vaccine roll-outs and new stimulus ideas. New evidence of health inequity and disparity. New, more, different, sudden, changing, insidious, good-luck-coping-with-this-curve-ball stress.

I take a sip of wine….

I’m a physician. I trained under a great deal of stress and experience stress at work which I can manage. But this stress is different and sneaks through my coping tactics. And, as a physician, I know that this chronic, ever-shifting stress is taking a toll on me. It’s taking a toll on my family as I waffle between fatigue and irritability. It’s taking a toll on health and on productivity. It’s taking a toll on my community and my city. It’s taking a toll on our country and across the world.

Dear school board and administrators, please decrease our stress.

Sincerely,

A very tired parent.

Cheers.

Celebrating Joy

It sure has been a hard “season” of life lately. A season which has dragged on much longer than we expected when the world took a pause in March 2020. As we continued to wrestle with how to change almost every aspect of our lives, approaching the holidays in the fall brought out a lot of emotions.

There were no gatherings….no Cookie Day….no big Christmas dinner…no parties…. Despite the stress of gift-buying and trying to make Christmas day “special,” overall the seasons seemed quiet. I personally enjoy the slower-pace, but I sometimes felt guilty about not doing more for the boys. No travel. No ice-skating. Plenty of sled-riding opportunities arose though, as well as snow-shoveling.

The last weekend before school started again, a neighbor friend texted a video of the “explosion cake” she and her daughter had just made. Mr. Ornery said, “Wow, I hope we get a piece of that!” when I showed it to him right before bed. Waking up the next morning, he stood in front of me with the silliest, most excited smile, “Today we get a slice of that cake!” which was followed a couple seconds later with, “Let’s make our own.”

That’s all it took. After trying to think through all the steps during my shower, I called my friend and asked for the general directions. Brilliantly, she offered to drop off not only a couple slices of her cake, but the cake pans, circle cutter and neon food coloring for us to use. We got to work and over the course of a day, we had created a six-layer rainbow cake with candy in the middle. Mr. Ornery held it on his lap as we drove over to show it to the cousins. Gathering the boys in a crowd, we sliced through the cake and watched with joy as candy spilled out.

As Facebook replaces quite a bit of the in-person connections void, I shared the photos and video. A friend asked, “What’s the occasion for that cake?” Pausing after reading her comment, I responded with the first thing that popped in my head, “We’re celebrating Joy.”

Celebrating being in the moment. Celebrating spontaneity. Celebrating an activity that brought brothers together. Celebrating the eagerness to share joy with cousins. Celebrating that we have each other, we have a home and food. Celebrating friends who drive in the rain to drop off supplies. Celebrating the gift of time when activities have paused and the craze of life slowed down.

This season has been long and hard. Wrestling with the uncertainty of a dangerous pandemic, the trauma of continued racism in our country, and a growing division spurred by politics and lies and misinformation has been truly exhausting. Top that with single parenting three wild and wonderful boys through remote learning and the usual trials of training up sons, and it is important to find moments to Celebrate Joy.

So, to celebrate the fact that my son’s COVID test came back negative, I’m grabbing a slice of Godiva cheesecake tonight (for after they go to bed and I have quiet time and sole control over the remote!)

To celebrate the beauty of finding two passionate women to join me in leading a team to create our region’s first crisis nursery, Jeremiah’s Place, we have formed a “Founder’s Day” coming up February 4th to sponsor the cost of keeping the center open for a day.

And the biggest celebration of this year happened January 20th when we turned back toward civility and morality and empathy. We elected a woman to the Vice Presidency for the first time and listened to the wise words of a young poet in a day filled with Joy for so many.

May we continue to Celebrate Joy in all the moment we can possibly capture.

Broken and yet….

 

Broken

Too tired

Just done.

 

Lonely

I miss

Hugs

 

Pandemic

Death

Denial

 

Confuses

This

Physician

 

Individual

Rights

Selfishness

 

Makes

Me eager

For change

 

Vaccine

Hope

This is our shot.

 

Waiting

For mine.

 

Waiting

For Change

Working

For Change

Waiting for Peace, Joy,

Hope, Love.

And loving

puppy dog

tails.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Traditions in the Year of COVID

Two years ago when I walked into this house, I knew it would work for my family. Actually, the most important thing was that I knew it would work for me – because I knew the kitchen was big enough to host the annual Cookie Day in December. A tradition dating back since I graduated from college, it had moved to Pittsburgh and I was determined to host Cookie Day.

