Monday, April 20, 2020

Life Lately: Pandemic-ing

I have been thinking about doing another round of Life Lately for a while now. The last one was actually only a few months ago, but I want to try to do them more often (for posterity!), and I thought it would be fun to do one last round while we were still in our current house. And then....Corona Virus happened. Life changed nearly entirely, nearly overnight, it was all we could do to keep up with the craziness around us.

So life lately- meaning the last month that we've been under a "Stay at Home" order- has been filled with:
Remodeling, Moving, Quarantining, Parenting, Home-Schooling, Working, Surviving.

So how 'bout we add some blogging to the list? I mean...what else is there to do? (Related note: I'm basically living for the quaran-memes and one I read recently said: "I've never been busier or less productive at the same time". YES.) I actually started this blog post 3 weeks ago, and never touched it again because my nights are reserved for poor food choices, and binge watching Netflix. But I'm getting ahead of myself with those details- let's just dive into the 'ings, shall we?

Making: crafts. And messes. The kids each color about 87 pictures a day, there are dot stampers everywhere, and all my genius ideas from Pinterest seem to keep them entertained for about 3.7 minutes (yet somehow generating epic glue-y, glittery aftermath). My saving grace is that our new house has an eat-in kitchen AND a dining room, so we've turned the latter into our craft room. It's already busting at the seams with art supplies, but it's been fantastic to have a dedicated surface for all of their (and my) creative pursuits. And it means we can typically serve meals at the regular table, avoiding chicken nuggets with a side of glue. Messes aside, I've loved the chance to do more art with the kids. We've followed YouTube drawing tutorials, made origami frogs, created paper houses, tried fork painting...It might be the one area of homeschooling where I'm actually earning A+ marks.

Cooking: incessantly. There are many exhausting parts of quarantine life (with 4 small kids)- but cooking has to be up there. They just want to eat...every many times (ok, ok, so do I, so I get it, but still!) Having the kids home for EVERY SINGLE MEAL makes it feel like food prep is never ending. We mix it up with takeout at least once a week, but mostly it's been a lot of tried and true favorites that we know they'll eat (and we still have in our freezer).We have had to get a little creative with what we make though, as everything on our list isn't always available. On our first trip to the grocery store post-Corona, they were out of chicken, bread, and most frozen vegetables (among about a million other items, but those were the real struggles). It's been better on subsequent trips, but I still didn't see a box of pasta on store shelves for weeks. I joked with a neighbor (as we chat/yelled on the sidewalk from 6ft+, as you do these days) that using grocery delivery services is like going on the show Chopped. You get a bag of ingredients and you have to figure out what to make of it all (we tried green beans as a sub for peas in chicken pot pie...not the best...but it was better than my friend receiving dried cranberries instead of the cherry pie filling she ordered!) Silly substitutions aside, going to the grocery store has actually been one of the more stressful parts of this experience for me. (And yes, I know that means I must not have serious problems...for that I am thankful). It's just such a bizarro world to see everyone wearing masks, avoiding contact...and sometimes avoiding eye contact. Everyone is in their own bubble, trying to get in, get out out, and not get it. It one of those everyday routines that is at once the same as it's always been, and completely different. Seeing empty shelves, limits on items, x's painted on the ground- it's all a bit too dystopian- like we're living in a combo communist/zombie regime. 

Drinking: more than usual. But don't we all deserve a beer (or 3) at the end of these 28 hour days?
via all the online programs. The kids have about a million apps through school: Dreambox, Lexia, Raz-kids, Epic, Scholastic...and probably some more I don't even know about. We're doing our best to keep up with all the "distance learning" assignments. The kids each have 4-5 things they're supposed to accomplish each day- most of which are 20 minute stints on various computer programs. In some ways we're lucky that they're still young and their homework isn't terribly difficult, but in other ways it's harder because they need so much supervision to complete things. Fin in particular had been working hard on her reading at school so I'm hopeful this month (or 2 or 3) doesn't set her back too much.
(No surprise- I haven't even pretended to crack a book of my own... I did download some e-books through the library, but I've never gotten past that stage. I had vague dreams of reading Little Fires Everywhere before I dive into the Hulu series...but really? I think Reese Witherspoon's version will be sufficient.
Wanting: to see our friends IRL. We've done a few Zoom/Facetime/Houseparty "get togethers", and even a couple social-distanced picnics with some friends, but it's just not the same. I'm super thankful for technology (not as thankful for all the Facebook Messenger Kids notifications I get on my phone)- I can't imagine going through something like this without connection to others in some form- but nothing is quite as good as just being together. We had a strange moment when hanging out with friends where we allowed the kids to play soccer, but then had to put the kibosh on frisbee. Just those surreal moments where you realize this is not normal.

