Finding gratitude in a pandemic

Dave and I were both commenting yesterday on how we are finding ourselves making frivolous purchases, normally something we avoid as a house lived in with nine people is already a very full house! During these trying times, we are all finding comfort where we can. I have gravitated towards supporting artists whose work I have loved for a long time from afar. Seeing beautiful pieces up close gives me a moment of awe and appreciation during my somewhat tumultuous days.

During a giant clean out and purge in May, we pulled out a lot of family photos that have been gathering dust in the basement. I’ve always hesitated to hang things, as I worry about leaving permanent holes in the walls. I’m not a visual person in that regard, and struggle to figure out where things should go. But for Mother’s Day, Dave and I worked on a photo wall all day long – in the stairwell that runs from the front hall to the basement. Completing a project like that, one we’ve been contemplating for years, felt so good!

In the months since, my gratitude for that epic gift has grown. Our sense of routine and time is under constant attack, as minutes become hours very quickly or days drag on for longer than I could ever imagine. When I find myself in the staircase, I’ve made a commitment to slowing down intentionally, emptying my mind of worry, and really looking at each of those pictures. They may not be artwork per se, but they bring me so much peace and joy. Thanks to my mom’s commitment to Photos (photos which I fought tooth and nail my entire life!), This wall includes grandparents and kids, baby photos and outtakes. Our goal wasn’t a picture perfect family, but perfect pictures that encapsulate different ages and the exuberant personalities of the people in our lives. Our Au pairs are up there, as are friends so close they become sisters. Nieces, nephews, birthday parties, weddings – the moments that make up a life, or many lives. It frankly doesn’t matter that they are perfectly hung, although they are. 🙂 For me in this moment, they are a reminder that life is bigger than this current year, that our memories will go on so far beyond this that 2020 will become a bizarre story in the future, that the joy and experiences of our large family stretch so far back and so far forward. In that one elongated minute I give myself in the stairway, I am reminded of how short this unpleasantness really is.

For many people, 2020 will be remembered as a year of loss, a year of struggle and insecurity. For some, even a year of homelessness and unemployment, where feeding your family was a challenge beyond measure. for some of us, it’s a year where we mourn the loss of time with our extended families, adventures planned, life milestones reached and not celebrated in the way we have always envisioned. No one is untouched by 2020, and as we enter the last month of the year we can either be angry about it or celebrate what’s left.

A friend asked me this week what I plan to keep from this year. I was dumbfounded, not because I couldn’t come up with an answer but because I had so many answers. It’s a complicated question. But one of my takeaways will be this decisive and intentional focus on what is at the core of my life – all of these incredible people that I miss but celebrate missing. No one can stay that centered all of the time, certainly not me! But finding that minute every day, as I head down to the basement for my work out, is a great way to build it in at least for a moment.


Careening into the holidays

I can’t tell you the last few weeks have been easy, or tenable. On the home front, we said goodbye to Katherine and hello to Aïssata. The kids are predictably being beastly as transitions are hard! She and Flora are up to the challenge, but we welcome the moment when they don’t have to be. School online has stopped being novel, so there’s now bad tests, whining and melting off of chairs. I believe Griff subbed Sylvie’s curls in for his own at least once, intentionally or not. The screaming sprint around the house, with sprinter just out of arms’ reach? Check. Other child smugly pointing out their good behavior? Check. Kids in school in shorts and pjs with bed head? Check. Me asking board members to ignore the epic multi-hour wailing in the background? Sigh. As we wrestle with this year’s circumstances, those are just not fights we’re willing to fight. We’ll lose.

Additionally, we’re dealing with the fallout of “kids on kids” effects. Some are real, some imagined, all tough. How do we explain that they still have friends when no one is seeing anyone outside of zoom? That no one is laughing at them in class? That not responding to a friend’s email means they’ll probably not write again – not because they don’t like you, but because being pen pals is so new. To top it off, we dealt with a bullying incident in the spring we’re still following up on.

And that’s just the home front. Covid is making a lot of people we care about sick. Some have been in the hospital, some had a mild case and have moved on, and we’ve lived through the exposure scare for ourselves and others multiple times. Some close family/friends have dealt with unrelated major medical emergencies and trauma in the last few months, so we’re trying to support their recoveries as well. And even though all we want to do is fly to them so we can cook and hug and listen, we can’t. Screens aren’t the same. We’re so over this. Add in a creative season that keeps changing on me at work (requiring constant rebuilds and brand new skills and partners for everything), consulting gigs for Dave that have an unpredictable rhythm, and the pressure to keep going at all costs….we’re running on fumes.

Still, every time I decide it’s the day: I’m not getting out of bed – one of the kids or a friend will point out a silver lining that keeps us going a bit longer. Remy looked at me yesterday and said, “Aren’t we lucky that we have so many people to love? We wouldn’t miss them if we didn’t have them to begin with.” Touché, young grasshopper. And another friend pointed out just how much love has been pouring out since this all started. We may be raw, but we do seem to be communicating how much we care about each other more overtly than ever. And as tough as this is, it’s a lot harder for many others.

Obviously, for an extended family that DOES holidays, this season is looking bleak. Yet our household of 10 is big! We’re cooking the whole feast, and in honor of my mom’s amazingly gorgeous presentation I’m making a serious aesthetic effort. We even have crafts (#notmything)! As we saw with Sassy’s amazing Halloween pivot (hunt for 80s childhood costumes outdid trick or treating, according to an informal poll), we can have a fun holiday even if it’s not exactly how we want it. One. Year. We can revel in using our dining room, not be late because naps ran over, and tuck the kids in without having to leave dinner (mom, they may sleep over next year. I’m not missing a minute in 2021 at your table!).

So, sorry for whining. Chin up and all! A lot of good has come out of being home together. I may only be able to sneak in a quick shoulder squeeze between meetings, but that’s more than I can usually do. We’re cooking together, going on walks, and finally tackling those pesky piles that have been lurking in various corners for years. A lot of the pressure is resolving this week, which means we’ll have lots to celebrate. And at work, we’re creating, not cancelling. While that’s exhausting in this climate, it’s a luxury. As broke singers, we always said, “whoever can, pays.” It was a very Bohème approach, but meant no one got left out of a coffee date because they didn’t have a few bucks that week. I encourage us all to approach cheerfulness and sanity that way for the winter. If you’ve got some, spread it around. Frankly, we’re all grateful for all of you. And pie. Happy thanksgiving!