January reflections (in COVID times)

Hello, readers – we made it to February! With January, my least favorite month, behind us, I thought I’d share some ramblings about my family’s start to the year. This is a little different than two years ago, when my January reflections post covered school, surgery, and an Eagles team that made it to the playoffs!

A dry-ish January

Dan and I officially finished dry – well, dry-ish – January. Two years ago, when we first decided to give dry January a try, we made it to MLK weekend. Because it would have been rude to not drink the delicious bottle of wine our friends brought to dinner, that was the end of our efforts.

“You did a dry Janu,” Jordan said, when I told him. “You made it through half the month, so you can’t actually claim dry January.”

We decided on January 1 this year to try it again. Jordan just listened and shook his head. “Good luck with that,” he said. He had a point. It’s hard to do dry anything when you’re just sitting around your house most of the time. And, when your wine collection is literally three feet from your desk, and you see it all. day. long.

I read an article earlier this month about how to keep yourself on track if you’re doing a dry January. The suggestions were things like – After work, go straight to an activity, so you don’t think about having an evening drink. Go to the gym. Take a class. Walk with friends. Go bowling. See a movie. So, the author was essentially saying, get out in the world with groups of people? Hmmm. After I confirmed this was not written pre-COVID but actually in November 2020, the author’s credibility diminished, and I stopped reading.

Two weeks into January, we discussed whether one drink on a Saturday – like a short happy hour – would be okay. We could do a very light January, instead of the full-on dry month. Then last week, I made the point that it’s a long week here at home. We’re both going nonstop all day, so how can we deny ourselves a Friday night glass or two of wine as a reward? After that, it morphed into a ‘light weekend’ January.

When Jordan saw me opening a bottle that Friday night, he raised his eyebrow.

“For the record, I called this on January 1st,” he said.

Interestingly, the light January had a positive effect – we’ve both found our tolerance has decreased, and we can’t really drink more than a couple of glasses at a time. Fewer calories are definitely a plus (score 1 point for January), so we decided to keep going with a light February.

Wasting time

One of the things I’ve noticed about our lackluster COVID social life is how much time we spend doing and thinking about things we never would have before March 2020. 

Take the Bernie Sanders memes. They’re hilarious, but would they have garnered the same amount of enthusiasm pre-COVID? I looked back on two nights of family texts a week ago – 45 minutes on a Thursday and an hour that Friday – spent sending our own Bernie memes back and forth. My sister, Marni, and I were the most obsessed. She figured out how to cut out Bernie using the picsart app and sent me some tips. Mine looked awkward at first, but I kept practicing and got better each time.  I figured out on Friday if you click cutout and then select person, Bernie’s chair goes away, and he can fit in so many more places.

We texted our pics to the family – Bernie outside Beth Am (our synagogue), in our family photo at my niece’s Bat Mitzvah, outside Marni’s house before the Bat Mitzvah, outside the boys’ high school, at Cape May sitting on the chairs with Ryan by Congress Hall, on the American University sign next to my college friends and me, playing in the snow with Marni’s kids, sitting next to the Hollywood sign when we were in LA, and with me on various travels around the world.

“You’re still doing this?” Dan asked later Friday night, several hours after I’d started playing around with the app.

“I want to do it,” Ryan said. “Can you show me?” I did, and he picked it up quickly.

“This is really dumb,” Jordan said. “I don’t get it.”

“But look,” I said, pulling up the latest one I found on Instagram. “Here’s one the theater department posted of you and your friend holding Bernie up during your song in the last show.  It’s a riot.”

 “It’s not that funny.”

“It’s the best thing ever,” I argued and pulled up another picture. “Here he is with Bunny (my stuffed animal from childhood)!”

He just shook his head. We usually have a similar sense of humor, but Jordan is not into these types of things (nor does he appreciate political satire song parodies, which I love).

There’s no way I would have spent mindless hours on Bernie memes before COVID. We were always somewhere at night, and free time was precious. But because I had time, I was able to learn a new skill – Bernie cropping! (Score another point for January 😊 )

I’m not the only one losing hours of my evenings and weekends to random things. Jordan has been listening to lengthy Survivor podcasts – one morning he was up at 4:00 am and couldn’t go back to sleep, so he found a podcast that kept him busy until 7:15. Ryan likes to look on realtor pages and virtually visit houses on the market. He’s very into whether the houses are old and cluttered, or are redecorated, and will show me photos, asking when we can redo his bedroom, bathroom, and many other things in our house.