But this year is the year of COVID. The year when traditions have been upended. The year when we can’t figure out what’s happening from one day to the next and find it almost impossible to plan anything.

This year it’s the weekend before Thanksgiving and I walk around the house feeling sad and trying to come to grips with the fact that being responsible in the time of a viral case surge means making some hard changes.  This includes coming to grips with the fact that my parents will have a quiet small Thanksgiving at their home, rather than my mom bustling around in my kitchen with pies in the oven and sweet potatoes on the stovetop. COVID means that the boys have switched to remote schooling and I’m struggling with how to be patient with their constant interruptions as I try to maintain enough stream of thought for my own work. It also means that it would not be a good year to host Cookie Day. Blah.

But it’s coming up on Christmas. A season of great joy. A season of gathering. A season of sharing love with others. As the emotions of Christmas season start to rise, it’s hard to think of being apart and not engaging in all usual gatherings. It’s hard to think about not having parties and meals together. To not have the extended family come visit. To possibly not sing out “Silent Night” with lit candles at the traditional Christmas Eve service at church.

Saturday morning, Mr. Ornery skipped into the kitchen and exclaimed, “I’m starting to get the vibe of Christmas.” Starting a batch of chocolate chip cookies, I said, “Okay….Alexa, play Christmas music.”

That’s all it took. Mr. Ornery began cleaning up the family room and before I knew it, we were dragging the tree from the garage and he was stringing lights everywhere. Tradition has it that we start decorating the day or weekend after Thanksgiving. Tradition has it that we don’t mix the holidays. Tradition has been there’s no tree before turkey.

But traditions have gone out the window this year of COVID. Easter was a live-streamed church service and spontaneously hiding eggs in other people’s yards. The Little Guy’s birthday was a drive-by parade of cars after the firetrucks squawked through the neighborhood. Independence Day was a small group of friends lighting fireworks in their cul-de-sac. And for the first time in so many years, Labor Day weekend was just another couple days at home rather than the sights and smells of the Great Geauga County Fair.

I opened the flue and Mr. Ornery carried up some logs for the season’s first fire. A strand of twinkling lights were hung in front of the orange pumpkins on the mantle. The younger boys put (obnoxious) blinking multi-colored lights on the Christmas tree and I just left it as they placed them rather than correcting the spacing or stringing my preferred white lights. This year, we let the Christmas “vibe” come early. We let “Silent Night” stream through the house. We let Super Tall Guy break into smile at the glow of lights around every window and doorway in the family room. And we invited my sister’s family (our extended COVID “household”) for a spontaneous mish-mash dinner of shrimp, crab legs and fondue (traditionally the New Year’s Eve feast).

Because why not?

This year, we find new traditions. We find new ways of being “together.” We find new ways of working and learning. We find new ways of self-care and coping. We find new ways of appreciating those working the frontlines of the stores and services and hospitals. We find new ways of connecting and growing and thriving. We find new ways to experience peace, comfort and love. (And, I might need to find a new way for the Cookie Day tradition – like Zoom!)

This year…..there’s a little spark of Christmas Hope and Joy mixed with the Gratitude of Thanksgiving.

Shhh….don’t tell anyone 🙂

Pandemic Puppy’s First Christmas

Cry over what Matters

“History has it’s eyes on you” (Hamilton)

A few days after the hamster’s untimely demise, as the usual group of neighbor boys milled around the front yard jumping BMX bikes over ramps and turning tricks on scooters, one boy commented to Mr. Ornery, “Sorry to hear about your hamster.”  I was just returning from walking the dogs and as I neared Mr. Ornery sitting in the grass, he reached over to pet puppy Moka. “Thanks,” he replied. “The black dog did it because blacks kill more than white people.”

You might have heard my head explode depending on your location. The whole neighborhood heard me yell at my son and march him inside where he sat on the bottom step as I continued to rail loudly at him. Doors and windows wide open, the other kids began to sheepishly clean up the yard and head for home.

“I’m sorry, Mom. I’m sorry. I didn’t know what I said.”

And he’s right. He’s eleven and he’s learning. And the world around him is feeding him lies and teaching him to view white as the norm and other shades of color as deviations from the norm. But I have little tolerance anymore for what the world is feeding into my children. For most of my life, I thought I was pretty awesome and aware and sensitive about race and doing things generally right. But I didn’t know what I didn’t know until the unrest this summer helped me identify some of my ignorance and defensiveness. I started reading (White Fragility is hitting me in the soul) and realized it was on me to choose to learn more and do better.

