Latchkey OG

“You were made for this,” the owner of Biker Barre, who’s also a dear friend, said as I assembled a plan for how Capitol Hill’s favorite indoor cycling + barre studio could provide online content to clients during the COVID shutdown. “You should be head of FEMA.”

I’m not always great in an emergency but I feel like I’m crushing this one. After all, I excel at social distancing (aka preparing to introvert) and I follow the rules, skills that stem from my being the Latchkey OG. 

I was nine years old when my mom asked if I felt comfortable taking care of my little brother (7) after school until she got home from work. Even at a young age, I knew I’d be more attentive than Debi, who was 16 and had two kids of her own. I knew I’d be nicer to my brother than Betty, who abided by a 50s style of governing kids. I knew I’d be less naughty than Gloria, whose boyfriend would give us money to go to 7-11 for ice cream while they made out (and probably more) on the couch. Hey, it was the 70s!

But there were strict rules to being a latchkey kid. I had to hold my brother’s hand crossing the one street that separated our elementary school from our house. (He probably still has the bruises from my tight grip.) I could make us a healthy snack when we got home—usually mayonnaise sandwiches, which are delicious, don’t @ me. We could not answer the door under any circumstance. No talking to strangers or taking their candy or helping find their lost puppies. And if the phone rang, never let on to the caller that mom wasn’t home because that person could take advantage of two unaccompanied kids. 

Like much of Gen X, I’ve been basically prepping for the worst for forty years.

An aside: Mom instituted one rule we didn’t follow: we weren’t allowed to watch the Brady Bunch. The problem was, I loved the Brady Bunch, and given I was keeping my brother safe and fed, I thought I deserved screen time with this televised blended family. I’d turn it on, but pretend to be asleep on the couch when she got home so that I wouldn’t get in trouble. Remember, these were the old timey days when we had to get up out of our seats and walk all the way over to the TV to flip the channel or turn it off.

Seriously, this all relates to the COVID-19 crisis.

When I saw the meme floating around about Gen X being well suited to meet the challenges posed by the coronavirus, I felt a sense of validation. Yes, I stocked my cabinets with non-perishable foods, but I did not hoard toilet paper. Yes, I started following the CDC guidelines to socially distance well before most people took them seriously. (A friend reported from Arlington, Virginia today that the restaurants were packed at lunch. GO HOME, PEOPLE.) In my house, we wash our hands on the regular and do not rely on that now scarce commodity, hand sanitizer. 

I prepare the best I can (hold your brother’s hand!) but gird for the worst (that strange person who calls the house might come and get you). 

Not much changes. Growing up, I’d lie in bed hoping (praying?) we wouldn’t get into a nuclear war with the USSR in the middle of the night. When I was a sophomore in high school in Maine, my English class watched the Challenger explode on live TV and then after, we continued with our previously scheduled lesson until the bell rang. At age 21, high school friends were shipped off to Iraq for the first Gulf War. (Ironically, I heard from one of those friends yesterday. He reached out to tell me that my recent blog posts are comforting in this time of uncertainty.) In our middle age, Gen X has already experienced multiple economy crashes and wars, not to mention 9/11. In some ways, it we’ve been playing crisis whack-a-mole our entire lives.

And it’s an understatement to call our current circumstances unsettling, posing wake up at 3:18 and don’t fall back to sleep levels of stress. Outwardly, I make comfort food for Jack and Colin. Try to stick to schedule. Meditate. This morning, I live streamed yoga taught by my sister.

I’m wearing my best latchkey kid “my mom can’t come to the phone right now” face. Being organized and prepared gives me a sense of control. But inside, I’m scared like I’ve never been before.

 

COVID Confinement: Day One

Day One: March 16, 2020

I suppose Saturday, after I ran those last remaining errands, should count as Day One, but today, Monday, is our first true day of COVID-interruptus.

I normally dread weekdays because my sixteen-year old is so damn hard to get out of bed. A night owl through and through, as his teen brain is hardwired for, he struggles to wake up, especially if there is someplace he’s required to be. Like on the school bus that normally picks up at 7:08.

So it was nice to set my alarm a little later, knowing I wouldn’t have to wrestle an alligator a man-child out of bed and onto the bus. However, shattered by a nightmare, I woke up before my alarm sounded. I vowed to take advantage of the peace and quiet, at ease that I didn’t have to force anyone out of bed for at least two more hours.

“But I’m not checking Twitter,” I told myself. “I’ll read my book.” (Side note: Join me in reading The Jetsetters. Buy it from your indie bookstore, if you can. These small businesses (and the authors) can use the sale in our time of confinement and many of them offer curbside pickup and/or delivery options.)

