Our Passover Story

close up of hands holding baby feet

We kicked off Passover 2021 COVID-style once again, with one Seder for just the four of us (night 1) and the other on Zoom last night with my family. Typically, we run a full Seder with my family, reading from the Haggadah, and we keep it simple with a few prayers and songs when it’s only the four of us. However, this year, Dan really wanted our small Seder to be more than that.

“Last year at this time, I was unemployed, and job prospects were dim,” he said earlier in the week. “We had no idea what was to come with COVID and we felt pretty isolated. This year, I have a job and am grateful and there’s hope with the vaccines. I want to do something meaningful.”

We started a list of what we wanted to include: lighting the candles; discussing the meaning of what’s on the Seder plate; the blessings – over the karpas, matzah, maror; an abridged version of the story of Passover, welcoming Elijah (speaking of Elijah, I wonder if he masked up this weekend given all of the homes he visited!). And, of course..

Me: We need to include the 4 glasses of wine.

Dan: I love how you think.

Jordan: Mom, it’s 4 cups of wine! Like kid-size cups.

Dan: I like Mom’s version.

There is a significance behind the four cups of wine. The Four Cups represent the four expressions of deliverance promised by God, describing our Exodus from Egypt and slavery and our birth as a nation: “I will take you out,” “I will save you,” “I will redeem you,” and “I will take you as a nation.” The cups are a toast to each of these expressions.

Beyond the Seder and all it includes, one of our favorite Singer family Passover traditions is telling the story of the boys’ birth – which coincided with Passover 2004. I retold the story Saturday night when we started eating our meal.

“Dad and I went to the first Seder on Monday, April 5.”

“Where was it?” Ryan asked.

“Ryan, you know where it was. Mom tells this story every year,” Jordan groaned.

“I want to hear her say it.”

“Mom-mom B and Pop-pop B’s apartment,” I answered.

“With the very long table that took up the whole room,” Ryan added.

“Yes,” I laughed.

“Wait – it just hit me that your last meal before giving birth was all matzah-based,” Jordan said. “That’s a shame. I’m so sorry.”

I laughed again. “No one could believe I was even still pregnant by Passover,” I said.

17 years ago…

By April 5, I was exactly 38 weeks pregnant, but the doctors had predicted labor between 34 and 36 weeks because of the position of Jordan’s head. They even suggested someone stay with me at all times, because when I went into labor, it would likely be a fast delivery.

I’d started maternity leave at 32 weeks and had basically spent the last six either 1) lying on the couch – moving around with my monster belly was difficult and uncomfortable. I think I was the biggest pregnant person ever, carrying 13lbs of baby; or 2) going with my mom to Abington hospital every few days to take non-stress tests for the babies and then out to Bonnet Lane for lunch. The exciting life of a mom-to-be.

When, to the surprise of everyone, we got to the 37-week point, my OB practice scheduled an induction for April 6. They didn’t recommend delivering twins much past 38 weeks. We were told to call the hospital that morning before coming over, to make sure there were beds. If someone had been admitted who was unexpectedly in labor, I’d have to wait a day.

By April 5, I had exactly two outfits that fit the monster belly – both giant sweaters and maternity stretch pants. They are in pictures from every occasion we attended the entire winter. However, Spring came with a vengeance that day, and I found myself with nothing to wear in the 80-degree temps for the first Seder. My mom ran out and managed to find a pretty purplish blouse that fit decently well over the basketball I was carrying. I mention this as significant because the picture of me in that shirt is the last photo I have before life completely changed!

The Seder itself was uneventful (other than all of the good wishes on our delivery the next day), and the next morning, Dan and I woke up at 6:00 am to go the hospital. When I got out of bed, my water broke. I called the hospital to tell them we were coming. A nurse said there were no beds and to call back tomorrow.

“But my water broke!” I interrupted her, not wanting to risk Baby A’s quick arrival at our house. She said to just come over and they’d figure it out.

