Smoke and Light Signals

The evening of Independence Day was explosive this year. Fireworks aren’t illegal in our neighborhood, so we were in the middle of what sounded like 18th-century cannon fire for much of the night. We participated in the celebration, too, and had friends over to the backyard. Realm set up two launching areas, so we could social distance. Our guests brought some serious “expodies,” as they called them.

Our next door neighbors started off the evening with some of the best, loudest, and longest fireworks. One particular type of firecracker gave us all a scare. It was called “Nine Lives,” and it made its debut in our backyard. It started firing horizontally instead of vertically and sent us fleeing for cover. Thankfully, we were all far enough away that it didn’t hurt anyone, and Pearl caught the action on her phone. So, just as we were reliving the excitement, and Pearl was preparing the video to send to our guests, our neighbors launched their “Nine Lives” and experienced the same results. They were running, too! We’re thinking quality assurance testing was still in lock down when “Nine Lives” came through the manufacturing line. Our guest and “expodie” expert said either the base of the firework was in need of extra integrity or the video demonstration was misleading. We wanted to keep all of our lives, so that wasn’t a favorite.

We had a beautiful, bright full moon with a glowing halo through the smoke. Its light made the night sky our own planetarium, and we counted six separate locations, not including our own, where the fireworks would burst out of the darkness and light up the night. When the sprays of color showered one side of our living theater, another side would quickly boom and thunder back. Pearl said, “This is how we communicate during quarantine now. It’s how we say, ‘We’re still alive and happy over here!'” We were surrounded in celebration, and it was like no other Fourth of July I’ve ever experienced.

Behind the Mask

I’ve been honest about my secret love of not having to go anywhere during quarantine. It gets worse. Truthfully, I love wearing a mask. Mind you, I’m not having to sport an N95 here, just a cloth mask. I find wearing a mask so comforting. First, my own breath warms me. So many buildings I walk into are cold. I have my own little cozy cave on my face. Also, I like that no one can see my expression. Friends say my face is easy to read. Family members tell me I get so wrapped up in my thoughts that I start scowling at people. It’s nice to keep my expressions to myself for once.

Even though I like wearing a mask, I’m tired of repeating every single word I say. I’m convinced there are way more people than I realized who rely on looking at my mouth when I’m speaking. I’m also convinced that when I go somewhere with my mask where people are not wearing masks, they feel judged. I had one lady inform me it was useless to wear a mask. Contrary to her opinion, I find it very useful. But I just nodded in hopes that she’d stop talking, and I might have stuck out my tongue. Yeah, I like wearing masks.

My Superpower Meets Realm on Steroids

I had a tough week last week. Realm’s hands broke out due to poison ivy or sumac or something. He had it terrible, and I had a terrible time for him, especially after he got a steroid shot. Realm on steroids can’t quit talking. When anything comes into his head, he’s got to get it out. We had some friends over… to the backyard, that is. I found myself thwacking him on the arm, demanding, “Let them talk!” He couldn’t pause; he couldn’t take a breath. He and I sat down together, and I began in this way: “Do you feel like your tongue is a little looser than usual?” He thought about this, and by “thought” I mean he spoke of two instances where his co-workers had to tell him to calm down that day. “It’s like I’ve kind of lost a little bit of my inhibitions and things just fall out of my mouth,” he observed. I nodded. That was all the response he gave me time for, but I could empathize with him. This has happened before. When he had minor surgery, the nurse who brought him out looked relieved when she handed him over to me. About five minutes and two billion words later, I understood why. It’s not just the talking, either; it’s the feeling he exudes. Something must be done, and it must be done right now. He’s antsy; he’s nervous. He’s sticking his nose into everything and asking why. And when I tell him why, I feel annoyed… and silly for being annoyed.

I lay in bed that night, wide-eyed and irritated that Realm was fast asleep. Steroid or no steroid, he was out, while my brain wouldn’t shut down. It started its old information mud pie ritual, amassing anything and everything to make mountains out of molehills. It was then I realized Realm’s wired behavior had sent me into a reactionary tailspin. Last week, I talked about my sense of dread at facing a virus-wary world that doesn’t really understand the protocol anymore than I do and tends to overreact. What I didn’t explain was that I suffer from Bipolar Mood Disorder. Last year, I finally got a fitting label for what I’d always thought was an angry/depressive personality. I don’t experience mania, but I do experience a hypomanic, irritable, “fast-forward” state. It makes for fun times when I can’t stop panicking and crying after I’ve agreed to take on too many responsibilities during a “productive” spell. Having a mood disorder makes it easy for me to become emotionally dysregulated. I get flustered over simple things I’m not sure how to handle–which happen all the time and, generally, will happen in a public setting. I can’t always tell if I’m reacting appropriately because I feel things so intensely at times. Plus, I’m unconsciously influenced by peoples’ moods–meaning, I tap into someone’s mood without realizing I’ve even been “listening” to them. This mood-appropriating superpower gives me intuitive insight into personalities, which is great when I’m trying to write a novel, but it’s awful when I’m standing in these social distancing lines with folks who are frustrated. Their moods hang over me like a storm cloud. They don’t like the change in their routine, the embarrassment of doing the wrong thing, the inconsistent policies enforced on them. Their anxious talk shifts to injustices happening around the nation and conspiracy theories. And, yes, there are some very serious injustices going on. There are people stuck mid-travel without places to stay. There are families without homes right now and without jobs. I find myself wracking my brain at times, trying to figure out how to right the world’s wrongs. It’s not realistic; I have no power over any of it. The end result? I wear myself down so I can’t focus on the things I ought to be able to tackle easily.