But I digress. Needless to say, I did not pick up The Jetsetters. Instead, a quick Twitter check while waiting for the coffee to brew led me down the internet rabbit hole. I’ve never been one to look at what hashtags are trending because I’m 50 and it makes me mad that the world is facing its biggest crisis in my living memory yet #ManCrushMonday was in this morning’s top ten. (Just be better, people.)

Anyway, Twitter led to the Washington Post led to checking my email and then all hopes of productive solitude evaporated. 

My goal during this period of confinement is to structure our school-less days. I have the advantage of my kids being in schools where some homework is already assigned and completed online, so this remote learning concept is nothing new to them. (Except my older son goes to Catholic school and assures me that the monk who teaches his Comparative Politics class doesn’t know what the internet is and has instead assigned them to write a paper.) 

In the spirit of unstructured structured time and for self-defense—I already work from home and if summer break is any indicator, I’m expected to be their entertainment director and head chef—I even made them a schedule:

8:00-9:00am: Wake up, eat breakfast, read a news article and discuss it with the family over coffee

9:00am-noon: Focus on teacher-assigned work. If finished, read a book

12:00-1:00pm: Eat lunch, take a walk, DON’T check Twitter (that’s for me)

1:00-4:00pm: Finish teacher-assigned work, if applicable. If not, study for AP exams (even though they will probably be postponed)

4:00-5:00pm: DANCE PARTY 💃🎉

“Dance party? Are we five,” Colin asked?

“What? You need exercise.”

“Can’t I just go throw the ball around?”

“Hey, I heard that listening to your favorite songs lifts your spirits and when you’re happy, it’s good for your immune system.”

Yeah that got two sets of eye rolls. So fine, they can use this hour to get physical as they see fit. (Get it?) At least I won’t have to fight them for access to the speakers.

What to expect when expecting a pandemic

The last few days have stirred up a frenetic energy reserved for the anticipation of a big snow storm. The toilet paper aisle at grocery stores is ravaged, pantries are stocked with dry goods that wouldn’t normally make a weekly shopping list, kids are out of school, and some offices have ordered teleworking. But instead of the excited uncertainty that comes with a storm hitting a region unaccustomed to dealing with winter weather—how many inches of snow will we get and how long will the kids be home?—the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing with it a heavy sense of dread.

The unknown is frightening. We don’t know whether schools are truly out until the end of the month or until June. We don’t know whether our hospitals can manage the heavy load of the sick.Will the food we bought last two weeks of self-isolation or two months? We don’t know whether our favorite small businesses will survive extended closures or mandatory confinement zoning. Or if two weeks paid sick leave is near enough for those working in an economy not friendly to time off. And not that there is ever a great time for a pandemic, but we don’t know whether that nagging sore throat is caused by seasonal allergies (thanks, tree pollen) or the coronavirus. 

There are some things we do know. For one, social distancing helps contain the spread of the virus. I’m grateful to Gov. Larry Hogan for swiftly making the call to close Maryland schools, even while I acknowledge the privilege embedded in my relief. My kids are in high school; they don’t need supervision, at least on the same level as an elementary aged child. They don’t rely on school lunch for their square meal of the day. Also, I work from home—and don’t have to worry about taking unscheduled leave.

Not everyone is as lucky.

On Twitter— which I generally categorize as a worthless time suck—people in other countries at peak infection beg us to learn from their response (or lack thereof). Epidemiologists say stay home, the most effective way to contain the spread. But our grocery stores are chock full of shoppers and the bike and barre classes are full at the boutique fitness studio I manage as part of my side hustle.

Americans: we are nothing if not predictable and self-centered. We hear what isn’t being said. Hoard toilet paper, hand sanitizer, shredded cheese (seriously, Wegmans was cleared out the day I went shopping) even though grocery store execs assure the only disruption in the supply chain is the one being caused by recent hoarding. We share the debunked “internal email” purporting to be from Stanford doctors about cold and hot drinks and deep breaths to the count of ten. (I shudder to think of the other fake news being spread.) Some even think, “I’m healthy” and flock to bars where they stand shoulder to shoulder with people who look healthy but could be carrying the virus anyway.

The president’s lack of leadership hasn’t helped. While he defaults to his typical posture of first denying there’s a problem, then working overtime to cover his ass, we get mixed messages. Maybe we wouldn’t be hoarding items from our snowstorm list while simultaneously practicing a weak definition of social distancing if we had a better understanding of the gravity of the situation, a sense of doom the president has worked hard to obscure.

As it is, we don’t know what to expect, except that our collective condition from the health of loved ones to the economy will get worse before it gets better. While it’s hard to plan for the unknown, as we hunker down we can suspend expectation, extend grace to those around us, and listen to those in the know. 