“We just did the kitchen a little over a year ago,” I remind him. “And the shower in my bathroom right before that.”

“So when can we do the other rooms and get new furniture?” (because, you know, we’re made of money and can just renovate the whole house on a whim)

“We can’t.”

“Well, how ‘bout we just move then?” he’ll often suggest. “I can find us a house.”

Speaking of obsessions, Dan has become very interested in his genealogy and recently discovered records dating back to Eastern Europe from great, great, great grandparents  – birth, death, immigration records… it’s interesting stuff, and he tends to research this for hours and talk about it – a lot. When he’s buried in his iPad searching, I can’t get him to concentrate on anything else.

His focus on this is just as intense as when he did 23andMe a couple of years ago and continuously shared his results with us as they were updated. He was most intrigued with his .2% Sardinian roots (which have since expanded to .6% when 23andMe changed its algorithms). Keep in mind, Dan has an interesting DNA background as it is, but it was the Sardinian piece he constantly talked about.

“I’m .2% Sardinian,” he told us proudly several times a week and shared this with anyone who unknowingly brought up the topic of genealogy.

Jordan and I regularly made fun of this. “Did you know Dad was Sardinian?” Jordan would ask when Dan found ways to bring it into meal-time conversations.  

“No way! That’s wild!” I’d reply.

A couple of years ago, we were out to dinner with friends, and one of our friends mentioned genetics. I was sitting next to Jordan and we made eye contact right away. I whispered, “I give it 3 minutes.”

“Bet you it’s less than 30 seconds,” he whispered back. “And 5, 4, 3…”

“Speaking of genetics, I found out I have Sardinian roots!” Dan exclaimed to our friends.

“Nicely played,” I said to Jordan.

Ryan’s questions

I’m sure I’ve mentioned in other blogs Ryan likes to ask lots and lots of questions. About 90% of them start with Mom. I think he says the word, Mom, 600 times a day. “Mom,… why are…?“Mom, what’s going to happen when…” “Mom, when is…?” “Mom, remember when…?”

He mostly sits on the couch with what I call his ‘equipment’ surrounding him. His iPad, phone, charging block with multiple USB ports, and plugs, which I’m constantly tripping over. I’m always telling him to move his equipment before he causes an accident.

Ryan’s questions generally fall into three categories:

  1. Questions about things that happened in the past (e.g. bad behavior stories), which he knows the answer to but wants to hear me say it again.
  2. Questions about an upcoming event where he has concerns (e.g. his recent IEP meeting). These questions have also likely been answered many times, but he finds comfort in talking about them over and over.
  3. Questions about something in the future where I don’t have an answer and can’t control whatever the topic is (e.g. the weather), but he wants to hear what I think, take it as gospel and then ask me about it again. (and again…)

The third category was the source of most questions last month, with the majority being about the COVID-19 vaccine. Questions focused on when our family members in the 65+ category will get the vaccine, when the four of us will get it, what we can safely do this summer if we all get the vaccine by then, etc. It originally seemed promising. I was guessing, based on the news, our 65+ family, and maybe Marni as a teacher, would be vaccinated in February/March, and the rest of us by Summer. Given that timeframe, of course we’d go on vacation. I might even send him back to school in the Spring, knowing our older family members wouldn’t catch anything he might bring home.

“What do you mean by summer, Mom? May? June?”

“Hopefully one of those” I said.

But PA, like many states, is very behind in rollouts, and if my 95-year-old grandmother can’t get an appointment, some days it seems unlikely the vaccine will get to those of us who are younger and don’t have preexisting conditions in time for the summer.

“It could be July/August,” I said on another day.

“I thought it was May or June,” he argued.

“Well, I was just guessing. I’m not in charge of the vaccine.”

Why not?”

“Ry!”

“But, Mom, it’s May or June, right?”

“Ryan, I don’t know!”

“If we get the vaccine, can we go to Hawaii?” (We were supposed to go in August, and of course we cancelled that trip.)

