Considering the New Normal for a Very Long Summer

Last time, I left you in terrible suspense about whether or not we would obtain lightbulbs for our kitchen before the sun went down, so I’m going to let you know that we did not receive the light bulbs for 5 days after the order was placed. I was forced to cook our beef tenderloin in less than optimal lighting that night, and I think that might be the epitome of first world problems. 

We picked up the long-awaited light bulbs a couple of nights ago, and replaced only one of the burned out bulbs. As it would turn out, we have grown accustomed to the mood lighting provided by 2 out of the 4 bulbs and found any more light than that offensive to our eyes and spirits during this time, so we have yet to replace the remaining 2 burned out bulbs. Maybe this is our version of flying flags at half mast; we express our Corona grief by illuminating our kitchen at only half capacity. 

Wheelchair
A work in progress…

In other news, there is now a wheelchair taking up residence in my driveway, which is by far the most exotic item my child has brought home from her exploits in the neighborhood. The neighborhood girl gang spent an entire morning embellishing the wheelchair with beads and stickers and by attaching pieces of old trophies to the handlebars. The piece de resistance, however, is the string of brightly colored flags one would generally find at a car lot wrapped around the entirety of this neighborhood art project. 

Obviously, this called for a socially-distanced parade, and the entire day was spent by all the neighborhood children riding up and down the hill of the neighborhood. In all my fantasies about being a parent, I never once expected that I would have to help negotiate taking turns and lecture about sharing in regards to a wheelchair. All I can really say is that Corona parenting is trippy, y’all. 

By the end of the weekend, there were plans for a neighborhood socially-distanced lemonade stand, cupcake bake-off, and Olympic competitions. Once again, I am reminded that this neighborhood and the spirit of not only looking out for each other but also enjoying each other is a real blessing, and yet, somewhere in all that planning for activities that are usually saved for the summer, it hit me: this is it. This is the new normal. This is how it is now and for the foreseeable future, and something about that felt very sobering.

You see, we have been one-day-at-a-timing this thing for what feels like an eternity. Our school assignments come in one day at a time. My work schedule has changed almost daily as the needs of my clients have changed. It seems that we’ve all been holding our breath until this thing passes, much like I find myself holding my breath in Walmart if I find that I have no other option but to walk past another person in the aisle. And, well, neither one of those things is sustainable long-term. At some point, I’m going to need to breathe, and we’re all going to need to make some plans beyond what snacks we’re going to eat tomorrow. 

This realization ended up being the theme for the week, as I spoke with various people about their impending return to work or a choice they were having to make about a potential trip. The fact of the matter is, the mandated, universal protocols that we should all be following are beginning to fade, and we are being released into the world with only our homemade masks and our good judgement and common sense. God help us, right?! Things are so much easier when clear lines are drawn and so much harder when we must make judgement calls. 

My mind has been busy this week, trying to wrap itself around what this new normal may look like for this little family. I’ve been trying to imagine how comfortable I might feel eating in a restaurant or going to the gym surrounded by masked faces and gloved hands. More immediately, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around taking my child into a store for the first time, because she is spending most of her time barefoot right now and the shipping of those shoes I ordered weeks ago keeps being delayed. At the rate she is growing, by the time the shoes actually arrive, there is a good chance they won’t fit anymore. Pretty soon, the aid of a measuring tool and the ability to try some shoes on her actual feet is going to be necessary, so what good judgement and common sense looks like in that scenario has been my mental gymnastics for the week. 

It makes me grateful that the new TV I ordered arrived in time for an end of the week respite. If only shoes would arrive as quickly as televisions, but at this juncture, perhaps a new TV will keep us from actually needing to put on shoes for a little while longer. Our brains are very tired from navigating the unknowns and uncertainties of this interesting and odd time we are living in, and a little time being entertained with little effort required from us is exactly what is needed.

After all, we need to be rested for the next round of weekend wheelchair parades, national lemonade day celebrations, and cupcake competitions…and whatever else gets dreamed up this weekend. Here’s to new normals and neighborhood entertainment: may they keep us sane during a very long summer.

 

My Daughter has learned to cook during quarantine, and we’re going to need more eggs….

gabriel-gurrola-CxSIQqRnrns-unsplash
Photo by Gabriel Gurrola on Unsplash

I don’t know how things are going at your house, but corona quarantine has made our life both incredibly interesting and entirely mundane. 

