sheltering in place

Like most of the people in the United States and those in many other countries, my spouse B, adult daughter T, and I are sheltering in place. This is not a great hardship for us. We are among the most fortunate of families. B can work from home indefinitely if necessary. With so much of the economy shut down, T will need to delay applying for  jobs, but she is safe and content here with us. Some of my poetry activities have moved to Zoom, so I still get to workshop poems. I’ve been able to participate in more social justice and environmental webinars because I am nearly always at home.

The biggest sacrifice for me is that I can no longer visit my father, who is 95 and living in a senior community. I’ve tried to set everything up so I can help out by phone only, but it is certainly not as effective as being there every day. My sisters and I call him every day at various times. I always call in the morning to check in and help him decide on his dinner order. Because they have had to close the common rooms, including dining, meals are being delivered and orders need to be in by 11 AM. It is stressful not to be able to visit, but I admit that is less stressful than worrying that I might inadvertently infect my dad and a building-full of vulnerable seniors with COVID-19 because I was pre- or asymptomatic.

I have had to change some of my shopping and meal habits. I was used to going to the grocery store several times a week and planning dinner a day or two at a time. Now that shopping is supposed to be just once a week (or two weeks), I’m being much more diligent about planning meals and having ingredients on hand. This is still complicated by supply problems. While I would love to go to one store and get everything on my list, there are still times when shelves are empty for a whole category of items. We are also now wearing cloth masks in public places, so my next shopping trip will be accomplished with a stylish cloth napkin and hair tie number made using this video. We don’t have to wear masks when we go out for walks in the neighborhood, though. There are not many people out at any particular juncture, so it is easy to stay more than six feet apart.

It’s been interesting to me to hear and read how others are dealing with staying inside with their families. I’ve seen a lot of people talking about the stress of being with their children 24/7. Because it was my privilege to be the full-time-at-home parent with our daughters, I was used to that lifestyle. Parents who aren’t used to full-time family togetherness because even days off were usually filled with out-of-home activities are discussing the revelation, sometimes accompanied by nervous laughter.

There is a lot of stress about not knowing how long shelter at home policies will be in place. People are suffering from lack of their usual routines and comings and goings and want to know when things will be “back to normal.” In reflecting on this, I realized that I’ve spent so many years dealing with uncertainty – multi-generational caregiving does not lend itself to predictability – that I am not upset by not knowing what will come next and when. I’m not cavalier about it; I do follow the news, perhaps more than I should, and try to prepare myself for a range of possibilities, but I’m not assuming things will return to the way they were soon or ever.  I’m trying to advocate for positive social change, the pendulum swinging back to a more community approach than a hyper-individualistic one. I think the pandemic has made many people acutely aware of our interdependence and the vast numbers of people in the United States that live economically precarious lives. It has shown us how vulnerable we all are from a medical standpoint, especially those who have underlying illnesses, many of whom are not being treated adequately due to cost barriers. Cities around the world are noticing what it is like to have cleaner air. Perhaps this period of disruption and radical change to our way of life will demonstrate that the changes needed to address the climate crisis are possible and engender the political will to put it in place.

Well, that paragraph certainly covered a lot of ground, but that is the way JC’s mind tends to work…

That does, though, bring me to the last point I want to address.

Many people have talked about feeling scattered in these times. They are finding it hard to concentrate, to finish tasks, or even start them. I admit that this is disconcerting. It is also the way I have felt for years. People who know me personally or who have been reading TJCM for years know that I have been in the midst of dealing with the death of my mother-in-law, the final illness and death of my mother, and the permanent re-location of my daughter E and granddaughter ABC to the UK after having them live with us for over two years. It’s a lot of grief and loss. I often tell people that I feel like I have holes in my brain. The pandemic and the political situation in the United States added to the mix of personal issues make it more difficult.

If you are not used to this feeling of being scattered, it may help you to think about our present situation in the context of grief  or loss. Talking about it can help. Writing can, too, if that feels better or safer for you.

Even acknowledging it to yourself can be helpful.

And knowing you are not alone.

seeing the unseen

As some readers will recall, older daughter E is currently living with us while her spouse L, a British citizen, is in London with his family. He will be arriving soon for a three month stay to encompass the final weeks of E’s pregnancy, the arrival of Baby, and the early weeks of cuddling, bonding, and diaper/nappy changing. (Have I mentioned lately how dysfunctional and/or in flux the immigration policies of both the US and the UK are?)

In L’s absence, one of my happy duties is to accompany E to the obstetrician’s office. Fortunately, the pregnancy has been progressing smoothly and Baby seems to be thriving and growing according to schedule.

I was pregnant thirty-one and twenty-seven years ago, so a lot has changed in prenatal care. Fetal heart monitors have gotten a lot more compact and easier to use. There is a lot less belly prodding and measuring than when I was expecting. There are more blood tests and standard glucose testing. My daughter received a booster for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis so that Baby will have stronger resistance at birth to help prevent whooping cough until the infant vaccines can kick in.

The biggest change, though, is the use of ultrasound. I never had an ultrasound when I was pregnant. While they were available, they were not yet routine and there was no diagnostic reason to order one. As women had for millennia, I relied on hope and faith that all was well, bolstered by the experienced hands and measuring tape of my health providers.

It has been a revelation to be there for E’s ultrasound exams. Most of the time, we have been able to have L join us via skype, which has been nice. E and I have been able to watch as the technician measures the length of Baby’s femur and the circumference of the head. I have been amazed to see the the entire backbone, tiny fingers and toes, all the chambers of the heart beating over 150 times a minutes, the stomach, the bladder, and other organs. From the last ultrasound, we know that Baby weighs about 3 pounds, 10 ounces (1.65 kg) at 31 weeks. We could even seen some fringe of hair atop Baby’s head, not surprising given that both E and L were born with thick heads of hair.

This last detail was particularly poignant for me, because the first detail we knew about baby E was that she had hair on her head, a fact conveyed to us by the maternity nurse who first examined me at the hospital after I arrived late on a Friday night in April with ruptured membranes at 36 weeks. I was only a centimeter dilated, but she could feel the hair on E’s head as it nestled down, getting ready to enter the world. It wasn’t until the early hours of Sunday morning that we would know the hair was strawberry blonde and belonged to our little girl.

We didn’t know that morning, as we welcomed our first child into the world, how wonderful, complicated, heart-warming, and heart-rending parenting would be. We didn’t know the depths of fear, joy, and love we would experience.

And we didn’t know that, thirty-one years later, we would be on hand to witness that cycle of family begin anew for her and her husband as parents, for B and me as grandparents, and for Nana and Paco as great-grandparents.

Even though it is the most common story in the world, its power isn’t diminished. Love makes the ordinary extraordinary.