Playing: outside as much as possible. We all get a little squirrely when we're cooped up too long, so it's been good to get some fresh air whenever we can. It's crazy how much the weather can affect everyone's mood and well-being. Give us a few sunny days, it feels like anything's possible. But a week straight of cold windy rain? It was getting bleak. One of the great things about our new place is that we live on the corner of a block where the kids can ride their bikes around and around without ever having to cross a street. We've given them the freedom to do laps on their own, and they've been loving it. (We usually do the loop too, but pushing a tricycle means we don't come close to keeping up with the other speed demons. Fin is a menace on her new two-wheeler, and Miller is right on her heels learning to master his balance bike)

Wasting: so much time scrolling. The lure of Instagram is real. Mostly I've been enjoying keeping up with friends, and "sharing" this experience with others (and yes, I also love the memes)....but I also know that sometimes it gets to be a bit too much (when I glance at the clock and realize I've lost a big chunk of my precious "after-bedtime" hours). I'm always trying to balance the good and bad, healthy and harmful parts of social now I've just got more opportunity to be thoughtful about it, I suppose.

we had help for our move. In some ways moving came at a fantastic time- it was a great distraction, gave us plenty to do, provided the novelty of newness. BUT DANG, it was exhausting to do it on our own. We schleped furniture while kids napped, unloaded truck loads with them locked in the van (Kidz Bop is your babysitter now!), hid in empty bedrooms for small stints because we just needed to put our face down in the carpet and cry for a minute (ok...just time) and bribed them with pizza and movies to just NOT KILL THEMSELVES/EACH OTHER for a few minutes while we carried another round of boxes full of stuff I'm not even sure I want anymore. But we made it. Barely.

Waiting: to hear what's coming next. We all are, right? I can't comprehend what the future is going to hold- I've heard every theory on the spectrum from we'll flip it around like nothing every happened, to we'll be social distancing for the next 2 years. For now, I take it one executive order at a time. We know we'll be "at home" until May. We suspect school could be closed for the rest of the year. And beyond that, it's really anyone's guess. I try not to get my hopes tied up in any particular outcome or plan, and avoid speculating. Next week will be here soon enough. So will May. And then whatever comes after that.

Wearing: my leopard headband. Every. Single. Day. Like most folks, I've settled into an unofficial quarantine uniform, which consists of 2-3 sweatshirts on rotation, with a headband to cover up the HOT mess that is my hair. (My hair extensions were due for a "touch up" at least 2 weeks ago, so it's been like "Britney: the rough years" over here). The kids actually get dressed most mornings, which is helpful in making it feel like we have more of a normal routine. And we're all going strong on a "every 3 days or so" shower schedule, so that's a win...right?!

Following: a (loose) schedule. It's nothing fancy, just the basics of our day written on scraps of paper taped to a white board. Each morning after breakfast, we work together to rearrange them to design our day. It's really helpful to see our goals and cadence for the day, and the kids like to be "in charge" of how we spend our time. We certainly don't always stick to the plan, but the framework helps me avoid feeling like we're trapped never ended is a starting point at least, and gives me a sense of accomplishment.

Noticing: that I actually liked alone time more than I thought. I'm hugely extroverted, so mostly the isolation kills my soul...but I'm finding that I do miss just little bits of time on my own that I don't have now that it's Bowden Family Time 24/7. This might be the thing that brings back my motivation for daily walks (RIP exercise)...just a chance to think my own thoughts for a few minutes (ok...and maybe catch up on some podcasts that I'm missing out on due to not having a commute).
Thinking: that I'm not doing this whole thing right. Should we not go to Home Depot? Is it ok to have our caseworker visit? Should I support local business more somehow? If I'm not careful, it's easy to spiral down into worry and fear and anxiety. I don't know that there is a right way to quarantine, but I'm sure there is a wrong way, and I don't want to be part of the problem. So I wear my mask, try to keep my distance, but try not to beat myself up for needing to hit up the hardware store once a week, or panic about not sufficiently wiping down my mail. 

Looking: up the animal of the day for the Cincinnati Zoo's "at home safaris". We've fallen a bit behind these days, but for the first week or two we were loyal followers, catching each day's videos. We saw nearly all of our favs (Finley= Giraffe, Miller= Lion, Piper= Sloth, Me= Otters, Baby Girl= Elephants) and learned a lot of fun animal facts. The options for online entertainment are actually pretty much endless (it's incredible how many people are working so hard to create content, and provide access to experiences during this time) and that variety  is awesome- but for us, I've found it's also been helpful to have a few things we routinely participate in so it doesn't get overwhelming. The daily "zoo trips" were comforting- the kids loved keeping track of everything we saw, and enjoyed the surprise of what was coming next.