For weeks I’ve been allowed to be at peace handling responsibilities in my home sphere. As the go-go life returns, the conflict inside me returns. I don’t always feel I’m doing my best when I really am doing the best I can. But I’m learning to come to terms and accept that my best isn’t nearly what I think it should be or what others think it should be. That’s the price I pay for my superpower, I guess. I’ve made a long journey in just a few short months. I look forward to better days and greater insights to come. While the inner battle may sap my strength, I’m still wearing my cape… and hoping Realm doesn’t get another steroid shot.

Going Pains

Well, I’ve been out every day since my last post. My hopes of cutting back on errand-running and appointments have been dashed. This introvert isn’t happy, but I’m not stressing about it. On Friday, I had a sad time standing in line in the rain at the DMV. On Saturday, I had another lousy experience standing in another line twice, only to receive exactly what I didn’t want. On Sunday, we were still under the ten-people-or-less state order for worship, so we, as a family, sang in a couple of church members’ yards. (We asked them if we could come by beforehand.) No hugs, no touching, just singing from afar, and a little time to ask if they had what they needed and were doing okay. It was so good to see my church family, so I didn’t mind going out for that. It was, in fact, the highlight of my week.

I utilized the pickup option for my groceries Monday.  While I’m concerned about coming in contact with people, I’m beginning to wonder if sanitizing the groceries we bring in really matters. It takes forever to put food away now, and are the sprays and sanitizing wipes, used to wipe down the products, actually worse for our health? Regardless, I’m glad I didn’t have to go into the store for the stuff.

Tuesday, I drove across town to find an open oil change shop that I trust. Realm’s vehicle was overdue for one, and the regular shop hasn’t opened. I must have looked wary when I was handed a form to fill out because the mechanic assured me things were sanitized at 8AM, noon, and 4PM. I wasn’t reassured, but it was a drive-up service. I sanitized my hands as I rolled up to the service station and sanitized them again as I rolled away.

On Wednesday, I had an appointment at the doctor’s office. I was only there to get blood taken and a form filled out. That hand-sanitizer was at the ready many times, and my hands felt dry for most of the day after that. (Does hand sanitizer really work?)

Realm is blessed to be back to doing his job. He showers immediately when he gets home. Like Mr. Rogers, he has his “around the house” clothes. I keep a separate basket for washing his work clothes. I’d like to buy us all house slippers to slip on at the door, but that’s only because I watch Asian dramas and I’ve been wanting to do that for years. I don’t think it would have any effect on a virus spreading or not spreading because everybody kicks off their shoes when they come home anyway.

Realm is also part of the prep team to help worship and Bible classes start up again. He’s reading articles about viruses in the air, coming from noses, from mouths, from ventilation systems. He’s considering room dimensions; he’s reading up on aerosolized respiratory droplets. We’ve discussed some of the “what-ifs” one might calculate to come to some assuring-but-purely-theoretical safety proceedings.

It is my hope that I’ll be going out tomorrow. By “going out” I mean, going to my backyard to get some fresh air. It’s weird; every time I leave the house and return, I want to hole up in my room. It’s like I’m making up for the outing by trying to be a hermit for the rest of the day. A friend is vacationing in Panama City Beach and that sounds lovely and horrifying at the same time. So, basically, I have COVID-19 paranoia. And, yes, we all know that’s a thing, but I think I’m going overboard.

 

 

 

Strings Attached

A mom on Facebook posted about calling her adult daughter and asking how things were going during the Coronavirus shutdown. Her daughter rattled off a number of activities happening and mentioned having bloodwork. The rest of the conversation was lost on the mom. The first thing she asked was what the bloodwork was for.

Moms are like that. We’re concerned about how our babies are doing outside of our home nests.

Even though my twin daughters are home with me, I wonder about how this surreal time is affecting them. We have spent some evenings staying up a little later to talk through anxieties and fears. I see the end of Alabama’s Safe-At-Home order as a promising heads-up that the end of quarantining is approaching. I don’t know if I can go back. I’m truly nervous about how I’m going to respond to having to go places. Not only will it be necessary to get to places on time again, I fear there will be protocols… protocols I will overlook inadvertently. I’m going to be feeling pretty silly and awkward, trying to work out the new hygienic social etiquette rules.

end of quarantine meme

In preparation, I enlisted Pearl, my youngest (but only by one minute) and craftiest, to help me sew our first face masks. Sewing is not one of my great skills, but I’ve always imagined I would become a great seamstress. As Lady Catherine DeBourgh puts it, “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne…” I have tried a number of times to get my daughter interested in sewing. I asked her on this occasion if she was willing to sit at the machine. Pearl decided she’d do best to stick with the cutting out and ironing.