So when #45 stood on the debate stage a few weeks ago and at the moment he asked to strongly condemn white supremacy, he instead asked a white extremist group to “Stand back and stand by,” I wept. Seeing in that moment the pain that this man continues to inflict upon people of color and weeping in that moment that he would dare spur on people who would have no qualms about attacking my three brown-skinned sons. I lay in bed for hours fearful for what is to come in this country. I knew the power of those words. A call to continued racism and discrimination, to violence and use of force, to asserting power and dominance.

Many years ago, a friend passed along some wisdom. Do not get caught up or frustrated or sad about the little things of life, but focus instead on what matters to God – “to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8). Cry over what matters.

I cry because the Earth is crying.

I cry because the people are crying.

I cry because the oppressed are crying.

I ache for the plight of the poor as millions more Americans fall into poverty while the millionaires in Congress avoid economic relief packages. My patients that I see every week are struggling and stressed and running out of resources.

I cry over senseless killings of people of color and the injustice that follows. I honor those in law enforcement who balance a difficult job without the right resources and training and improvements can be made. But it is time to recognize that Black Lives Matter means that at this moment in our history, it’s time to work towards true acceptance and dignity and honor and equal resources and opportunities for all people of color. That is why people march. Because this is our moment. To be the change.

I weep as I see infants separated from their parents knowing the stress from that trauma writes itself into the rest of their lives. Adverse childhood experiences leave lasting consequences. Thus, I cry for the lack of compassion in matters of immigration that leads to pain and trauma rather than working on policy changes and solutions.

And I cry for the families of 217,000 people (and counting) who died by a virus knowing that more could have been done to save people. Grandparents, parents and so many more would still be alive had this country received clear leadership and strategy out of the White House rather than mockery, dismissal and pressuring experts to change their guidance. Our leaders have “taken a crisis and turned it into a tragedy” (NEJM, 2020) and too many people have died.

And I continue to cry as the current president continues to incite violence and domestic terrorism and unease about democracy. The division, the anger, the hate tears at my soul and I find myself in a perpetual state of stress as we press on toward the election.

In all this stress and all this pain that I witness, I mostly cry as I struggle to figure out how to relate to family and friends who do not “see” the ways that the president, in words and actions, jeopardizes the very life and future of my family and my precious sons. In 2020, it is not about politics or taking “sides,” it is about love and humanity and decency. It is about protecting the lives of my boys and so many other people.

Depending on which version of the Bible one is reading, Isaiah 1:17 calls on us to “defend the oppressed” or “rebuke the oppressor” (NIV vs. New King James). I am committed to spending my days doing both. This week I took the biggest step I could by casting my ballot to vote out the evil that plagues us and begin to shape a more unified and peaceful society. I sent letters and postcards to encourage others to take a stand against power and greed and white superiority.

I cry because it matters.

Take my tears, Lord, and guide my steps to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly.

Be the Change that you want to see in the World.

“Worst Kid Day Ever”

Some days are just not your day.

We started with the usual remote learning chaos. “Mom, this program keeps kicking me off the live session with the teacher.” “Mom, this app doesn’t work that I’m supposed to do a quiz on.” “Mom, I can’t open this file.” “Mom…..mom…..mom…..

And that was the first hour, before the middle guy said, “I feel like I’m going to throw up” and rapidly barfed all over the couch before I could blink and run for a garbage can. In my very “supportive” (NOT) Mommy way, I suggested sternly that he could have run to a sink, bathroom, kitchen….anything!!  “Oh, I’m sorry you’re feeling bad, honey,” I apologized profusely several times as I google how to get vomit out of a couch (no, I don’t have club soda; yes, I’ve used up all the baking soda on the couch now so I won’t be baking for you for awhile!!)

Back upstairs to try to get a work project done amid multiple interruptions when I hear, “Mom, Moka got a rat.”  It was not a rat. It will be a long time before the image of the escaped hamster (and stains on the carpet) leave my brain.  After hugging a sobbing pet-owner and sending him off to the living room, I scooped up the poor animal and tossed it. A few minutes later, I had to secretly retrieve poor “Scarlett” and wrap her in pink tissue paper and put her in a “nice” box to bury in the hole that said puppy loves to dig in the front yard. We held a short funeral service where I cried as I prayed for the hamster in Heaven.

