Make Do

I’ve been making out my list of grocery items to order from the local country store to last the next few weeks and noticing the dwindling availability of of luxury, prepackaged foods like microwave popcorn and cake mixes, as well as staples like rice or pasta. The recognition that this pandemic could lead to shortages of some food as well as higher prices is changing my list but not necessarily for the worse.

When we first moved to the country, I wanted to learn how to do everything. I wanted to make a quilt from scratch. I wanted to make our own bread. I want to grow all our own food.

I worked full-time and, eventually, learned to pick the battles that mattered for our little homestead. I learned how to make a garden. We learned how to raise chickens. The Big Guy makes a mean sandwich bread. The quilting supplies and a pair of half-finished quilted are still in the linen closet, waiting for backings.

Now, some of those skills are getting a revisit. As grocery stores empty their supplies of spaghetti, I begin thinking about how we could make our own pasta again (some thing we did when we were first married). We know we can get flour from the country store, eggs from the neighbors and soon from our yard. We’re taking a look at what vegetables we can grow and, especially, what we should preserve in the fall.

Instead of thinking about where to buy things or how things are made, we’re thinking about how we can make them.

I’ve seen a meme circulating recently suggesting that, when all of “this“ is over, we consider to which parts of normal we want to return. Like so many people, I’m sitting on the sidelines right now, wondering when that will be. Whether that new normal is a time of scarcity or plenty, I do know that, when it arrives, I want to preserve those old-fashioned, farmed-out maker and saver skills that are going to get us through the spring and summer.

And I never want to take anything for granted again.

The Absence of Sleep

Two years ago we were celebrating April Fool’s Day digging out from under a thick blanket of snow. We were closing out in March but had seen four major snowstorms–one each week. Our family was closing out a winter of worry marked by Weekly hospital visits and a nearly fatal flu for Thing1. Now, as I stare at the ceiling, trying not to be wide awake, that winters like that never really melt from your soul.

for the past three weeks, pneumonia rather than the mandated school shut downs have kept me from teaching. Our school, as treatment facility, is still open, and I have been ashamed to admit that I have been grateful for the pain in my rib cage don’t keep me from having to show any courage.

When I made the jump to teaching, I knew that it could be dangerous. It is possible to be assaulted by students, particularly working with children who Have severe emotional and behavioral disorders. The news, of course, as shown as how it’s all too possible for teachers to be shot. this latest danger, however, adds a new dimension to the job description.

Both the Big Guy and Thing1 are in high-risk categories. As my doctor reminded me, my history of chronic pneumonia puts me in a high-risk category. but “my kids“ are also in the high-risk category. They count on their teachers to be there.

Tonight as I’m counting the number of hours of productive sleep still available, I am also wondering if I will be able to be there for them. I know my first, unquestionable priority is to be there for Thing1 and Thing2– to not needlessly expose them to any dangers. As the number of cases in our county increase, surpassing statistics in much larger Vermont towns, the question is becoming what is the best way to navigate the months ahead?

Before my husband fell asleep, we both remarked on what a strange time it was to be alive — even with all of the uncertainty in our lives. We are aware of how lucky we are to live in a remote area with neighbors who are working together to slow the spread and limit the impact. We are aware that millions of people experienced a far worse pandemic 100 years ago because little was known about preventing the spread.

But I’m also aware of what it feels like to see a child gasping for breath and not knowing if it might be his last.

I don’t know if if that memory, in the coming months, will make me brave or smart. A few weeks ago I thought, I hoped, it was possible to be both. Right now, I’m not so sure.

Front Row at the Renaissance

I love special education because it’s all about finding the spark in someone and helping it glow. It’s an act of hope informed by evidence. I’m housebound now and spending too much time on social media. The temptation to give into fear or despair is great, but the same internet that serves up daily examples of greed and malfeasances has also recently, for me, been a source of evidence-based hope, fueling optimism, rather than worry over what comes next.

A few weeks ago when the pandemic was still just a probability in the United States, I noticed the occasional half-humorous meme warning that we were about to have front row seats for Armageddon. I laughed nervously at the gallows humor, knowing that, in any apocalypse, my lack of fitness and survival skills will ensure me a spot on the scaffold.

Last week, the pandemic probability morphed into actuality. One news organization and then another reported a sharp spike in gun sales. I wasn’t able to muster a nervous laugh about that story, but it still didn’t convince me that the inevitable next phase will be apocalyptic.

