Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Family Rule

Impulsively, I swung the car door open and started to climb.  I wanted a better vantage point from which to photograph our project.  Admittedly, I didn't expect the door to complete its swing to fully open, leaving me a bit suspended between the main frame and door handle.  (The picture above is a recreation; I imagine the actual event included a far more surprised expression.)  Alex and Adam immediately offered unsolicited advice, but a very authoritative voice stopped them in their tracks.

"No," stated Dylan emphatically, though not without compassion. "Family rule."

I stared in surprise, though I knew exactly what he'd say next - the same words he's heard me explain to him and helpful bystanders many times. 

"Whatever she climbs up, she has to climb down on her own."  

The boys' silence was as complete as that of the empty street surrounding us. They weren't certain whether to laugh, to agree, or to come to my aid.  But Dylan wasn't done.

"Let Mom have a taste of her own medicine." The two bigger boys immediately backed down as if the king had spoken, Dylan rising as the confident new leader of the pride.

And I got down on my own.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Safety in Numbers

The first thing I started tracking was the case count.  The day that Utah was at 5 confirmed cases, I started checking the numbers.  Over the weekend, I started checking for other states I had a personal interest in.  Georgia for Kirk.  Nevada for Lisa.  Idaho for Michelle.  Ohio for Suman.  And the country as a whole for context.  By Monday, my mind was a mess of numbers.  So I started writing them down.  I started a Google Sheet to track the official counts from the official websites.  And then I ran stats.  Most commonly, the percentage of increase in the last 24 hours.

It calmed me.  Knowing exactly what to fear.

Next, I started tracking steps.  10,000 steps per day during my dismissal from school.  Something I could control.  Something I could work toward.  I watched my Fitbit carefully, even pacing the living room to watch the numbers escalate if needed.  I couldn't rest unless I'd reached the goal.

It focused me.  Knowing there are some things I could still control.

Then money.  I went back through three months of bank statements to determine an average weekly amount I spend in discretionary ways.  I added a tab in by "Coronavirus Tracker" Sheet and set a goal of how much I'd like to spend weekly to boost my local economy.  I asked David to do it, too.  And then I spent. 

It uplifted me.  Knowing I can live within my means and still be generous.

Now, it's oxygen levels.  On the recommendation of my friend Steph who is an ER nurse, I bought an oximeter.  I've put it on David's finger 5 times in the last two hours.  95.  94.  94.  96.  98.   I've also taken her advice to take the family's temperatures twice daily.  Nothing alarming yet.  But I write them down.  I aggregate.  I apply statistical formulas. 

It levels me.  Knowing if one of us gets sick, I can make data-based decisions.

In a world full of uncertainty, my mental health hinges heavily on this perceived net; safety in numbers.

Survey Says

Fun Facebook survey.
Dave about Andrea / Andrea about Dave

What’s my favorite color?
Black / Green

If you bought me one present that would make me uncontrollably excited what would it be?
A convertible / new Fleuvogs

What’s my current dream car? 
A convertible that goes fast / To have Bort back

What makes me sad? 
Seeing the kids not get things they hoped for / Dogs dying

How tall am I? 
5 ft 3 / 6 ft 1

What do I do when I’m alone? 
Read / Watch Newfies on instagram

What is/was my favorite TV/Netflix/Hulu show?
Nothing / Wednesdays Downtown 

If I became famous, what would it be for?
Nonprofit that took off / Selling TP on Facebook Marketplace

What makes you proud of me? 
How great you've become at handling money / When you protect others even when there is a personal cost

Where can I most likely be found? 
At school, except for right now / With me

What is my favorite restaurant?
MeKong Cafe / That ramen place you love

Where is one place I don’t like to be?
 Driver's seat / Behind someone driving slowly

Who’s my favorite person? 
Me / Me

Where would I go for a weekend alone with you? 
Nearby national park / Wherever the flights were cheap

You get a call that I am in trouble, who am I with? 
Skye / Jeff

If I went to jail, what would it be for? 
Trespassing / Not sure, but you'd have broken the law for the greater good

What’s my favorite gas station snack?  
Plain m&ms / Holiday popcorn

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Quarantine Questionnaire

What a lovely idea my friend Sunny had to chronicle all the "fun" we're having!

Who are you with? David (41), Adam (15), Alex (13), Dylan (10), and Jake the dog.

