a year in pandemic-land

Hello! I am alive, and my brain is very, very full. I am not feeling eloquent, but I should write things so I don’t completely forget how to human.

We’ve been mostly at home for a full year.

I ate inside a restaurant for the first time last week, with a friend I hadn’t seen since 2019. It was so good to sit in a public space and chat over food and drinks. The menu was overwhelming. I could have had anything! A sandwich! A panini! Soup!

I ordered…pizza. The thing we’ve had for takeout every other week since the pandemic started.

You see? I have forgotten how to human. Remember travel? Remember unmasked faces? That’s OK, I don’t, either.

I’m studying for a role change at work, which means I wake up thinking about algorithms and Redux. I look at games online and wonder how they’re coded. Then I close my laptop and pick up my paintbrushes.

I’m still experimenting, scratching that creative itch every day. It feels so good to doodle again, to feel that creative energy and the satisfaction of making things. I, a 38-year-old woman, have to resist the urge to show everyone in the house my latest paintings. “See? See what I made?? Look!!” I stop short of hanging my art on the fridge.

Thankfully that’s what Instagram and this blog is for.

Meanwhile, life is creeping toward normalcy. My mom got her first dose of the COVID vaccine this month, and the Maine government suggests Tim and I will be eligible in June. The weather is getting warmer (albeit slowly). We’ve entered the last trimester of school, and will probably send the kids back to in-person schooling in the fall. Tim is interviewing for remote work positions. The eldest is tentatively scheduled to go to camp this summer, and we’re hopeful they’ll open the Canadian border so we can visit the Maritime provinces and have some semblance of a vacation this year.

Things are looking up!

practice makes practice

Winter can be a dull slog, so I’m painting all the flowers in all the pretty colors.

Playing with watercolors after work and during breaks is my new favorite thing. My Animal Crossing island is feeling woefully neglected since I picked up these brush pens. (Also discovered buying watercolor supplies is addictive. So many brushes! So many paints!)

We’re almost finished watching The X-Files for the fifth time (maybe sixth? I don’t really know). We skipped season 9, because I can’t enjoy the series without Mulder. I’d forgotten how *bad* season 10 was.

I also taught myself how to solve a Rubik’s cube! So I can add that to my resumé of useless skills. Like I said, winter is a slog; anything I can do to relieve the brain boredom is a good thing. Which reminds me, time to learn that Animaniacs song about the states and their capitals…

the spark

I picked up some new art supplies on a whim, in hopes it might inspire me to keep up a regular creative routine. I’ve been pretty consistent about sketching or painting on my iPad, but using actual watercolors is a whole new thing. Practicing in Procreate has helped my brush control, though. This was my first watercolor in the new notepad and I was surprised at how well it turned out.

covid celebrations

Christmas was only a little weird with the absence of extended family, but we made it work with Zoom and texting. We stuck to the usual traditions: Spent a little too much, ate a little too much, drank a little too much. It was a nice, relaxed holiday at home.

We also celebrated Ellie’s 12th birthday in December! Holy carp, where did the years go? How did our little bundle of mad cackles and songs turn into such a thoughtful, loving young lady? Well, OK, she’s still full of mad cackles and songs, as evidenced by our New Year’s photos:

It’s rare to catch her without headphones on; watching crafting videos on YouTube or listening to the Stardew Valley soundtrack on repeat, I suspect. She’s caught on to the fact that working from home means wearing a sweatshirt every day so your classmates don’t see you’re still in pajamas. Despite spending most of her 11th year in pandemic hell, she’s still our big girl, our bright-eyed kid.

And I missed Gwen’s birthday back in September; second child syndrome strikes again. Gwen is our wild child with boundless energy, whose every emotion is multiplied tenfold. Of all of us, she’s probably been most deeply affected by COVID. Even though she’s doing well in school, she misses her friends and her freedom. She wants to go places and do things, and our tiny bubble is, well, tiny. She’s found some solace in cooperative games like Animal Jam, and diving deep into the world of Pokémon.

We’re all gaming a lot these days (*cough* Stardew Valley, Among Us, Cards of Darkness, the NYT Spelling Bee, Animal Crossing, and something called Phogs *cough*), with the exception of Tim, who has taken up a mantle of household maintenance. He’s installed a neat and tidy power outlet system for the TV, added smart switches to some of our existing outlets, and had a three-days-long battle with the sink and dishwasher to re-plumb the whole thing, from which he emerged, victorious. That’s worth celebrating, too.