Marveling: at how well the kids are doing with all of this. Sure, they have their typical meltdowns, but honestly, considering their circumstances, they're handling everything so well. I know they miss their friends, and their regular routine, but they rarely complain (well...they actually complain almost constantly. But not more so than they ever did!) In some ways I think they actually like the slower pace of life these days. I don't have to nag them to get ready or get in the car, and there really isn't even an opportunity to be late to anything. There are certainly plenty of things to stress about now, but from their perspective things have actually gotten more relaxed. I thought they'd be more upset about all the places we can't go, or all the things we can't do (heaven knows I am), but it's barely come up. They've mostly been content to play- making up games and imagining things together. They fight like cats in a bag at times ("at times" means most of every day) but I know deep down they are thankful they have each other (they might not get that on a conscious level right now, but it's there, and I'm grateful on their behalf in any case. Siblinghood is a gift- especially when your social circle is limited to your immediate family.)

Needing: more sleep. You would think I'd be the MOST well rested...and truth be told, we are getting up later (even Dustin has been sleeping in until 7:30 or beyond most days, which is pretty wild for him!) but the new lax morning schedule has somehow convinced us we can stay up until 1AM watching Netflix and eating Easter candy. (We can....and do).

Bookmarking: fun ideas to do while we're at home. I have a COVID Fun folder on Instagram (which sounds wildly insensitive...but hey- we need the inspiration!) I have some ideas saved to my highlights), have pinned a ton of things, and am saving and screenshotting other ideas wherever I see them. I'm not trying to win Corona Camp Counselor awards (I wouldn't turn it down though), but it's been really great to have something special each day to break up the monotony a bit. It's usually simple stuff- but picnic lunches, superhero themed workouts, or popsicles in the bathtub help brighten up this strange series of days.

 with Dustin. Yes, we want to maul each other at least once per day (or hour, depending on the day), but we're really REALLY trying to enjoy our time together. Quarantining with 4 small kids feels overwhelming at times, but it is never lost on me how lucky I am to have a partner to do all this with. A partner I actually really, really like. (even in those moments where he a little bit can't stand me). Everyone is in the trenches in some form or another these days, and I'm grateful for my trenchmate. We've bickered more in the last month than in recent recollection, but we are typically quick to apologize, and do our best to acknowledge (and appreciate?) the sheer-bonkitude that is this season of life. When nothing makes any sense, it's helpful to have someone to look at and say "SH*T is bananas, yeah?" and know that they truly get it.

Trying: our new air fryer. It was a housewarming gift from our realtor (ok...she's also my best friend...but I think the gift came from the realtor side of our relationship) and we've used it almost every day. (Easy faves: brussels sprouts and tater tots) Our next culinary adventure: donut holes! (using refrigerated biscuit dough, because yeast is about as rare as toilet paper these days).

Listening: to the genre of the week via #themagicalmusicalmysterytour. Well... sometimes... technically. We haven't really been keeping up with the music challenge very well this year. We tend to lose track of time, and sometimes the genres don't seem as inspiring as individual artists were (last year), but we are still pulling a new theme whenever we remember. 90's pop was a good one, and I didn't hate Blues week as much as I thought I might. But recently we've mostly been listening to the Trolls World Tour soundtrack, which I am not mad at. 

Watching: Ozark. Or should I say, Dustin has been watching, I've been diligently falling asleep halfway through every episode, waking up just in time to ask for recaps, ultimately forcing him to start the episode over the next night, only to fall asleep again at nearly the exact same part. Turns out I really know how to stretch a season out (we've got time!). We've also been watching Top Chef: All Stars (love!), and just started Lego Masters with the kids (also love!)

Obsessing: over the world's smallest details at the new house. Anything I could possibly mention in this regard would be glaring examples of "first world problems" so I try to maintain perspective that decorating problems are not real problems. BUT- that does not stop me from worrying about all the money we're spending, and wanting everything to turn out how I envisioned (or really just turn out functional. Even that would be fine in most cases). I could go ON about this topic (and probably will at some point) but the short story is everything is fine/wonderful. We have messes everywhere, are still missing some key interior doors (and all our light switch covers), and Dustin is going to move out if I ask him to rearrange the furniture one more time. BUT, I have a pantry bin devoted solely to skittles, a closet large enough to take conference calls from (proven, not theory) and a dinner bell shaped like a pig, so really- no complaints.  