This went on for weeks.

One day, it seemed so dismal hearing about how hard it is for people to get appointments here, so when Ryan asked, I snapped. “It’s going to be 2025!”

“Huh?” he asked, staring at me like I had lost it. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No, it’s never happening. We’re going to spend the next four years together in this house. Four more years of you on the couch with your equipment. Four more years of negotiating space when Jordan needs quiet so he can record something for school – because he’ll be taking online college music classes from his room. Four more years of Dad sitting hunched over at that bay window in the bedroom. Four more years sitting in my basement office with no sunlight. When someone compliments your elementary school artwork on the wall behind me while I’m on a video call (which happens frequently – my walls are full of the boys’ artwork), I’ll say, ‘Thank you. My boys, who are almost 21, made them. I meant to replace the school art with big canvas prints Ryan took in Hawaii, but we never made it to Hawaii because we’re still waiting for the vaccine!!!’”

“Mom? Are you having a temper tantrum? Do you need a time out?”

Yes.

After about 30 seconds… “Mom? When will we really get the vaccine?”

Most days I’m generally positive, but every so often, it’s easy to hit a wall.

As we kick off February, I’m raising my glass of sparkling water on this cold and snowy Monday in hopes of an early spring — and to an emergency authorization of the new J&J vaccine helping speed up the rollout — so everyone who wants to can be vaccinated by the Summer!

Thankful

cooked turkey on table

Hello readers! It’s been awhile since I last published a post. Honestly? I haven’t felt motivated to write anything for months. Of course, with so much going on in the world, there are a myriad of topics I could have covered from a parenting/working mom perspective. What about…

The election? With the polarizing views in our country and the intensity leading up to November 3 and the days that followed, I was more inclined to stay on top of the news rather than write anything myself. Our family was glued to the TV and fervently hoped for a positive election outcome.  

As our current President fades into the background more and more each day,  I do think Ryan will miss all of the crazy Trump stories. Ryan has always loved bad behavior stories, and Trump was like a cartoon character to Ryan. Ryan often asked “What would Trump do?” or “What would Trump’s behavior be like?” when imagining Trump taking the place of Ryan or another family member in a situation they were facing. For example, when the WiFi didn’t work for 30 minutes one day during virtual school and Ryan was starting to get upset, he asked me, “What would Trump do if his Wifi didn’t work?” “I don’t know – what do you think?” I asked. “He would likely throw a fit. Maybe he’d throw his Chromebook,” Ryan said. “He just might do that,” I agreed. 

COVID-19? I just can’t.  I wrote a couple of blog posts earlier in the year when the lockdown first happened. These days, there is enough ongoing news on this topic from all angles, including parenting. And thinking about the upcoming cold winter and how isolated we’ll likely be is a bit depressing. No need to write about it. I am praying for the health and safety of everyone around the world and a quick dissemination of the vaccines! 

Whether or not to send my kids back to school when it opened as a hybrid option? I came close to writing about this one. I was undecided because there are good points to both sides, and I really vacillated on this topic. Physical health vs mental health and education. The boys wanted different things and were very vocal about their preferences. 

The week we had to make a decision:

Me to Dan: “I’ve been talking about this issue for weeks with the boys, and you haven’t weighed in much. What’s your opinion on all of this?”

Dan: “It’s too dangerous. I’m afraid of the long term repercussions of COVID. We shouldn’t send them back.” 

Me: “The school has a solid plan in place for keeping the kids safe. What about the mental health of our kids – especially Jordan, who is craving interaction and complains daily about technology issues? And Ryan will learn so much better in person. I’m not sure how much he’s getting out of the virtual classes.”

Dan: Oh, I didn’t think about the mental health side of things. That’s a really important factor. We should send them.”

Me “But what about the safety of our family? They could be infected and not have symptoms and pass it on to all of the older relatives. I’d never forgive myself if we got anyone sick.”

Dan… “Um…. I agree with whatever you eventually decide?”

In the end, physical health concerns won, and we kept them virtual. After only two weeks of being open, schools are now virtual again for the next two weeks across the county because of the rise in cases (not being spread in schools, but through get togethers, parties, etc.). 