Back upstairs to work, just to be called down again for some school issue, but also the need to run to the local grocery store to buy flowers for the burial site. It was a bit for the 11-year-old to explain without many words the purpose of the flowers to the inquisitive cashier. But we stuck them in the ground (where they kept falling over and we decided they looked better that way anyway).

Back upstairs to keep working on that presentation while fielding multiple tech issues and issuing multiple reminders of what time it was and what “class” the boys should be logging in to next. Finally, went to the school to pick up my nephew and drop him and The Little Guy off at my sister’s so I could have a nice evening out with a friend. Mumblings at the school pick-up zone informed me of an email about a COVID case at the elementary school. Trying to show this email to my sister a little later as I dropped off the boys brought to my attention a general email from the middle school….followed by a direct email “To the Family of Mr. Ornery” – your student may have been exposed to a student with coronavirus and should quarantine and stay home from school for 14 days.

At this point, I’m now in a calm panic mode. This is the kid who vomited this morning (a minor COVID sign). This is the kid who had a headache and mild sore throat 3 days ago (minor symptoms). So, this is the kid who now was dragged into the local urgent care for COVID testing because his mom just had to have an answer (particularly because of possible exposures to other kids in the neighborhood).

The rapid test after miserable nasal swabs was negative. The PCR test after a really miserable nasopharyngeal swab “that tickles your brain” will come back tomorrow or the next day. The poor, brave young man survived all this. Two hours later, as he sucks on the straw of a cookie crumble frappuchino from Starbucks (nice Mommy), Mr. Ornery reflects, “This has been my worst ever kid day, hasn’t it?” Yes, buddy, it sure has.

But you’ve still had moments of smiles in between tears.

You’ve had moments of fun in between frustration.

You’ve had moments of joy in between discomfort.

You’re going to have some hard days and some days will be harder than today.

But you have a sweet, tender heart to sustain you.

You have amazing friends to encourage you.

And you have a mom who will cry right along with you (especially when you need a moment to lay beside the grave and say good bye to your little dwarf hamster friend before bed…and I watch you through the closed door weeping within).

I’m here right with you, buddy.

Always.

The Impossible Decision Regarding COVID Schooling

My family made it through three months of hardly any academic progress when the quarantine for the COVID pandemic started. Teachers tried their best to rapidly convert to remote learning and parents tried their best to survive kids suddenly home, remote learning, continued work and the weight and stress of uncertainty. Then we walked through three months of summer which was spent mostly in trying to “feel” like life could be slightly “normal” again but still not engaging life quite fully. My repetitive phrase for any activities, trips or events the boys wanted this summer was, “Not this year, honey….because of COVID….”

Suddenly and all too soon for my brain and heart, the boys were to start school. Suddenly I was asked to make a choice between two options that weren’t sitting well with either my heart or my brain.

Every day for most of August, I shifted in my thinking process and in my gut decision. Do you send your most precious beings into a school building with other children in order to benefit them academically, and yet have that sickening feeling that you might be jeopardizing their health by being exposed to COVID-19? Or do you keep them home with a false sense of safety in having “less” exposure, but knowing that they will not receiving much academic instruction by doing cyber schooling while I’m working full-time?

Top this dichotomy off with the fact that I’m making the decision for three vastly different boys receiving special education services. While I’m pretty certain that I cannot work full-time at home while simultaneously coordinating the learning of three boys, I’m particularly certain that I can’t teach kids who have learning challenges. Usually I tell myself that I’m making the best decision I can with the information that I have at the time. In this scenario, it seems that there’s no “best” decision, there’s just a need to make a choice and see what happens.

As I seem to enjoy coping with stress through some humor, a fellow mother and I started a little “shut-down pool” which allows parents to throw in $5 and choose which day the school will announce that the building is closing. Half the money goes to the winner and half goes to a charity.

One of my other challenges for schooling was how to get the 8th grader to switch his backwards day/night schedule. We decided he would start in the Cyber platform as he has enough social anxiety and stress about mask-wearing that staying home seemed to fit his needs better. When I went for a run the second day of drop-off and my first true “space” of no kid responsibility for 6 months, I came home to find the teen sleeping through 2nd and 3rd periods!

My other challenge was how to get Mr. Ornery off his gaming addiction that I had spawned out of necessity of keeping him occupied in the Spring so I could work from home. He made the decision easy for me when his impulsivity got the best of him and he spent hundreds of dollars in contribution to Epic Games. The X-box now lives on my bedroom floor.

My third challenge is The Little Guy. He has all the confidence in the world but is likely soon going to be hit with the reality of how far behind he is academically compared to his peers. His teachers had been keeping an eye on him and providing some supports, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a shock as he settles back into school.

