What I Learned From Mr. P. And His War Stories

When I was 15, I met an elderly gentleman (though he would balk at the notion of being either elderly or gentlemanly) who told fantastic stories while I worked my after-school job at a small library in an equally small town. I called him Mr. P for as long as I worked in that library. He was there at least twice a week for the six years I spent shuffling through the stacks for hours on end. Mr. P. was a cheeky Liverpudlian who came to the Lower Mainland in British Columbia, Canada, settled down at some point with his lady, and somehow got old along the way. The specifics of that story are lost in my memory in the 14 years since I left that library job. The stories that stuck, on the other hand, have been rattling around in my brain for the last few months with a strange sort of clarity that I’d never expected.

I have an eight-year-old daughter, and if you want to turn your world further upside down during a pandemic, toss a child into the mix and navigate lockdowns, social distancing, masks, and everything else this year has offered. It’s been mind-bending while I’ve worked on juggling the very adult world, while nurturing whatever sense of childhood wonder I can while I ask for an updated snack list for the weekly grocery shop from a kid who has, undoubtedly, grown a hair too attached to her ipad. The strangest hurdle so far has been learning how to tune out the 8th play through of the entire Full House series, though I have made my peace and graciously accept the half-hour intervals of mind-numbing.

And I think of Mr. P.

“I remember the last day of school.” I had been complaining to Mr. P about some irrelevant high school drama that was likely going to wind down by the end of the year only a few short weeks out. I initially accepted his statement as an opening to a comfortable almost-grandfatherly moment of reassurance. Instead, it was followed by a sort of wistful grin. “It was in May of 1941. I went to school one day, came home, and found out the next morning that the school was bombed in the night during the blitz.”

He went on to tell me that the destruction of the school meant that he and his friends were suddenly thrown into the world of adult things. His mum needed a man of the house, what with his dad gone away for the war. Now that there was no school for him to attend, he worked odd jobs and helped repair whatever he could in a ravaged city while he helped his mum around the house.

“Of course,” he added, “being a young boy, there were days when I wanted our house to be bombed so I wouldn’t have to clean it. Of course, I imagined that Mum and I would be elsewhere and safe. I’m not that horrible. Only a little horrible.” His humor never wavered.

I think back on this story and I’ll happily take the provincial briefing that announced school closures back in March. For all the things I’ve had to figure out, navigating a war hasn’t been on that list. My daughter hasn’t known that sort of terror; buildings destroyed in the nighttime and a parent somewhere far away with no way to know for certain if they were coming back. I’m able to safely say that the worst we’ve had is a headline and a generic email blast, which is a far cry from the sort of blast Mr. P was talking about.

But there is a different sort of weariness and, in some sort of prophetic way, Mr. P addressed it. I commented that I couldn’t imagine how it must have been: How hard it would have been to manage. He waved off my naive attempts at empathy. “I was young enough that it left its mark, but I was able to grow beyond it eventually. Things kept moving forward. I always had my friends. We all had community. I think if we didn’t have that, then I’d have been in a proper state, and would be an even bigger arse.”

That’s the part of the story that resonates with me. I think, for every major crisis the world has seen in the last 100 years, there have been unique struggles for each generation caught in whatever upheaval. War, economic catastrophe, disease. These have all thrown people off their trajectory at some point or another. 2020 is such a time, and our upheaval is one that a man who saw his city bombed for months on end said he wouldn’t have been able to handle with the youthful exuberance he’d had amid a rubble-filled schoolyard.

Our isolation is a valid challenge. It brings out anxieties and despair, while we trudge through in a strange internal battle as we reconcile the greater need with the desire to run into the arms of friends and family that we haven’t seen for months and hold them so tight as if that would be enough to carry us through whatever new waves could come. Is it the ugliness of war? Not at all, and I am thankful for that. But it is a struggle worth noting. It is a struggle that is shaping us in real time into versions of ourselves that we’d never considered before. And it’s a struggle that has our kids trying to navigate a strange sort of quiet that humans aren’t meant for.

So I reflect on those wartime stories with Mr. P and I imagine what stories my daughter will tell as she nears her 70s. Stories of a time when she couldn’t visit her friends or her family, and how she had to work with me to find new ways to play and fill time while the usually busy street below our building saw less and less traffic, and the stores were lined with arrows and reminders for masks. I wonder if she’ll regale some wayward teen at a part-time job with dark humor punctuated with hearty laughs as she explains just why no one blows out birthday cake candles, but she remembers a time when it was a standard event.