The lack of Clorox wipes in stores?  I’m kidding. I didn’t actually consider that as a topic. Well, maybe a little bit. We’re almost finished our supply and I would be very grateful to get a box for Chanukah. How sad.

So then, what is there to write about? It’s been Groundhog Day since March. With the exception of a few amazing outdoor outings and one week in the Poconos, the highlight of almost any weekend is figuring out which bottle of wine to open and when, which Netflix series to begin or finish, and when to take an hour walk outside (if it’s not freezing or raining). Very exciting stuff.

And yet, despite this crazy, scary state of the world and a depressing 2020, there are things to be thankful for. In addition to the obvious – family, friends, health, employment, and healing for our country – I’m going to share a few smaller ones.

I am thankful for time with the family. As much as it gets old with everyone being in the house constantly and very little privacy, I was thinking the other day about how we’d hardly see Jordan if this were a typical junior year. And how rushed it would be each night with various activities and other obligations. Now we can eat dinner together, talk without feeling hurried, and take our time on weekends. Most Sundays we watch the Eagles as a family (not the best season, but hey, it’s quality time), where in the past, the game would be on multiple TVs and usually at least one of us was out of the house. When the boys graduate high school, I’ll know we took advantage of the precious time we would not have had in normal circumstances.

I’m thankful being at home gave Jordan a chance to explore his passion for songwriting through two School of Creative and Performing Arts (SOCAPA) programs. If there hadn’t been a pandemic, Jordan would have gone back to his camp for the 10th summer and never learned all of the music composition skills that led him to publish his first album (Candy Hearts – available on SoundCloud). He also would not have met a really cool group of kids from around the country who share his passion. Through this program, he changed his mind about what he wants to focus on in college and now has a solid list of schools to explore.

I’m thankful virtual school has helped Ryan become independent. He gets up on his own, logs on and off to various classes without any prompting, answers questions, figures out his work, and makes and cleans up his lunch. The only class Dan or I have to get involved in is the biweekly cooking, depending on the recipe.  Academically, I’m not sure how much he’s actually retaining, and I do believe in-person learning is better for him.  But when I think about last Spring and how much hand holding he needed from us, he has really come a long way.  

I’m thankful Dan and I both have jobs we can do from home. I’m especially glad that Dan, who spent a number of years in negative work environments, finally has a job at a company like mine, that values its employees. Of course I very much look forward to the day when I have the option to safely go to an office when I want to see other people, and to a time when I can safely travel somewhere around the world to run an in-person training. Virtual training is just not the same. (Ryan asked me the other day, “Mom, do you miss traveling to other countries?” I said, “I do. But at this point, taking the train to Center City for the day would be exotic.”) For now, though, I’ll enjoy sleeping later than I normally would have, having the time to exercise regularly, and wearing comfortable leggings to my home office every day. 

And finally, I’m thankful we had one celebratory morning with a very small group of people out of the house last weekend. My niece’s Bat Mitzvah service was probably one of the best days of the year. Approximately 25 people gathered with masks and spread out in our synagogue, and we were lucky to have the experience of watching and participating in the service, which was live streamed to others. Just being in the synagogue for the first time since March and spending a few hours with all of those people at once was good for the soul. (My niece was amazing – we were so proud of her!) 

I’ll leave you with a quick story and a lesson I learned that morning about masks. When we got to the synagogue, I put on my fancy black mask, which matched my black and white dress. I had an extra (back-up) mask in my bag. The service began, and I realized the fancy mask was very uncomfortable, and I was having trouble speaking and singing with it on. I pulled it off and replaced it with the back-up. This was much better, but the back-up mask didn’t match my dress at all. I was debating in my head comfort vs fashion, when the Rabbi said we were now moving to page 100, which was when my sister and I had to come up to the bimah for our Hallelujah duet. I made a fast decision – fashion (this would be on video forever, after all) – and quickly changed masks. Unfortunately, I put the fancy mask on backwards, and when I started singing, it kept moving down my face, under my nose. Throughout the entire song, I would pull it up, and it would fall down. (My nephew had a lot of fun laughing about how Aunt Jodi couldn’t keep her mask up.) Finally, I yanked it up really hard, hoping it would stay in place, and it went over my eyes. 