Missing: my mom. And not just because I'm tired of taking care of my own kids (but not not because of that). She calls me every morning, we "see" her on Facetime a few times a week, and she even stops by every so often (dropping things on the porch, or waving through the sliding glass door) but it's not the same as seeing her in person (and within arms' reach) multiple times a week. (And it's really not the same not having her watch the kids on Mondays or host dinner for us on Thursdays. Those things were a part of our routine that I was always immensely grateful for, but I now have even more appreciation for how much she served us regularly).

Suffering: through endless conference calls. Seriously SO many. We've actually cut back on our meeting schedule quite a bit, but two jobs and four kids is still a lot to manage. I'm of course incredibly thankful that we both still have our jobs, and that we're able to work from home, but that doesn't mean it's easy to simultaneously wear Employee, Childcare Provider, and Teacher hats (also: Chef, Maid and Referee- but not chauffeur!) Our companies have had the same issues as anywhere else- attempting to adjust to this constantly evolving market- but they've also been super supportive as everyone tries to juggle too much.

Celebrating: the Sabbath. Earlier this year I decided I wanted to do an experiment to practice the Sabbath- making time for rest and family connection each week. We made loose guidelines to support our intentions- which basically meant no work, shopping, or screens on Sundays. Our goal was to take a break from the busy pace of our daily lives, and just spend time together- cooking, playing games, reading, relaxing, exploring...The main "tradition" we introduced along with this was Sabbath dinner- which is no more special than a regular dinner except that it involves candles and "fancy juice" (sparkling grape juice). We've been doing it for a month or two now, and I've been really impressed with how the kids have taken to it. Honestly, I think they're thankful to have more of our attention (that truth hurts a little) but they've been pretty understanding of giving up their screentime.
And with quarantine, I have to laugh a little, as it seems all of our days are Sabbath-ish. It's been tempting to bail on it now that we're up to our eyeballs in family time (and on a forced sabbatical from shopping)- but we're still trying to protect the value of a day spent together, even if sometimes that includes us all watching a movie because we've literally exhausted every other possibility.

Pretending: we're not scared. This time is wild. We have no idea what's going to happen, how serious it will get, when it will be over. The kids understand things to a point, but we've tried to shelter them from the anxiety of it all. They know about "the sickness" (as Miller calls it) and understand that we can't go to school or be around people so that we can avoid spreading it. But they also are convinced that kids can't get it (that's sort of true? so we sort of told them that?) and periodically ask when this is all going to be over. (and are maybe a little worried that their birthdays will be cancelled...that's real premature- especially for my November baby, but I totally understand the feeling). For the most part I try to stay positive- not only in front of them- but in general, even just for myself. I get fearful at times- what if my parents get it? what if school is closed for the year? what if we both lose our jobs? what if....who even knows anymore?!!- It can be daunting though to have an audience of 4 little ones watching all the feels like there isn't a moment to break down (and sometimes you just need a moment to break down!) but I try not to let my mind run away with it all too much. I just focus on what we need to do right now, making the best choices I can given the circumstances, and pray for protection for us all.

Buying: a million things on Facebook marketplace. I've always loved a secondhand find, but with so many stores closed and long shipping delays on some online items it's been really great to get some "necessities" via some contact-less thrifting. I've picked up some chairs, light fixtures and furniture on the app, and have also managed to sell a few things too. The "thrill of the hunt" is addicting for me, so I check in more often than I should to see what's available. But scoring a pretty much brand new kids bike for $8? Yeah- no shame in my game. (Though Dustin could have done without the mini-trampoline I hauled out of the neighbor's trash last Friday. Perhaps there should be a little shame in my game). 

Embracing: this opportunity to be together. At least...I'm trying to. And reminding myself several times a day that I really should try to. And trying to give myself grace for the millions of ways I'm messing it up. At the beginning of this, I saw an IG post that said "You don't have to 'make the most' of a global pandemic." and that hit me SO HARD. I tend to Enneagram 3 my way through life- trying to bring my A-game, seize the day, do all the things, and be all I can be. But as it turns out- 3's often go to "9" in stress, which for me can translate to complete apathy, lethargy, and inability to accomplish much of anything. I've found myself bouncing between those two extremes- if not always in behavior, certainly in inner turmoil. From the outside it probably often looks like we are killing it- checking off house projects galore, keeping all the plate spinning...but inside its much more of a struggle. I have to check things off my to-do list because I doubt my worth without it. I adore my kids and also take longer than necessary bathroom breaks sometimes just to have a moment where no one is on me (figuratively and literally). Pretty much every night I go to bed feeling like I should have done more, AND like I did too much. I want to be productive AND present. I want to look back on this time and have "something to show for it"- which doesn't make any rational sense (what we should all have to show for it is our LIVES). I know that I tend to be really hard on myself, but that doesn't alleviate the push-pull of my own personality. For better or worse, I am 100% the type of person who would try to make the most of a pandemic. I'm hugely unsure that's healthy, so I try to force some chill upon myself...and yet, it's also just how I'm wired.