I have a birthday coming up in a few days, and I expect it will be uneventful. Uneventful is a good thing in times like this.

2020 in review

…and I’m so thankful for that “in review” part.

2020 was our lost year. Most days, I feel like I’m still stuck back in March.

In 2020 we missed out on vacations and socialization and time with friends and family. We spent most of our days at home. Our lives were upended in the strangest ways, from not being able to buy toilet paper, to gaining and losing a second income within the span of four months, to schooling our kids from home.

The year was marked by the sacrifices we made to stay COVID-free, and in that, it was a success. It was hard and weird and tiring, but we’re here. We made it. We’re the lucky ones.

It doesn’t feel triumphant, because the pandemic isn’t over, and the staggering losses we personally avoided are still all too real. It feels weird to talk about the books I read or the art I made (or didn’t, more accurately) or the funny things my kids have done in light of that.

But the good things are there, and recognizing them is part of how I survived this pandemic with my sanity intact. I have an amazing family. I have a great job. We’re in a good place to weather this storm.

Some of 2020’s highlights, in no particular order: Spending time at the lake. Watching Hamilton. Bonding over Animal Crossing. Building LEGOs. Lots of walks. Christmas lights. “Fancy” dinners at my mom’s. New comfy clothes. Rewatching The Office and The X-Files. Weeping a little at Kamala Harris’ acceptance speech. Walking along the canals in Amsterdam. Leveling up my development skills. Pandemic baking. Being swept up by new books. Saying a fond farewell to my therapist of seven years. Watching my kid learn to ride a bike.

Despite the tumultuous year, I am leaving 2020 in a good place. I’m not setting any specific resolutions, but there are a couple areas I want to meditate on.

I want to continue to find a clearer sense of direction at work. I need to remember that staying engaged means challenging myself, even when it feels uncomfortable. I need to remember to look at the big picture and keep my professional goals in mind regardless of what I’m working on in the present moment.

I also want to spend more time in nature. I notice I feel better on the days I get outside, even if it’s only for a few minutes and regardless of the weather.

And I want to draw more. I did very little creative work in 2020; the pandemic threw me off track and I never really recovered my rhythm. But I picked up my iPad and have been doodling nonsense since the start of 2021. Maybe this year it’ll stick!

fuck or treat

My kids will always remember this as the year I put a “Fuck or Treat” sign on our front porch. 🙄🤣 “Help yourself!”

It was nice to have Halloween on a Saturday for once. We made and decorated cupcakes, and Tim set up a candy scavenger hunt in lieu of trick or treating.

The kids dressed up, but I forgot to take photos. They raided our costume collection and made do with some old robes to become an imp (Gwen) and a devil (Ellie). After the festivities, we settled in to play Animal Crossing and watch Beetlegeuse.

And now it’s November, and the election is upon us. It’s been a wild few months, and I’m ready for the year to end. Work is busier than usual, school is A Lot, and political anxiety is a thing. The holidays are coming up, and while it will be nice to have a break, I’m missing my non-immediate family and wishing we could see them over more than a Zoom call.

And then there’s the pandemic, always looming. Cases are on the rise again. We continue to do our part by going out as little as possible and masking up when we do. The kids are managing remote learning OK, although it’s not their favorite thing, it’s definitely more structured than it was last spring. It’s put a lot of pressure on Tim, but we’re lucky he’s able to focus primarily on school; I don’t know how we’d manage if he had a full-time job, too.

I signed off Twitter and Facebook for a bit, mostly because they’re a time-suck, partly because politics are draining enough without having to-the-second updates about what idiotic thing our president has said, and partly because I watched The Social Dilemma and I’m tired of being a slave to the almighty notification bell. I check in once a week to see if anyone has messaged me, and I’m still posting to Instagram, but I’ve noticed my work days are much more productive. (The irony of my working for a social media company is not lost on me.)

Apparently it’s been over two months since I posted anything, so here’s a gallery of goings-on since September.

day “who knows”

And what a strange summer it’s been. Hard to believe it’s almost over; there’s already a little chill in the air in the evenings.

A close family friend gave us free reign to swim at her camp, so we’ve spent many weekend hours by the lake. This has been a lifesaver in so many ways; getting my kids to play outside is like pulling teeth (“There are BUGS outside!”), but “just add water” and you have a recipe for hours of uninterrupted play.