So my lesson is, if you are speaking or singing in public with a mask, practice ahead of time with your mask on to make sure it’s comfortable and fits well!  

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and safe Thanksgiving! 

Take a Deep Breath

It’s hard to believe my last blog was about air travel – ahh the good old days when you could just hop on a plane and go visit friends for a long weekend. Seems like a year ago when it was only five weeks.

Like me, your social media feeds are probably flooded with COVID-19 articles, news reports, and predictions from experts and those who think they’re experts, along with the more fun videos, memes (I just love the Memes), personal posts and opinions, and photos showing how people are spending their days. While all of the media can be a little (well…sometimes extremely) overwhelming, it’s incredible how people are coming together online to share what’s working as they balance work and family, homeschool their kids, and experience the outdoors while maintaining social distancing. And it’s comforting how so many in person activities we’ve taken for granted such as Shabbat services and Confirmation class events, The Friendship Circle, and voice lessons have quickly mobilized to an online environment.

A little over a week ago when we learned all PA schools would be closed for two weeks, Ryan was not a happy camper. While he was excited for a break from school, he overheard us talking about how the closing would likely go beyond the 30th. He wanted to know exactly what his schedule would be and when school would reopen. We didn’t know what to tell him. The school sent over some enrichment links but was not planning to formally teach during the two weeks. (they said if the closures go beyond that, distance learning will begin). Ryan spent the better part Friday, 3/13 whining about what he would do all week and when would school open again. He also wanted to know if he would go back to track in time for the meets – he had just started Unified Track at school and really enjoyed the two practices they had.

We spent time that first weekend creating a detailed schedule which I put in Google sheets for Dan, Ryan and me to access. His teacher had sent links to websites he could visit to maintain his skills, so I blocked his days off in small chunks and included a combination of:

  • Independent work (eg math – go to Khan Academy; English – go to Newsela.com or ducksters.com),
  • Skills he learned through his community-based jobs (alphabetizing, office skills, etc.) with a family member
  • Independent living skills (eg cooking, cleaning the house, laundry).
  • Outdoor time – walking, taking pictures of nature
  • Free time

It was amazing to see the anxiety on Ryan’s face disappear as he went through and likely memorized the schedule. This is a kid who needs structure and we gave him that.  The question was – would he follow through with it?

To our delight, yes! Given there was no need for him to be up early, breakfast was scheduled for him to make and clean up independently from 9-9:30, which he did every day. Then, there were 30 minutes slots throughout the day of independent work on his computer – whenever I came to check on him, he was working away. But he really preferred and looked forward to the time with family and surprisingly got into cleaning the house with Dan! He and I took a few walks together and I was amazed at how quickly he now walks – I had to work to keep up with him, the boy who used to lag behind all of us when we went anywhere. (One of us would always be calling “Ryan, let’s go, you need to walk faster!”) He will be great at track one day.

I cannot imagine this working at all a few years ago and am very grateful how independent Ryan has becomes since starting high school.

Then there’s Jordan. I saw on GMA that even if your high schoolers are independent, it’s important to make sure they have somewhat of a schedule. Jordan scoffed at that.

“I’m fine. I’m keeping busy and I don’t need to account for every hour.”

I pressed him – “I don’t care about every hour. I just want to know what you’re keeping busy with. It needs to be more than your phone.”

I texted him ideas from my basement office as they came to me. He could:

  • Study for his learner’s permit exam (who knows when he’ll actually have the chance to take it – but hey, he’ll be ready!).
  • Prepare for the SATs – we’ll order a book from Amazon and by the time the Fall exam rolls around, he’ll crush it.
  • Sign up for a free screenwriting class online through futurelearn. Jordan recently expressed an interest in taking screenwriting at college and I’d like to make sure he knows what it is and really likes it before picking a college because of that specific major.
  • Write a musical about COVID-19.

“You’re throwing a lot of stuff at me,” he texted back (to be fair, I threw these great ideas out over the course of 24 hours. It’s not like they were rapid fire things to do.)

Guess which one he chose? If you know Jordan at all, you guessed right – he is writing a musical about a school whose show gets cancelled because of COVID-19 (art mirroring life!). He’s been composing music and writing dialogue. (Anyone have a contact on Broadway?) Surprisingly, I also found him doing some optional schoolwork every now and then. As the opposite of Ryan, this is the kid who doesn’t need a schedule and is happiest when he can just be and figure it out as he goes.