On the more mundane side, I’ve started cooking again and not because I enjoy cooking. Initially, I only started cooking because all the sudden I had the time to do it and because grabbing food out had become a little more difficult. As the weeks sequestered in my home with the same old fare lingered on, I became desperate for something new. 

“I can’t take it anymore. I cannot eat the same thing for the 6th week in a row!” I yelled mostly at the refrigerator but also in an attempt to communicate what was coming to my picky child. She just looked at me with the expression of the mildly annoyed, more mature witness to this outburst. I feared that she is about to say something reasonable, like “we have plenty of food in this pantry” so I continued on with my crusade for finer cuisine before she could say anything. 

“Listen,” I began, “This is what’s going to happen. I’m going to sign up for one of those services where they send you the ingredients and tell you how to cook it, because I need something new without the responsibility of having to comb through thousands of Pinterest pages to find it. I’m going to let them decide for me and send it to me. And then I’m going to make it and you’re going to try it, you hear me?! And if you don’t like it, fine, but you’re going to try it and then you can make yourself something else.” 

“Fine,” she says, not even putting up a fight, “As long as I can make something else if I don’t like it.” 

I think the only reason she so willingly resigned to my new food proclamation is that just before quarantine we discovered that she is finally tall enough to use the microwave and began heating up some of her own food. She has continued to expand her skill in the kitchen during quarantine and can now use the stove to fry her own eggs. 

Oh, the fried egg. It is her current favorite food. She would eat half a dozen of them in one sitting if I would let her. I would complain about that, but the fried egg with salt and pepper is the only thing that broke down my daughter’s inexplicable disdain for pepper, so I owe it a debt of gratitude and therefore allow the fried egg phase to stand. I only pray that soon she will discover some form of toasted bread and perhaps some melted cheese and consume her eggs with any combination of these things rather than using her fingers to deliver the egg directly to her mouth. It would be a small mercy for which I would be forever grateful. 

The interesting part to me in this scaled back, run of the mill, mundane quarantine life we have going on is how much it has allowed her to grow. Cooking isn’t the only new skill she has picked up, she has also learned how to do laundry. We have even instituted mother-daughter folding time and tackle laundry mountain together. She has learned to unload the dishwasher and run the vacuum. Suddenly, I feel like if she had to move into her college dorm tomorrow, she just might survive. The pace of our life has slowed down just enough to allow her to finally, successfully memorize those multiplication tables and for me to be able to teach her some important life skills. She’s going to walk out of quarantine able to feed and clothe herself, and that seems pretty amazing to me. 

The grief process during the shut down and quarantine was significant and real. I felt it, my child felt it, my clients felt it; we all felt the wild and mixed emotions of grief. Now there is talk of reopening the country and getting everything back up and going, and honestly, that makes me a little sad, too. I just settled into this slower pace of life, and frankly, it suits me quite well. It seems to suit this little family even better, and I’m beginning to suspect that there will be a little grief when the schedules fill up again and our time together at home is all about chores, dinner, baths, homework and how quickly we can get those things done so we can be in bed on time. 

We needed this respite. I knew we needed it before it was involuntarily thrust upon us, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it happen. I’m hoping to come out of this thing with some new ideas and new zeal for protecting my time. Quarantine has certainly presented some unexpected challenges, but it has presented some unexpected blessings, as well. The gift of time, as it turns out, has some arms and legs to it that extend well into the future, and I’m curious to see what kind of life we all return to. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m not in a hurry to return to the hurry. 

 

The Hope of Growth and Common Interests

ML dancing
Three years old and dancing with the sea lions

Our little town has been undergoing a transformation over the last several years. An art district has been flourishing and revitalizing the historic downtown square, and recently this area hosted a block party in order to celebrate a newly renovated park. May Lee and I were excited to attend, and clearly we weren’t the only ones, as several thousand people came and  explored the STEM themed attractions, shopped at the various vendors, and formed long lines at all the food trucks. Since my child is going through a picky eater phase and neither of us enjoys a crowd, we opted to begin our evening at the art studio where May Lee has been taking classes since she was about four years old. We spent over an hour making crafts before deciding to hit the street again. 