With that in mind, we also built a “waterslide” down the hill of our back yard with leftover vinyl sheeting and the hose. It was a big hit! Add some shampoo to the mix and you have a perfect way to cool off on a warm day. Bonus: Kids didn’t complain about the bugs once.

We plan to keep the kids home from school this year; they’ll participate in remote learning following the regular curriculum, and we’ll supplement schoolwork with real-time educational activities (read: I’m always looking for an excuse to buy more LEGO).

They’re disappointed about not getting to go back in person, but they’re also not fans of extended masking, and they understand that we’re being extra cautious because we have several risk factors in our household. I’m so proud of how resilient and adaptable they’ve been throughout the last several months. We’ve had our fair share of tears and rough patches, but most of the time they are each others’ company and entertainment, with Tim and I as supporting cast and hug-givers. I’m grateful we’re getting all this “extra” time with the kids, while they still, y’know, like spending time us. 🙂

I struggle constantly with wondering if we’re being too strict, or too “safe”, given our state has an OK handle on the virus, and our county’s infection rates are so low. Then I remember that cold weather is coming, and that means more time indoors, and I imagine that will impact our infection rates for the worse.

So, we’re mostly home, and most days we’re handling it well. Creatively, my energy is pretty sunk between work and just…existing. That said, my Animal Crossing island looks amazing. It’s kind of fun decorating and styling and doing it with no thought of monetizing this; just the pleasure of doing something for myself while I rewatch Westworld (yes, I see the irony).

day ????

(I scheduled this to post 2 weeks ago, but I guess it didn’t?)

Wow, I guess it’s been a while! I’ve been meaning to write, but life is throwing a lot at us these days; I’ve started this post and abandoned it so many times. I have no wise words for the landscape of social and political unrest in the US, and yet, it’s at the forefront of my mind. I’m trying to spend more time listening and amplifying Black voices when I can, rather than adding mine to the mix.

We’re entering week 15 of stay at home, and every day has started to blend together. Our county relaxed the stay-at-home mandate to open non-essential businesses and restaurants a few weeks ago. Our case numbers are tiny overall, but Houlton has a lot of them, so we’re staying cautious.

We are leaving the house more frequently, more like twice a week instead of once, but we wear masks and sometimes gloves. The kids don’t accompany us to stores unless they can stay in the car or outside while we’re there. We’ve socialized a teensy bit with neighbors one on one, but most of the time, we’re at home, together. It’s hard not to feel a little crazy when I see folks going about their business as though the pandemic is over or politicizing the use of basic protective equipment.

On a personally disappointing note, Tim was laid off from his job. We planned for this, but it was still kind of a shock, and happened sooner than we’d hoped. He’s back to being a stay-at-home dad for the foreseeable future, since we don’t know what will happen with the kids’ school in the fall. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the extra padding in our budget, but we’re still incredibly fortunate. Things will work out.

There are bright spots! Ellie learned how to ride a bike this spring. She’s always been overly cautious and not physically adventurous, but a teacher gifted her a hand-me-down bike and she was determined to ride. It only took a day of coasting before she could balance and pedal, and I damn near cried for joy when she did.

(Weird parenting admission: I had no idea how much guilt I felt over the fact that she made it to 11 years old without knowing how to ride a bike until she figured it out.)

That motivated us to purchase an adult trike, and I’ve gotten into the habit of taking a ride down the road and back most days. If we can’t travel this summer, at least we can take in the local scenery.

The other Really Good Thing, and a huge relief, is the kids finished school strong this trimester, with honors and multiple awards for their academic achievements. We celebrated with ice cream sundaes — gourmet style, with alllllll the candy toppings and Ben n’ Jerry’s ice cream — because holy %$&! have the last two months been a slog. I’m looking forward to a few weeks without daily arguments about homework. Now we can argue about fun things — like who ate the last ice-cream sandwich, or chores.

It still hits me once in a while, how weird all of this is. I’m taking vacation next week; we’d originally planned to visit PEI, but that’s off the table due to border crossing restrictions (although we probably wouldn’t have gone even if the borders were open). We did explore some local swimming spots to take advantage of the warmer weather, and the kids have regular daily chores and activities, but “normal” life still feels very much out of reach. The future remains stubbornly up in the air.