The countdown to Pitch Wars (aka #BoostMyBio)

Obviously, if you scroll through my blog posts, you’ll notice I’m intermittent with my blogging, but that doesn’t mean I’m not constantly writing. A recovering Senate staffer, I’m lucky enough to have a great group of clients who help me pay the mortgage keep me busy writing essays, op-eds, reports, and other communications materials, mostly on clean energy and climate change policy.  For my “fun” writing, I try to carve out time most days (usually in the early morning hours) to work on my women’s fiction novel, RUNNING FOR HOME.

The details on RUNNING FOR HOME: This is actually the first novel (of three) I ever wrote. In 2014, after over 100 unsuccessful agent queries, I put this maiden attempt on the shelf—and proceeded to write two more novels. But I couldn’t get RUNNING FOR HOME out of my heart/head. For NaNoWriMo 2017, I dusted it off. And by “dusted it off,” I mean I cut 70,000 (of 97,000) words, made the end the beginning, and rewrote the premise. What was once a love story that ended in the dust and rubble of 9/11 is now the account of an unlikely friendship that emerges after 9/11.

9/11 fiction? Will people want to read that? 9/11 happened. It was super sad and shaped not only our nation, but the generation born after, including my son, born four days after the heroes of United Flight 93 saved our lives by not allowing the 4th plane to crash into the U.S. Capitol. (See why I had to write a 9/11 story?) While the 9/11 scenes occur in the beginning of RUNNING FOR HOME, the primary focus of the novel is on two strong women who bond as they rebuild their lives after the attack.

What else? I’m constantly reading. Recent favorites include The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, Ensemble by Aja Gabel, You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld, and She Regrets Nothing by Andrea Dunlop. I don’t watch a ton of TV but am obsessed with the Bachelor franchise (I have written a novel about that too), UnREAL, The Americans, and Younger. I teach yoga, single parent two teenage boys, and have two cats. Fang (pictured left) likes books. Fluffy likes lap(top)s.

Like many authors, I love coffee (but not after 10am), chocolate, and wine. Especially wine. In fact, inspired on a recent trip to France, my fourth manuscript will revolve around a wine theme. I live on the Maryland side of Washington, DC. (Anyone local want to get together for coffee, chocolate, or wine?) Red Sox fan. Shoe lover. Klutz. What more do you want to know? Ask! I’m an open book.

Why Pitch Wars? On a whim, I submitted to Pitch Wars last year and made a bunch of new friends, as well as scoring an unofficial mentor. I love this community and the circle of support it inspires. Whether or not I get chosen, I know my writing and my life will improve thanks to this experience.

Good luck, team. I can’t wait to see your books come into the world.

quiet your thinking brain…

If you’ve been in a yoga class, you might have heard some version of “quiet your thinking brain.”

Eliminate the monkey chatter.

Clear your head of thoughts.

Let go of anything not serving you.

Yeah, right… these prompts led me to ponder my grocery list or otherwise mentally fidget, wondering how much longer we’d have to recline (or worse—sit) in stillness before we could actually “do” yoga (i.e. move the body). Then in yoga teacher training, one of our assignments was daily meditation. Most days, I practiced the minimum recommended amount of five minutes. For six months I made time every day but never achieved stillness of mind, never felt the nirvana others raved about. Meditating was a chore, and after I graduated with my 200-hour certification, I stopped.

Last April, my sister was visiting and told me about her daily meditation practice and how it helped her cope with anxiety, emotions and stress. She recommend I download the app Insight Timer and while I’d once downloaded Headspace to no avail, I gave it a try. Skeptical and open at the same time, I started off easy, listening to a few guided meditations, recordings where people with soothing voices (British accents reel me in) taught me seven ways to welcome the new day or to visualize abundance pouring into my open head. Gradually, I traded these vocal guides for a timer.

Now I serve as my own guide.

To inspire a vibrant practice, I set up a meditation space in my office/yoga room, complete with candles and other personal items for inspiration. But just as often I greet (and/or close) the day from the comfort of my own bed. I might sit in front of the window if the sun or moonlight is shining in. When negative energy overcomes me, I try to take a time out. I’m not always able to redirect my thoughts, but at least the practice of conscious breathing and breaking from device-land soothes and grounds.

It isn’t always easy, but today marks 365 days in a row of meditating.

I get it, meditating isn’t for everybody. But honestly, I didn’t think it was for me, and now it’s such a part of my morning routine, I’d no sooner forget to meditate than to brush my teeth. On days I don’t do either, hell has really broken loose.

I don’t have time, I hear people say. But if you have time to scan social media feeds, you have time to put your phone down, close your eyes, and focus on the rise and fall of your breath. If you have time to read this post, you have time to sit in stillness. Who cares if you spend those initial minutes trying to remember what you forgot to buy at Target? Taking quiet time for yourself each day is the least you deserve.