Work situation? "Distance learning" - which means teaching via packets and email.  I get to do it from my living room, mostly, with a few check-ins in the classroom each week.

Cooking or ordering in? Cooking 20 meals a week and buying 1, very intentionally to support the local economy. The kids are sick of my doomsday meal planning which means we eat whatever is about to go bad, whether we were in the mood or not.

Watching? Next to nothing! I don't watch TV, and I am very proud the pandemic hasn't caused me to start. I did stream a local production of Newsies! and it was awesome.

Reading? I read the book Dylan was assigned for distance learning, The Twenty-One Balloons.  I really liked it!

Listening? Whatever Dave plays.  And the kids arguing in the background.

Gaming? We have a running leader board for a nightly board game going on.  So far, we've played Power Grid, Splendor, and Dominion. We've also been playing silly games for PE including Pingo Pingo and Throw, Throw Burrito (our own improvised PE edition).

House: Tidy. I have nothing else to do.  But I really appreciate that the kids have been doing their fair share with chore charts and 7-minute group cleans.

How are you feeling?  It varies. Sometimes GREAT. Like, kind of on top of the world because we are sometimes so crazy that my dopamine is off the charts.  Sometimes AWFUL.  My brain won't stop.  I can't meet the needs.  I can't solve the problems.  I can't sleep.  I don't have very much "meh."  I am "blah" until I decide to change it.  Then I am buzzed until I come down.  Then I am "blah" again.  It is honestly exhausting.

Sanity saving strategies? Popcorn dates in the basement cafe (okay, it's two recliners near an end table), walks without the kids, and writing my thoughts down

Socializing at a distance? TBH, I kind of always socialize at a distance. But turning down invites from the people I do love to see (Logan and my sisters) is just about killing me. As for the kids, the distance is killing the 15-year-old who recently became interested in girls (and one in particular).

Are you rationing toilet paper? Nope. As the only girl in the house, I feel that it is all mine.  Everyone else can deal with the repercussions.

What are you worried about running out of? Batteries. The x-box controllers need to be fed frequently, and I didn't stock up on that.  And I am terrified of a disruption in the supply chain for Alex's ADHD medication.

Learning anything new? Confidence in my ability as a more traditional mother.

How are you sleeping? Not well. I'm not worn out at night, and my brain isn't getting fed enough interesting information to quietly lull itself to sleep.  I also wake up poorly; I wrote a different blog about that aspect.

Getting ready or why bother? Every day. It is completely necessary to my mental health.  First world problem, I know, but my lack of a basic casual wardrobe has been a problem for me.  I get my energy from my outfit, but I only own my business clothes and my pajamas.  Right now, I need something cute that I can do teacher videos in but also clean the bathroom in.  I lack this attire.

Shows/vacations/plans canceled? I did not get to take Alex to Dear Evan Hansen on his 13th birthday.  I doubt I will get to take Adam to the Dodger's game I bought tickets for over Memorial Day.  And I am currently taking the first steps to cancel my honeymoon to New Zealand.  The wedding plans themselves should hopefully be minimally impacted since we were planning super small anyway.

School at home? For sure. I set up the front room as "NPA," the school Alex and Dylan attend.  I even stole the clock from my actual classroom.  We have a computer lab and all the paper and pencils we need.  Their teachers send packets of work, and Alex's junior high teachers also offer extra support online.  The dining room doubles as Cyprus High School where Adam manages his online requirements more or less independently.  He spends time on Zoom conferences and in Google classroom, so we dedicate one computer just for him.  I set school hours (9-11 am and 1-3 pm) which are to be used for educational purposes even if they run out of things sent by their teachers.  Anything not finished in those hours becomes homework.

Fitness routine or putting on the covid 19? I use my Fitbit to make sure I walk 10,000 steps every day.  This is actually DOWN from the 15,000 that is pretty typical for me on a school day.  I have had to set very strict eating parameters as being a teacher has robbed me of self control.  At school, I never have time to eat, and I only have access to what I bring.  So at home, I pack my breakfast and lunch just like I would have for school, and I eat only those things.  So far, I'm avoiding the covid-19.

Bad quarantine habits? Too much facebook.  It brings me down.  I know it does.  But I can't stop.

Best part of quarantine? All the family memories. The simplification of my schedule. The forced reset.