As we left the building, we could hear that a musician, who happened to be our guitar instructor, was just starting his set. We made our way next door to the newly renovated park and marveled at the transformation as we stood at the entrance scoping out open seats. What once was a vacant and neglected outdoor lot littered with broken glass and other debris had become a clean and inviting space. The previously cracked concrete floor had been repaved and blanketed with a bright green square of astroturf. Low walls bordered the left and right sides of the lawn and created walkways on either side that lead up to a new stage that spanned across the back wall. Overhead, steel beams were lined with festive outdoor lights that created a warm and relaxing glow. 

Some seats opened up on one of the walls, and we made our way over and settled in for the show. For over an hour, we enjoyed singing along to the popular cover songs being played, joining in with the crowd to clap along to the beat, and cheering for our favorite songs. Several children ran to the open space in front of the stage and danced and tumbled on the astroturf in variations of somersaults and cartwheels. It summoned memories of when my own child was 3 years old and twirling around in her pineapple sundress to a bluegrass band that played at one of our favorite Florida farmer’s markets. There was also the time around the same age that she performed interesting dance moves right along with the dancing sea lions at Marine World. 

Now, she is 8 years old, and rather than running to the front to twirl and dance to the music, she spent the show with her long legs stretched out on top of the wall and her back leaning against my shoulder. She’s growing up, and that really hit home to me as we enjoyed the live music together in this new and grown up way. She has favorite songs now that are not pre-k classics like “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider”, 

“Some of you are gonna love this, and the rest of you will want to puke,” the singer declared before launching into a cover of “Old Town Road”. My daughter’s whole face lit up with excitement, and I allowed my jaw to drop to mirror her emotion. I chuckled at the Billy Ray Cyrus induced “Achy, Breaky Heart” flashbacks I was having, but I also relished in my daughter’s delight at hearing one of her favorite songs being played live for the first time in her life. There really is something very highly contagious about sharing live music with your people. When that person is your child, it certainly makes it very difficult to be a music snob. 

After the music ended and the party was over, we headed to Sonic for grilled cheese sandwiches and tater tots, since we dared not brave the food truck lines during the event. On our way out, we were able to snag a couple of macarons before they closed down their truck, so we snacked on little blueberry cheesecake delights while we waited for our food. I pulled up the video of “Achy, Breaky Heart” to show my daughter what was coming to my mind every time I heard Billy Ray Cyrus sing on “Old Town Road”. I didn’t expect her to love the song and request that it be added  to her playlist so she could listen to it every day, which is exactly what happened. 

(That request was met with a hard no, by the way. I lived through “Achy, Breaky Heart” once, and that was enough. She has her own device, so go with God, child.)

Mercifully, our food arrived at that time, and as we sat and ate, I took a moment to really savor this wonderful evening with my daughter. The fact that she is old enough now to enjoy- and allow me to enjoy- an hour and a half of live music is ushering in a new phase of growth and maturity. Being able to stay out a little later every now and then without a total meltdown because she’s tired is a new lease on life for the both of us. It’s a really happy and hopeful thing that we can enjoy a great night out together, and I found myself hoping that this common interest in music could sustain us through the tumultuous teen years and beyond. Perhaps it’s even time to allow myself to begin dreaming about taking her to her first big concert. 

When we arrived home, my daughter announced to me that she was tired and going to bed. Not only did she get ready for bed without any prodding from me, she actually got into bed without me having to tell her to do so no less than four hundred times. For once, I was able to be the mother I always dreamed I could be and was able to say sweet, goodnight things to my daughter in all sincerity and not through gritted teeth and thinly veiled frustration produced by the circus that is the typical bedtime routine. 

I’m not going to lie, I may struggle a little bit with this new phase of maturity. It’s a little shocking to the system to have such an abrupt change, but I’m determined to allow myself to enjoy every moment of it. Because there is more of this to come, right? If I’m doing this parenting thing well, there should be more milestones like this ahead. At least, this is what I’ve been led to believe by the Great Cloud of Parenting Witnesses that have gone before me and frequently encourage me that “this too shall pass” when I’m about to pull my hair out. I’ve been told that one day I’ll be rewarded for all my effort in raising this small child with an adult child who is responsible and pleasant to spend time with. 

So, I’m choosing to see this block party as a foreshadowing of the really lovely adult my child is working on becoming. I’m choosing to believe that this was a small taste of my parenting efforts paying off, and I’m accepting that as encouragement that my less-than-perfect parenting is still producing some good fruit. I’m also renewing my commitment to her music education. This is clearly an avenue by which we will continue to bond, and y’all, I want to enjoy the music (at least some of the time) too!