Visiting: urgent care, for this little Scrooge McDumb. I can't really think of a place I'd like to be less during a pandemic, but you do what you gotta do. Our trip was mercifully quick and easy, the staff couldn't have been nicer, and we got some lovely parting gifts in the form of rubber gloves and a "hat" for our toilet. All's well that ends well (ha!) and we all learned a valuable (1/100th of a dollar) lesson. 

Forgetting: what day it is. Quarantine has a real Groundhog's Day vibe. And time is weird- every day seems to last 167 years but somehow the weeks go by in a flash. It's hard to believe we've been home for 5 weeks, yet if you asked me at 3pm today if I was going to make it until bedtime I would have bet against it. The kids still get pumped about "Fri-yay" which cracks me up because I can't fathom what the difference is for them (I'm not exactly a slave-driver with the math worksheets Mon-Thurs).
Eating: queso. And cheese curds. And salami and cream cheese. And other non-cheese based things, but only if absolutely necessary (somehow I've convinced myself that "Fourth Meal" is an unalienable right).
Struggling: to meet the needs of all of the kids (based on the story above, we are also apparently struggling to provide them with basic supervision). Being each kid's everything during this time is super daunting, and while they're getting a lot more quality time, our attention is still split about a million different ways. Each kid is super different too, so they're processing all of this in their own ways. One is super anxious, which has been a massive challenge to navigate. The others don't verbalize it as much, but the stress comes out in the need for extra cuddles, or especially short tempers. (Turns out that's how my needs come out sometimes too...) Even on a good day, I worry about my ability to provide for all of their emotional (and physical, and spiritual) needs, and we all know these are not Good Days, so this is just another area for me to do my best, and hope and pray I guess that's basically the theme of every one of these sections and our COVID experience as a whole. (Well, that and queso).

Wondering: how we're going to transition back to "normal" life. In the beginning, the change to staying at home made me anxious ( still does). But now I've been surprised that the increased discussion of "opening things back up" also makes me anxious. In some ways, I actually feel like I'm hitting my stride with things, and I'm hesitant to flip the switch back to the old way. No, things are not easy, and no, I don't actually feel like I'm "successful" at this whole thing, but there are parts of our new routine that I really love (like, beyond the sleeping in, and having Dustin make most of my meals...though those are perks, and I make no apologies for my life as a Quaran-queen). In a way, it's like that feeling you get halfway through a vacation when it feels like it's going WAY too fast. I always start to panic and feel pressure to pack in ALL THE THINGS out of fear and a desperation to avoid regret. It is my nightmare that I would emerge from this experience the same as I went in. And some of that is a severe dependence on achievement and external validation...but some of it is a sincere desire to have this experience matter and somehow change me (and us!) for the better. This has been a profoundly tumultuous time for our world- the idea that we would come out the other side unchanged (albeit a little fatter and in desperate need of a haircut) is depressing. Shouldn't we be gaining perspective? Renewing our sense of community and faith? Becoming more patient, empathetic, generous? On one hand I'm scared that this will never truly be over- I'm fearful of restriction extensions, virus resurgence, lasting negative consequences. But on the other, I'm really scared that soon, we'll look back on this with a hazy memory- like a bad dream we are thankful to wake up from and easy leave behind. I'm not sure yet what "normalcy" will look like- but I'm trying to see it as an ongoing opportunity to craft a life I feel passionate about, and not a change forced upon me that I struggle to adequately capitalize on. So while it's true that I've got (minimum) two more weeks to dig into the best side effects COVID has to offer, the bigger picture is actually more accurate: I have a lifetime to pursue growth, at home and beyond.

P.S. Did you finish your last jigsaw puzzle? Watched all the Bravo you can stomach? Hop into the archives for all of our Life Lately posts, and delay that shower another day.

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1 comment :

  1. You are a talented and gifted soul. You have accomplished so much. I am looking forward to seeing all the good God has in store for you and your family. I am proud to know you ♥️ and to be your sister in law.