When this is over, I can’t wait to... be busy again.

This has made me appreciate... all the things my kids get from school besides an education. Policy makers who have the impossible task of weighing all the things. Decisive leaders who are willing to take responsibility for the consequences of their choices. My own imagination; I'd go crazy without it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Having Our Cake

In the midst of global pandemic, it is interesting to try to zoom out and see society as a whole.  It seems the Western world, and Americans in particular, is quite accustomed to having our cake and eating it, too.  We've a system based on ingenuity and hard work in which we are taught that hard work can (and often does) equal success. 

I know my own way of life is deeply entrenched in this ideology.  I'd been having a challenging school year - one in which I'd reached many points at which I had to admit that no amount of hard work and loss of sleep would fix the problems I was facing.  This was brand new for me.  And uncomfortable.  Most days I found I couldn't even FIND the cake, let alone keep it or eat it.

It's been preparing me for this.  This world in which the leaders of governments have to choose.  We can have human life.  Or we can have a thriving economy.  I'm growing incredibly pessimistic about any carefully balanced options that allow for both.  I can write a pretty convincing essay in support of either direction (although I have to stay unhealthily detached to argue against human life).  I don't for one second envy those whose names will go down in history as having made the wrong choice.  Because there is no right choice to make here, and everyone stands to be condemned.

I keep waiting for a leader to emerge.  One that will say, "For better or worse, here's the plan."  One that will accept responsibility for its consequences.  My biggest fear right now is that with so many cooks in the kitchen, we're accidentally fumbling the cake all over the place and all we'll be left with is crumbs.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Monster

There's a monster under my bed.  It's the source of my desire to read just one more article. To scroll through social media feeds just one more time. To keep my eyes open and prolong sleep as long as I can so I can avoid feeling its presence in the darkness. 

The monster is tomorrow. Not the whole of tomorrow. Not the specific of tomorrow. Not an event or a task or a goal looming in the vague haze of tomorrow.

The monster is the very first part of tomorrow. The moments before I open my eyes. When my brain snaps awake but my body is asleep and the bricks of the foundation of my day are laid.

These precious hours are typically my favorite of the day. In the hours between 4 and 7 a.m. whether fully sleeping or fully awake I think up my most creative solutions to the barrage of problems I've stored up for the solving. I am so fond of these hours, in fact, that I call them "The Andrea Hours."  My hours to use when the house is quiet, but my mind is vibrant, and I can accomplish anything.

And now these hours are a monster.

It started my first day home during this coronabreak.  We'd assembled work packets and distributed them to families the day before, effectively separating me from the need to prep or grade work for at least two weeks. I awoke with a start and reached for my problems. Knowing I didn't get to spend the day with my students, I couldn't find one to whittle away at. No little behavioral burble threatening to erupt. No concept to turn over in my mind until I could phrase it just right. No tricky scheme for getting my kids from point A to point C with activities outnumbering drivers. No... well. Just nothing.

So my brain invented a problem. I could feel it happen. I could sense its phoniness. And yet, there I was. Off chasing this strand of imagination to the edges of my mind and back again.  And it happened again the next morning. A completely fictional problem to solve. An argument I truly didn't plan to have being hashed out by the boardroom in my mind.

It is ridiculous. And I can't seem to control it. It is exhausting, lying there, knowing the world has 99 problems and that not one of them is mine to solve. Not even during the Andrea hours.

And so I stay up later than I have a need for. I fall asleep. And when the hum of my mental engine quickens in the morning, I whisper, "Go back to sleep. You're not needed."

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Emotional Toll

I learned through some difficult times in life that emotions should be validated rather than compared.  Having just "survived" the 5.7 magnitude earthquake that opted to visit Utah during our extended coronavirus school dismissal, it's easy to think things like "I was scared.  And the kids were scared.  But we didn't feel as many aftershocks as our friends closer to the epicenter, so I guess we must be okay."  Nope. We were scared. And that's valid. 

Emotions aren't measured in how many items fell off the walls. Emotions aren't measured in how much work one is required to do while working from home. Emotions aren't measured in which mental health struggles are heaped upon the common experience of coronavirus plus earthquake. Emotions are individual.