They found us a room, and we settled in. I was only a few centimeters dilated and not really in pain at that point, and several hours later, my family had gathered to hang out with us while we waited. My parents, sister and brother-in-law, Marni and Dan, Aunt Sue, and Mom-mom and Pop-pop were all there.

Only my family could turn labor into a party. Nurses kept commenting on how much fun we were having. Marni had made a labor mix tape and we sang along and laughed at her selections (eg Push it). After some time, I was 4cm dilated and had started to feel it intensely, but the pain evaporated after the doctor administered an epidural.

Once the amazing epidural kicked in, we played a version of the memory game, I’m going on a picnic and I’m going to bring… you know that game where you have to remember what everyone before you said and then add a new thing with the next letter? Our version was I’m going to the delivery room and I’m going to bring… (Anesthesia, Babies, Car seat… is it weird I still remember some of what we brought?) The family was impressed with my memory, given the circumstances, but always competitive, I wasn’t going to let a little labor get in the way of a game!

“Hang on,” Jordan interrupted when I got to this part. “The family was in the labor room with you and Dad the whole time? Playing games and singing? he asked incredulously. “Actually, never mind. I wouldn’t expect anything less. Go on,” he said. (I did, after a quick explanation that no one but Dad was there for the delivery part!)

The day continued. By 4:30, I was 6cm dilated. My ‘fast’ delivery had reached the 10 hour mark. We were finished with games; I was cranky and tired and wanted these babies out. The doctor had given me drugs to speed up labor, and pain was setting in again. There would be no more pain meds to help.

Marni and Dan decided to go to Dan’s mom’s house for the second Seder, since it seemed we still had awhile to go. But – in a dramatic turn of events – I was suddenly 10cm dilated at 6:00pm, and it was time to start the delivery. My mom called Marni and Dan, who had just arrived at his mom’s Seder. They turned around and drove back to the hospital at record speed so they could be there when the babies were born. Because – you know – it would be a ‘fast’ delivery.

Four hours later, I was begging for a C-section, and the doctor and nurses started the prep. Mom-mom, Pop-pop and Sue had gone home and were waiting by the phone for news. Marni’s Dan also went home to get some sleep, so he could go to work the next day. My poor family had hung in there for such a long time!

Finally, a quick 18 hours after my water broke, Jordan and Ryan made their debut into the world on the second day of Passover, at 12:18 and 12:20 am on April 7.

Marni and my parents cooed over the babies when they were wheeled out of the delivery room. They, and Dan, finally went home and fell into a deep sleep.

“How long were you in the hospital?” Ryan asked.

“I think it was five nights.”

“Where was Dad?”

“He was there most of the time,” I said. “One night he went to Aunt Marni and Uncle Dan’s apartment for dinner – they had leftovers from the Seder they never attended. Dad didn’t realize the leftovers were supposed to last them the whole week, and he kept taking more. He ended up eating all of their food!”

Ryan laughed – he loves this part.

“I was really hungry! And tired. And overwhelmed with these new babies!” Dan protested, as he always does.

“And then you brought us home, and that’s the end of the story,” Ryan said.

“Well, it’s actually the very beginning,” I replied, thinking about our 17 years of stories since then – some told through this blog, some kept between us, some still to be told. What an amazing, emotional, exhausting, miraculous journey.

Passover, while primarily about freedom and triumph over adversity, is also about strength, resilience, faith and miracles. I can’t think of a holiday more fitting to have become a mom to these two incredible boys.

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! 

Two Voices

In today’s world, do you sometimes feel like you have two voices in your head? One is practical and grateful. It says things like:

  • Of course, we need to stay inside to keep ourselves and our families healthy. The death toll is at a scary all-time high.
  • Of course, we should have a slow transition back to life once the governors deem conditions safe enough to do so.
  • Of course, it’s not difficult to stay at home on our couches – we’re lucky if that’s the worst thing we’re faced with. Other people are putting their lives on the line working in stores and doctor’s offices and hospitals every day. We’re lucky to be healthy with our biggest challenge being managing kids, homeschool and work – other people are suffering badly with COVID-19. People are in the hospital and can’t see their loved ones. Others are at home sick, trying to take care of their kids. And many are struggling to pay their bills.
  • Of course, I’m grateful the boys are older, understand the situation and are handling it so well. It must be so difficult to have young kids during this crazy time. The other day when Ryan asked about timing for the end of the quarantine, I told him I had just heard on the news that for our county to open, the total number of cases need to be at an average of 30 per day, or a total of 415 new cases over a 14-day period. Jordan replied, “Good! We need to wait until it’s safe – our governor is smart!” The 16-year-old voice of reason.
  • Of course, I’m grateful to the teachers who quickly moved to an online curriculum, to our synagogue clergy who bring our congregation together virtually for Shabbat and Havdalah on the Friday and Saturday nights, and the many other organizations trying to keep everyone connected.
  • And of course, it’s nice to have this quiet time with our kids – dinner together, no running around to activities. I think one of the best things that came out of this is the boys ask each other about their days. It started out as a social skills assignment for Ryan and has turned into a regular dinnertime activity. And the weekends can be nice. Sometimes I like having nothing planned for the weekends. I’m honestly not sure where the time goes – TV, books, walks, online scrabble, reading endless articles about COVID-19, trying to ignore the endless articles about COVID-19, cleaning out closets, etc. I said to Dan the other day, “When we go back to whatever normal is, it will be a big adjustment to not have all this free time!”

And yet, there’s the other voice – the sad and anxious one – which says things like:

  • I want my !&?@#!#%&! life back soon! (summer would be nice – I really want to go on our planned vacation to Hawaii!) and wish there was a crystal ball to tell us when that point will be – mainly for Ryan who asks me about it every single day, multiple times. I hear him walking down the hall to my room at 7:45 every weekday morning and know the first words out of his mouth are going to be “Mom, let’s talk about summer. What’s going to happen?” Argh!!! And the endless discussions begin.
  • I miss family and friends – zoom and facetime are nice but not nearly the same as in person hugs and conversations. I worry about them getting sick and getting stuck alone at a hospital.  
  • I’m sad for my boys who only have a few years left of school and should be experiencing them with other kids. I’m sad they may not have a traditional summer vacation with camps, pools and the beach, because all too soon they’ll be in the working world and will never get to experience childhood summers again.
  • I’m anxious for Ryan who learns and focuses better face to face and has limited time to get ready for whatever direction his future takes him. Employability skills are a big part of his curriculum and you can only do so much virtually. He needs work experience. He needs his teachers in the room with him.
  • And I’m worried about what will happen when we finally go back to a new version of life and wave 2 of the virus hits.  

I saw a tweet that says, “The quarantine state of mind is having 3 solid days where you feel pretty well adjusted, followed by a sudden, unexpected dip into what we call “the hell zone.” Then the individual added below, “The hell zone is an anxious, semi-agitated state where you’re just sorta “off” for the whole day and time flows like you’re wading through chili – and your hell zone will NEVER synch up with other people’s hell zones and that’ll always make you feel weird and stressed out.” So true!

I’ve had insomnia on and off for most of my life. Last week, I found myself wide awake every night. I called the doctor on Friday to see if she could help. My doctor had left for the day, so this was another one at the practice whom I didn’t know.

We had a video chat and she asked, “Is there something that’s making you anxious?” I was about to burst out laughing but saw she was serious, looking at me earnestly.

“Umm…the state of the world?” I replied, somewhat sarcastically. With alerts to the latest news articles pinging phones all day long and regular local and national live updates, how can you not be anxious? There must be tons of people with insomnia out there.

“I meant,” she clarified, “Did anything new happen in your life recently?”

Our lives are essentially Groundhog Day, with no changes in sight. Status quo. We’re still healthy. We can pay the bills. We can talk to family and friends whenever we want. The kids can access school assignments and we can access work. There’s endless Netflix, Hulu and Prime shows to keep us busy. We have good neighbors and can take walks outside and wave to them from a distance.

“No,” I said. “Nothing new has happened. And I’m grateful for that.”

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.