I’ve had the chance to teach Romeo & Juliet twice this school year. Both times I prepared by indulging in a bit of gratuitous research, tracing the history of the play to the various Italian poems and novella that influenced it. My journey through Italian Renaissance lit is never complete without a quick review of Boccaccio’s Decameron (yes, I’m a lit nerd and a sucker for back story), a collection of tales set against the backdrop of the Black Death of the 14th century, told by a group of young Florentines self-isolating in the sparkling solitude of the countryside.

I’ve thought of that book frequently this March.

The Italian Renaissance wouldn’t begin in earnest for another century after the book was published. A number of historians do point to the upheaval caused by the Black Death as one driving force in that movement, but, for me, The Decameron, is, for me, a symbol of one of the seeds sown in a dreadful epoch.

Two weeks ago Italy announced increasing restrictions on movement for its citizens. I remember worrying and wondering how people would react. Italy had good reason to impose the restrictions. Hundreds of people had been dying daily, but good reason doesn’t always illicit the desired response.

Less than a day after Italy announced a nationwide quarantine, however, a video of the residents of Siena playing music on their balconies for each other emerged. I wondered if this was just an outlier, but every day and then every few hours, new videos appeared, each showing Italians playing out a modern Decameron playing music instead of telling stories.

The same stories emerged from Spain and then France. From Ireland came stories of apartment blocks organizing outdoor BINGO.

I wondered how or if people in United States, when faced with quarantines and devastating statistics, would make the same choice. Would we let art and community be our shields?

Then came news of school and business restrictions from my parents’ home in Ohio. Almost immediately a video of two young children serenading an elderly Columbus lady on her porch appeared. Soon after, apparently anticipating the school closures, other teachers and homeschooling moms pro-actively began offering online resources and encouragement. In the next two weeks, from a medium that so often foments division and anxiety, I would instead see and continue to see outpourings of art and photography, soul-feeding poetry and writing, impromptu concerts, and, caremongering.

As the pandemic grows, some people may arm themselves and prepare for an apocalypse. There is another option, though.

The other course of action is the one so many generations before us have taken – it is the choice to get busy rebirthing our souls. It is the decision to use this time of sparking solitude and, inevitably, of profound grief and even fear, to nurture the seeds started by the creative sparks that are connecting and uplifting us.

It is to reserve a front row seat for renewal – for Renaissance – instead of surrendering to the inevitability of a cataclysm.

Me?

I’m not waiting to go back to school to go full-on Special Ed.

I’m going to comb through the piles of evidence from the last few weeks and the months to come, looking for the sprouts that need care and the sparks that need stirring. I’m going to commit acts of hope.

And, based on the evidence, I think I’ll be anything but alone.

Reckonings

For a minute and a half when I wake up in the morning, my chest feels normal and I can almost take a normal breath. The minute I sit up and try to take in anything resembling a deep breath, however, sharp pains in my chest cut it short, reminding me that plenty of gunk is still lodged firmly in my lungs. I’ve walked this path a few times before – – for some reason, despite having never smoked, my lungs are prone to pneumonia—but Friday was the first time I ever felt unnerved by the landscape.

Friday morning was spent mostly resting as any physical exertion left me wiped out and gulping at the air. I rested on the couch until it was time for a family walk around the house and, after our daily ZeroK, was wiped out for the rest of the afternoon. By the late afternoon, it was increasingly harder to breathe in, and I considered calling the doctor to see if there was anything I do should do in the face of worsening symptoms.

But I didn’t call him.

I took my pills and drank my tea and remembered my research of this illness. Dr. Google and actual doctors had told me that worsening symptoms might indicate a need for hospitalization, oxygen, or IV antibiotics.

Any other week, I would’ve called him, but this is not any other week.

This week I know that, nationwide, hospitals are struggling to find beds and masks and things to help people with a much more serious illness breathe. This week I know that calling for help might make me one more drain on a system that’s already overtaxed at the beginning of what appears will be a challenging spring. I don’t want to be in the healthcare system, but, even more I don’t want to be one more stressor on it.

So now it’s Saturday morning, and I’m still gulping as I write or talk, still trying to decide if I should call or wait until my next appointment on Monday to let the medication have more time to work.

Most of the time when I’m sick, I won’t call the doctor. I’m a doctor’s kid and grew up hearing admonitions to not worry about most aches and pains or even fevers. I know, however, that pneumonia can become quite serious, even in 2020.