“Sewing is not my thing,” she said. “There are too many strings attached.”

I grinned and laughed. She’s a witty one, I thought, and, inside, my heart turned over. As her mom, I want to prepare her for anything and everything she may meet when she gets out on her own. A few sewing skills might come in handy, but one can’t be sure of what the next generation is going to need to prepare for the future. I remember the novelty of email, how much phone money I saved at college by writing electronic messages instead of calling. Here we are, during this threat of a pandemic, communicating almost entirely online. Strangely, it isn’t that big of an adjustment. But what’s next? What does Pearl need to know?

Pressing the sewing foot down on the material, I lowered the needle. One thing I’m sure about: whether she sews or not, Pearl will always have to deal with having strings attached. Our heartstrings are attached, and this mom is grateful for every minute I get to talk, laugh, work, and enjoy this short time with her.

10 Guess-That-Movie Quotes

The shelter-in-place order ended Thursday at 5pm here in Alabama. I’m so relieved. At the same time, these weeks have been good. Yes, it’s been stressful and anxiety-inducing, but there have been some really wonderful moments. Being a family of five sheltering at home, Realm, the kids, and I are finding time for things we’ve wanted to do. The first week, we had a family powwow about a very serious matter: we needed a game night. We set it for Thursdays each week, and then we listed the games we wanted to play. Each game received popularity votes and each family member used one “veto”–forever removing one game from the list. Then my son, Magne, with his mad programming skills, created a weighted randomizer for our games. Each Thursday, he spins the virtual wheel, and we find out what we’re playing. We’ve tackled Tripoly, Clue, Bible Trivia, and Mexican Train Dominoes. This past Thursday, we played Titanic; we were ecstatic when someone finally won this one. 😶  The arguments have been fewer, the compromises greater, and the conversations kinder. When you’re sheltering in place, day after day, there’s a better sense of understanding the other person’s side of things, I think.

We’ve also been focused on staying close to extended family during this time. We’re doing a bit more calling and sending messages. My mom had to have two surgical procedures during this voluntary lock down, and she was in much discomfort before and afterward. My sister, Felicity, came up with an idea to get her through the slump. She said, “Why don’t we send lines from movies (on Marco Polo) and see if she can guess them?” She inspired us all because we did more than quote lines. We dressed up and recorded our antics. Four shelter-in-place families participated, coming up with all sorts of scenes. Burt from Mary Poppins with his terrible cockney accent started us off. Then came characters like Forest Gump, Spot Conlin (Newsies), Bob (What About Bob?), E.T., Harold Hill (Music Man), Hagrid and Harry Potter, and more than one scene from Dumb and Dumber. My sister-in-law even donned a curtain rod and curtains for a spot-on portrayal of Carol Burnett’s Scarlett O’Hara. Everybody was smiling and laughing, especially Mom.

I have a game for you now, and I invite you to try your movie skills. Here are movie lines with a Coronavirus-threat theme. See if you can figure them out. Don’t cheat; don’t look them up before you leave your guesses in the comments!

Movie #1 (hygiene ultra-awareness):

“I washed my face an’ hands afore I come, I did.”

Movie #2 (for those of us who’ve had to take mandatory “holidays” ☹️):

“But don’t you have work?”
“Work? No. Today’s gonna be a holiday.”

Movie #3 (ordering pick-up from our favorite restaurants):

“Look! Just what we ordered!”
“I’m a little scared about all of this…”
“Me too. Do you think we shouldn’t eat it?”
“I’m not that scared!”

Movie #4 (getting groceries at the store):

“Sorry I’m late; it’s a jungle out there! I had to beat an old lady with a stick to get these cranberries.”

Movie #5 (taking care of necessary errands):

“I’d like to get in, get on with it, get it over with, and get out. Get it?”
“Got it.”
“Good.”

Movie #6 (seeing celebrities post encouraging things on youtube):

“If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, it makes us feel as though our hard work ain’t been in vain for nothin’. Bless you all.”

Movie #7 (not seeing friends for weeks):

“I think I’m crazy.”
“If it makes you feel any better, I think so too.”

Movie #8 (essential business workers’ patience and long hours):

“Sure I may be tuckered, and I may give out, but I won’t give IN!”

Movie #9 (learning new games at home):

“You wanna bet? Bet. What do you bet?”
“I think I’ll bluff.”
“You’re gonna bluff? If you tell me you’re bluffing, then I know you’re bluffing… then I already win.”
“Why? Maybe I’m just bluffing that I’m bluffing.”

Movie #10 (trying to get Amazon to ship your order in two days):

“I can’t do that, Dave.”

And one more movie bonus for those of us who are still feeling surreal about this COVID19 world:

“Well, I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.”

Answers will post tomorrow.