The sadness, grief, worry, fear, gratitude, pride, and whatever else this roller coaster has in store for me are mine.  And it is okay for me to acknowledge it. To name it. To stare at it and maybe even wallow in it for a bit before moving on. 

I have a whole pile of emotions - the muck I'm trudging through as I go about my new life as manager of a stay-at-home family. 

  • Sadness - over the old buildings that were damaged during the earthquake and of all the local businesses temporarily shuttered
  • Grief - over the current loss of my 5-days-a-week gig that involved educating and caring for 21 smallish humans; regret over the lack of closure as the governor announced the closure after I'd already sent the students home for the weekend
  • Worry - that when I put Adam on a plane to Georgia today, the rules might change before he flies back on Wednesday
  • Fear - that the world will change entirely; that schools will move online and never move back; that businesses I love won't make it through; that some people won't take the precautions seriously and all this sacrifice will be for nothing
  • Gratitude - for all the little things that happened at a huge expense to others but were nice for me anyway; that I was home with my kids for the earthquake instead of at school; that Utah has decided to suspend testing this year
  • Pride - in humanity; bakeries giving away bread; craft stores giving away craft supplies; the zoo doing online videos with the lions; SO MANY PEOPLE just doing what can be done to make life better for others
No, I wasn't at the epicenter.  No, I haven't lost any pay.  No, we don't stand to lose a business.  No, no one in my house is immunocompromised.  No, we don't suffer from anxiety.  No, we aren't out of toilet paper.  No, life really isn't that bad.

But we still have emotions, and they totally count. 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

New Rules

It's been one week since our world changed.  At least, since the changes came rolling to our front door.  One week since Alex didn't get to see Dear Evan Hansen on his 13th birthday.  Six days since the governor of Utah announced a two-week school "dismissal," which is a whole lot like a closure but with more work.  Five days since the kids left the house to go anywhere meaningful.  Four days since the sacrament was blessed in our home, and Alex passed it in his lounge clothes while the dog tried to sniff it. Three days since I reported to an empty school and packaged two weeks of "distance learning" into a manila envelope. Two days since shamrocks in the windows of the neighbors reduced me to happy tears. One day since experiencing a 5.7 magnitude earthquake (but that's another story, nevermind...).

And here I am. Living by a whole new set of rules. I don't mean expectations. Yeah, those changed, too. But I mean the little rules I've put in place one at a time that allow me to be a successful adult despite the challenges of ADHD. The huge shift in the American way of life has knocked down every routine I had in place, especially the litany of tasks that were firmly attached to my strict, by-the-minute teacher's schedule.

Now, I just live by the rules.

  • I must be showered before 8:00 a.m.
  • I must wear pants.  Real pants.  Every single day for at least 8 hours.
  • I must curl my hair and put on at least a little makeup.
  • I must ensure each family member eats three structured meals each day.
  • I must leave the house once per day.
  • I must hit 10,000 steps on my Fitbit before bed.
  • I must talk to someone who lives outside my home once each day.
  • I must play a game with the family once each day.
  • I must do something kind for someone outside my home once each day.
  • I must keep the "command center" where I track all these things updated daily.
It helps. It gives structure. It saves sanity. 

As for the routines I've lost... we will rebuild.

Friday, March 6, 2020

While Curling my Hair

I let my guard down a little.

When we decided that Adam would still go to Cyprus even though we live Sugarhouse, I knew some changes would have to be made in my morning routine. I realized I could buy myself an extra five minutes of sleep if I let my hair dry naturally on the drive and then curl it in my classroom.  And so, each morning, I set my preparations aside and sit at a seat in the corner to curl my hair. 

 As a result, the strangest thing has happened. I think I accidentally made some friends.

I have two wonderful women assigned to work in my classroom, and while I curl my hair, we chat. Sometimes about work, sure. But there is something surprisingly intimate about curling one's hair that makes it feel like girlfriends at a sleepover.  And so, for the first time in my career, I have gotten to know my coworkers. I know the names of spouses and kids. I know about upcoming college finals and high school tennis matches. And in return, I open up to them.

When others walk into my room during that time to ask questions, I answer while curling. It feels scary, letting people peek behind the curtain like that. But also so refreshing. I start every single day being comfortable with the fact that I am human. That I have limits. That doing my best in a healthy and sustainable way means letting people in before I am totally polished.

And in this vulnerability, I have found the secret to human connection.