While I am grateful for Ryan’s independence, the anxiety around the unknown means Ryan asks more questions than usual. In fact, he asks them All. Day. Long.

Ryan – “When will school open again? In April?

Me – “I don’t know.”

Ryan – “In May?”

Me – “I don’t know. This has never happened before, Ry. We just have to be flexible and see.”

Ryan – “Are we going back at all? What if we never go back? Can’t you call someone to find out?”

Me – “RY….” (Sigh)

Ryan – “What will we do for my birthday? (early April) Can the family come over? What about the Seder?

Me – “We can facetime them and we can make a cake and order from wherever you want. I don’t know about the Seder. Dad thinks we could do it on Zoom.”

Ryan – “Can’t just one family member come over? Will we be stuck in the house for Dad’s birthday, too? (May) Will we be stuck inside for your birthday?? Will we get to go on our vacation to Hawaii?” (both in Aug.)

“Oh Ryan,” I thought. There aren’t enough bottles of wine to deal with my feelings if we are still here in August.”

I think the unknown is what’s most difficult for many people, not just Ryan. I was talking to my aunt about this the other night, and we both agreed if we knew this would end, say, on May 1 – there would be a date to work towards. I would think – ok, this sucks that we can’t see anyone or go anywhere for the next five+ weeks, but it’s a finite point in time and we can start a countdown. When you read articles saying this could go well into the summer, it’s just hard.

Earlier last week, I was having some trouble catching my breath – I had to breathe frequently and deeply – and was afraid I had caught the virus. I kept checking my temperature, which was normal.

“You’re fine,” Dan said, trying to reassure me. “You have no other symptoms.”

He was right – no cough, no fever, no weakness.

“But people are walking around with the virus and don’t even know it. What if I have it with this one symptom?” This was on Wednesday, right after I cut my power walk short because the need to breathe deeply made it too difficult to continue. (I’d been enjoying the beautiful sunny afternoon for 20 minutes while reading COVID-19 articles on my phone.) This was the same two mile walk I’ve been taking in my development for 17 years, and I was a little worried.

On Thursday, I realized I’d gotten through the whole day without feeling the need to breathe deeply. I was busy on conference calls most of the day and hadn’t seen Ryan as much. When I saw him later, he jumped into his questions.

“Mom, will I have to repeat sophomore year?” “Will we have my track meets? “What happens if I don’t go back to school in June?” “Will we have ESY (Extended School Year)? “What about camp? Will my camp open?” “Will Jordan’s camp open?” “If we don’t go to Hawaii, what will we do?” Will school open in September?”

And just like that, my chest got tight and I had to take several deep, cleansing breaths. Ryan’s questions and not being able to answer them. The barrage of media. The unknown. It was all causing a physical reaction.

When I caught my breath again, I replied, “Ryan, I can’t answer your questions. I just. don’t. know. No one knows, and I get that it’s scary for you to not have answers. I promise you when I do know anything, I’ll tell you. But please stop asking questions right now. Ok?”

“Ok,” he said. (He stuck to that agreement for the rest of the night.)

We hear day after day how these are unprecedented times. Everyone is going to react and be affected differently. However you feel and respond – it’s ok. I think it’s important to give yourself permission to feel how you feel. You may have a physical reaction. You might cry. Or become angry. Or worry constantly. And if you need to take a break from the media and the ‘what ifs’ to clear your head and feel better, it’s more than ok.

Over the weekend, we took that break. We participated in virtual Shabbat services with our clergy and other congregants through Facebook live. Dan made pancakes and waffles. We ordered in dinners from a few different places. We caught up on TV and Netflix and talked on the phone with family. We made a card for a little girl in our development who turned two. (a suggestion on the development FB page – to make cards for those stuck in the house on their birthdays) We facetimed with my Mom-mom and Aunt Sue, so they could join us for virtual Havdalah with our clergy and congregants on Sat. night. I cleaned out my office and am thrilled the clutter is gone. I organized our wine collection. And I took two very long walks around the development while listening to uplifting music – and had absolutely no trouble breathing.