What’s also serious, is the reckoning that the entire country is having with managing scarcity in an emergency and with our healthcare system. No one who has been in a grocery store in the last two weeks can have avoided the sight of empty shelves, sometimes rows of them. Panic has spurred some people to buy more toilet paper and pasta than could be consumed in a lifetime, leaving others to search for substitutes or simply go without.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a number of people pointing out that a pandemic highlights the need for a strong system that is more equitable and accessible. Having lived in Germany and experienced their robust public healthcare system, I tend to agree. This week, however, I’m also reckoning with the role individual choices may have in making our current system in Bennington, Vermont less accessible to others simply by using increasingly scarce resources.

I don’t know that this is a bad conversation to have.

For years I have worked at a company with excellent health insurance and, especially where the kids were concerned, had no reservations about calling and getting that appointment or heading to the emergency room or urgent care. This week is not just about what we can afford for our family. It, like the choice to buy all the boxes of pasta or a just one or two for our family, is about what my choice may take from someone else. It’s about making sure that making that call is truly necessary.

For now, for better or worse, it’s keeping me from picking up phone.

Feline Friday and The daily Zero K

In an apparent attempt to prove that the world would be better off run by members the next generation, the boys have been dragooning me — for my own good — into a very short ZeroK walk around the house every day since I’ve been sick. Thing1’s rationale is that there is nothing that even the smallest bit of exercise can’t make better, and each day there’s more evidence to prove him right.

The first day, the boys and I spent most of the first 10th of a mile trek reveling in each discovery of emerging spring green. The cats and dog cavorted around us, darting in and out of the woods after each other. The boys played catch with an old hacky-sack as we walked, occasionally giving Jim-Bob a chance to inspect it after a fumble.

The second day, the Big Guy decided to join us on our Zero K walk. The dog quickly took her place a few feet ahead of me, and the cats began their outdoor dance, darting in and out of the woods, pretending to stalk and then rub against the legs of their human prey.

By day 3, the Zero K was a family routine. The cats cavorted slightly less, opting to take the lead on our lap on the running trail I had worn around the house back when I was training for 10k’s and 12k’s in solitude.

Like the rest of the world, we’re self-isolating from the rest of the world — we have two people in high-risk categories, and I’m sick with respiratory illness. It could be a time of fear. Our communal walks, our Zero K’s through our cloister of mountains and trees have turned the next weeks of cocooning into an unexpected gift.

Sparkling Solitude

Someone on Facebook wryly observed that, unless you’re socially separating yourself in the Quarantine region of France happy, then you’re really only engaging in sparkling isolation.

I’ve had to segregate myself somewhat from my family since being diagnosed with pneumonia earlier this week. I’m still close enough, however, to be able sit for a few minutes in the cool crisp spring air on the deck.

The grass is slowly getting greener.

The cats and the dog are cavorting in the dappled sunlight.

And two housebound brothers who, by virtue of the wide range in their ages and recent, age-appropriate but painful geographic separations had begun moving in different directions, suddenly have nothing better to do than play a good game of catch and catching up with each other.

If that isn’t sparkling, I don’t know what it is.

Rearranging Life

Rearrangements

Thing1 returned home from college today, saddled with the knowledge that he won’t be going back until September. He’s in the same boat as millions of other college kids around the country who are rearranging their futures right now.

Thing1 has spent the past few years rearranging his future thanks to his chronic illness, but this is the first time that a nationwide phenomenon has directly impacted his trajectory. this latest crisis makes me think of all the young people who had their lives rearranged with the financial meltdown in 2008 or the aftermath of 911. Every generation seems to have its crisis that requires rearranging of lives.

Even in the absence of a national crisis, however, it seems like there’s always something that requires you to rearrange your life. A job can fall through. A spouse can become disabled or pass away, torpedoing old plans to make way for new ones.

Thing1 seems to be navigating this crisis, like so many others, with characteristic calm. There’s talk of how to stay connected with friends and finish classes online. He strategizing jobs for the next few months, trying to make the best of an unexpected and desired situation as we spend the next few weeks on outstanding home and garden projects.

I’m hoping that he’s also incorporating this detour into the bigger part of his education – the lessons he’ll need for living his life.

Shit happens. Not just stuff but serious, Grade A bullshit.

I was never very good about navigating around steaming piles of trouble until I had to get good at for a then-infant Thing1. When I had to get good at it, the learning curve was steep.

Part of me would shoulder all these lessons for T1 and T2 if I could make their lives easier. The part of me that still has scars inside and out, is grateful that they’re getting these lessons sooner rather than later and that, somehow, this seems like the better way to learn them.

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