So on the eve of the First Day of School, I realized that we were all not quite ready. We managed to get haircuts, but not much attention paid to back-to-school clothing. I managed to buy a few school supplies, but didn’t even bother with the “recommended lists” since the boys will be both in and out of school.  We had the iPads in the chargers, but not really ideal work stations for the days at home. And then there was the mad dash around 11:30 pm to make up a little treat bag (from whatever I could find in the closets) and write a nice “have a great year” note, and find the “My First Day of School” signs (but couldn’t find the erasable liquid markers so Sharpies would have to suffice), and head to bed.

Mr. Ornery and The Little Guy absolutely loved their first two days in school. There were no complaints or discussion about having to be in a mask. No comments at all about how different the school environment was. Only enthusiasm about which kids they recognized. How great the 4th grade teacher is and all the fun things he has planned for the year. How “amazing” the food is in the middle school cafeteria (even though it’s in “to-go” packaging this year). And on their first day of staying home for remote learning, both boys begged to go back to school.

I don’t know what the next few weeks or months will hold. I don’t know how I’ll be feeling about this decision months from now. But for this one week, the joy and excitement about school from two little boys who generally dislike school was worth it. So, bless all the teachers who worked hard to start us all off well. Thank you.

COVID Waiting….

Did you know that the “clock” app on the iPhone has a red second hand that ticks slowly along its course? I watched it the other morning, making its way through time. That’s what I’m doing right now, making my way through time. Time. Time for a neighbor friend’s COVID test result to come back….

There are moments in time when we do really stupid things that we later regret. When we slip up and can’t figure out where our brain was at that moment. Moments like when you bake cookies and decide to deliver them to a neighbor with aging parents just to “check on them.” But you forget that you should not “check on them” inside their house when it is COVID time and you didn’t bring a mask.

For when you “check on them” and spend too much time inside, you meet the definition of “significant exposure.” And if you have significant exposure you find yourself in a “triage protocol” trying to figure out the chances of getting an infection and the guidelines for what to do to prevent the spread of infection. The problem is that you don’t actually fit into the protocol until you know if your neighbor is actually positive for COVID. And to find that out….you have to wait….you have to pass the time.

Passing time waiting for test results is passing time in self-quarantine. What a delightful word. This is different than the “stay at home” that you just finished for two months. This is “stay in your house and don’t even go to the grocery store” type of situation. This is the don’t take your child to the neighborhood pool, don’t take him to his golf lessons, don’t run to get a cup of coffee, don’t move the car from the driveway and just stay home.

This is the beat-yourself-for-being-so-stupid kind of situation. The “you’re a physician, for goodness sakes, you idiot!” kind of situation. The “how could you possibly jeopardize the health of others?!?” kind of situation. The wake up at 3:00 am and beat yourself some more type of situation (It’s not healthy or helpful….but it is what it is….). The apologize profusely to dear friends with whom you came into contact in the first two days type of situation (where you feel embarrassed and awful….and awful and embarrassed).

As much as The Little Guy rarely has a meltdown, he had a meltdown on Day 1. He was sad. He was oh so mad at me. “Why did you do that?” he asked over and over. “I don’t know, buddy,” was all I could say. “I’m so so sorry.”  I wanted to hug him, but I also didn’t want to hug him as my brain kept yelling to stay away from the boys (an impossible scenario). But we made the most of the first day. Because I didn’t drive my car to work that day to see patients, I had more of a sense of being available. I actually said “yes” when he wanted to do an experiment in the kitchen by combining ingredients and spices and anything else he could find (and tasted it and spit it out). And, I said “yes” when he wanted to start power-washing the back deck (though he soon got tired and articulated that it was me who was actually “obsessed with power-washing”). By the end of the day, he remarked that he had had a good day after all.

Day 2, however, was a day when it was possible that the test result could come in and The Little Guy asked me every hour or so whether I had heard anything. It was getting hard to wait and make our way through time….but that’s what we do. I worked, he watched TV, Mr. Ornery and Super Tall Guy continued their video game addiction, and we all waited…. But somehow we were all getting along better and interacting more and enjoying our time. And my heart was heavy for my neighbor who was feeling unwell, stressed about her parents, and waiting ….alone….in her house….waiting….