Burn, baby, burn

I keep my house a cool 65 degrees in the winter. Friends and family know to dress in layers when they come over. Echoes of Jimmy Carter’s “put on a sweater” come from my mouth when the kids complain; we’re all fans of flannel pajamas.

During cooler seasons, on my bed I keep two comforters, one down and one heavy as an x-ray vest. In addition to cozy pajamas, November to March is made for flannel sheets. Oh, and the two cats sleep on my bed, one near my right foot and one near the left. The more layers of warmth, the better.

But for the last two weeks, with temperatures still struggling to find spring, I have been waking up at least three times a night on figurative fire. I’d call this “night sweats” except that I don’t actually sweat; no middle of the night t-shirt change is required. The pattern goes like this: I kick one leg out from under the mass of warmth. It’s not enough to cool me down so I kick the second leg out. I flip from sleeping on my left side to the right. Then I get cold and climb back under one layer, and then another. Repeat at least three times. The cats don’t move.

During these hot flashes, my usually frosty hands and feet burn hot enough to fuel a city. Seriously, if Elon Musk could find a way to transmit and store that heat, I’m sure I could power something and at least then I wouldn’t feel so bad because nothing irritates me more than interrupted sleep.

Is this “the change” inviting itself into my life? I don’t particularly welcome change, and especially with D.C. area temperatures predicted to soar to the 80s by the end of the week. (I will not turn the AC on in April, I will not turn the AC on in April, I will not turn the AC on in April.) I can only hope “fire sleep” is a temporary condition.

 

let them eat pound cake

All week, my older son kept asking me to make the pound cake I made on New Year’s Eve.

“It’s so good mom. That’s my choice for our Super Bowl food.”

Setting aside that pound cake is NOT football food, I hesitated. I’m not a calorie counter or a dessert rejecter, but I couldn’t get past the pound of butter, half a dozen eggs and other fine ingredients in the recipe.

He persisted. “I’ll do all the work.”

“Fine,” I said, figuring a more fun activity would lure him away from the kitchen. But on Saturday, he set out the four sticks of butter to warm up to room temperature and started measuring ingredients. We didn’t have enough milk, so I begrudgingly drove to 7-11 to pick up a quart, only to return home and find we were also nearly out of sugar. Back to 7-11. Grumble, grumble.

He requested my presence in the kitchen a few times, mostly to ask “does this look right.” The batter looked perfect and tasted delicious. For an hour and fifty minutes that cake baked while I napped/read/napped on the couch. He pulled it out of the oven a little early (I didn’t adequately explain the toothpick trick to determining doneness) but an overly moist cake is better than a dry cake, right?

Once his masterpiece was cool, he immediately sliced right in. “Want a piece, mom?”

And more so than the Patriots’s loss, this is the moment of the weekend I’m flabbergasted by. I almost said no to my son’s homemade pound cake. Why? Because of the butter. The sugar. The eggs. The flour. All wonderful ingredients. And social pressure to say no to dessert because it’s fattening,

I quickly shook off the voices in my head and cut a piece.

Why do we do this to ourselves? I’d just spent Christmas watching my mom—programmed her entire life (probably by her mother) to say she wasn’t hungry or just wanted a little—forget these food shaming lessons to eat and indulge. It was the most I’d seen my mom put on her plate in my entire life; watching her take seconds, thirds and eat dessert filled me with joy. And it got me thinking…

Growing up, on the regular my super skinny mom would say at dinner, “I’m not eating. I’m so fat.” She never told me I was fat. Never pointed out the curves I cursed. Never gave my plate the evil eye as I helped myself to buttery vegetables and creamy pastas. But when you hear a message daily, reinforced by watching your 110-pound mom eat iceberg lettuce and cucumber salads, clearly unhealthy ideals and patterns take root.

I thought I’d rejected society’s obsession with body, size and weight. I love to tell the story about the scale registering 17 pounds less after I spent three months in the wheelchair than it had before my accident as an example of how weight doesn’t matter. I wasn’t healthier. I wasn’t stronger. My muscles grew weak with inactivity. I’m still regaining strength and flexibility, two years later. And maybe that’s the problem. I’m slowly but surely resuming a fitness regime that minutely resembles the one I used to have, so of course I can’t mess up progress by eating rich, dense pound cake, right?

Think again.

I’m glad I caught my hesitation before Jack noticed. I’m glad I ate not one but two pieces of his cake. (We barely had any left for the Super Bowl.) I don’t want to be that person who looks in the mirror and only sees the flaws. And I won’t let some crazy, latent hangups hamstring me now.

What to bake next?