Pop-up fort

Waiting, though, is tremendously hard on an action-oriented person who likes to have answers. Waiting is hard when you know that some tests come back in 15 minutes, some in 24 hours, some in 8 days (and that it doesn’t have to be this way if we had a coordinated testing system). Waiting is hard when it’s wrapped in the frustration of an inadequate national response to a deadly virus that marches its way through communities causing stress and angst and illness. Waiting is hard…..

Day 3,…..we wait….


Edited to add: At exactly the moment I pushed the “publish” button on WordPress was the moment my phone buzzed…. ” Negative” — Talk about “Time”!

Emerging from the COVID Fog

There were moments on the Jersey Shore a couple weeks ago with such intense fog that we couldn’t see the water from our seats on the sand. We couldn’t see the buildings where our rented house was tucked. We couldn’t see the lifeguard stand holding up trained rescuers. We couldn’t see danger, shelter or safety, but we could see each other.

And each other is who we have seen for the past three solid months during the COVID pandemic. Yes, we have gone for walks in the neighborhood with other people. Yes, we have passed people in the stores. Yes, the boys have played outside with other kids, trying to keep distant and not “sharing” despite years of reprimand to share their toys. But most of our entire human interaction has been within my nuclear family and that of my sister’s.

It was exciting to get away. Everyone was ready. But the weather was awful and uncooperative and full of fog and rain and wind at a steady 15 miles/hour and gusting into the 20s. The beach wasn’t welcoming and the playgrounds and basketball courts were closed. We spent most of our time inside and unlike other vacations, the boys were given plenty of electronic time because the adults were tired and solely focused on resting at the jigsaw puzzle table.

The fog on the shoreline seemed to match the fog of our brains during the shut-down. Time stood still or sped up but we couldn’t figure out what day it was. Work was either too stressful or we couldn’t get to it and that was stressful as well. My kids were suddenly home from school for the entire last quarter of the year, missing their friends and their teachers and completely missing out of academics.

We rallied and did what we had to do to “flatten the curve,” to not overwhelm the capacity of the medical system to care for those who had contracted coronavirus. But after three months, people were tired. Summer had arrived and we were ready to live to again. Escape to the shore offered a chance to change the scenery and start seeing the world in a different light.

One day I noticed that my three guys were standing looking out into the ocean. I’m sure they were just trying to judge the approach of the next wave and were unlikely to be as reflective as I am. I, on the other hand, snapped a quick photo of “my hearts” standing at the crest of the earth, pondering the vastness of the world that seems to go on forever in its steady form and yet is a constantly shifting landscape up close. I doubt they were contemplating the ill-preparedness of our country for the deadly onslaught of COVID-19. They likely were not wrestling with how to dismantle the racist systems that impact their very existence. They probably were wondering what seafood to have for dinner.

The beach week offered a chance to reflect on and talk to the boys about resiliency – the weather is awful, but we can choose to be happy and enjoy the moments we have. Mr. Ornery had started to refer to “bad” things that happened with the phrase, “We’re cursed.” I began to reframe it for him, “Actually, dear, we’re blessed.” We laughed at the ease of pedaling a surrey with the direction of the wind versus the return trip of pushing against it.  We found new activities like burying a yoga ball into the sand to bounce off it like a trampoline. And since the water was unfriendly, the boys finally had time to dedicate to learning to skimboard.

And while the older teens refused to engage in their previous almost daily excursions to Wawa, the local convenience store, because of the mask-wearing requirement, it gave us a chance to talk about responsibility. In a time of spreading virus, we cover our face to protect the health of the community because that is our responsibility as human beings. We could find fun masks to wear. We could laugh about how many times we turned around to run back inside to grab the masks. We could make it work.

And, the week gave us a chance to relax and reflect on the importance of rest. The Lord calls us to rest because He knows it’s important for the human body. We need sleep every day and we need times of rest every week. Rest renews us and heals us. After three months of a country in crisis and shut down, we needed to rest and help ourselves become prepared for the peaks and surges of the virus, for the next challenges we would face, for the next battles we would start to fight on behalf of ourselves and our communities.

While it took a good week to dig out from under the work that piled up in my absence, I felt grateful to have a glimpse of emerging from my COVID fog. I am grateful for the privilege of a job that has allowed me to work at home and provides me with times of rest. I am grateful for the friends and family who have walked beside me in the fog and continue in constant support. And I am grateful for the privilege of sharing my life with three growing boys and sharing the wonder of horseshoe crabs and sand-sharks and brown sharks and turtles and ice cream and parasailing.

May they take that sense of resiliency and responsibility and rest as they continue to look out in wonder and face their huge world.