And I wonder what she will say when she’s met with the same naive empathy I once tried to offer to a man approaching his 70s who went through a war.

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Remote Learning Is Not Working For My Teen

It took me only about a week to realize that distance learning was not meant for my 9th-grade son.

He has a 504 plan, a plan devised to keep him on track academically and provide accommodations for testing or homework, aiming to address a few of his special needs. He requires frequent breaks (to address his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), time with his school social worker (to address his Autism Spectrum Disorder), and the ability to have a manipulative, such as a stress ball (to address his anxiety disorder).

Today, in the United States 1 in 54 children are on the Autism spectrum, and 3.3 million children ages 12-17 are living with ADHD — and having a comorbidity, like anxiety, is par for the course. For someone like my son, who had support in school and thrives when other adults in his life can mirror real life back to him, so much is lost due to remote learning. He needs more than what our dining room table can provide him with, or that I can provide him with, or what Google Classroom can give. He needs more than the socialization he gets from hanging out with his five-year-old sisters. 

He has two moms, and my God, does he need both of us. My wife, a former middle school teacher, understands his academic needs. She also has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), so she understands him on an even deeper level than I do. Together, we put in the work to get him what he needs — even as we all navigate our anxiety about what will come in the weeks ahead, about remote learning, about the mental health of our teenager. We also are the teachers for our five-year-old twin daughters, work full-time, and try to make it all function well. We all are trying to do our best and work with the reality in front of us.

Two weeks ago his first quarter as a 9th grader was officially behind us all, as bumpy a ride as it’s been, with the canceled school, the in-school, in-person learning. But the grades which showed up on his digital report card surprised us all — four Fs in subjects he’d once liked, like history. I wanted to scold and nag him and lecture him: “You’re able to get higher grades!” “You like history, what happened?” We all knew what happened. We all blamed remote learning for our son’s grades (and YouTube).

Like many parents of kids with special needs, at the beginning of the remote learning fiasco, I was simply in survival mode. 1,001 questions raced through my mind: How will I parent and teach my kid, how will he get what he needs socially when we can’t even go outside, how will he get to trust and know his teachers, will he learn anything this year?

Some six or so months into this new normal, I am still feeling the growing pains and so is my son. He’s a teenager, and like so many teens, he’s obsessed with YouTube, a phenomenon I am still trying to wrap my own almost 40-year-old brain around. But having access to the internet all day has quickly become a hindrance in his life, getting in the way of his education and the achievement of his goals because his brain just isn’t wired to be online all day long. None of us are wired this way, but especially not those who have trouble with executive functioning. 

In my home state of Connecticut, there are 18,716 — or 1 in 28 — students who are diagnosed with autism, emotional disturbance, or intellectual disability in our school system. My son is part of that statistic, and his special needs make distance learning almost impossible. But here we are. I imagine the other parents of these kids are feeling the same way.

In the weeks ahead we are going to need to figure out how to not only bring up our son’s grades, but how to keep him socially engaged during the quarantine. Our state’s education commissioner, Miguel Cardona, was quoted in the Connecticut Mirror, as saying, “For the parents of students of special needs: I see you and I hear you. Right now our efforts are going to be focused on making sure we are providing services and support to students with special needs, to our English learners and our youngest learners in early childhood programs.”

As a parent, I am still waiting to hear what kind of services are being put into place for my son’s education. For any student entering into 9th grade, it is a hard year no matter what — but being in school to navigate it all, a student can grasp the realities of showing up, in person, day after day. With the support of guidance counselors, teachers, social workers, cafeteria staff, principals and school custodians, our kids are stronger and more capable humans because of the variety of individuals in their lives. For my special needs son, this is doubly true.

His homeroom begins every day at 7:30 a.m.; he logs on and is expected to be marked for his attendance by his teacher on Google Classroom. Most mornings, he is distracted by YouTube before even navigating his mouse to get to his homeroom class on time. With 80-minute periods and teachers who aren’t entirely sure how to work Zoom themselves, they rarely succeed in holding his attention. By the second period, he is fully engaged in some YouTuber’s story rather than his academics.

Could I be more available for him and monitor him more? Yes. Would my work suffer because of it? Yes. Even if his performance went up, mine would decrease. And monitoring him more, sitting beside him while in science class, would drastically alter the dynamic between my teen and me.

This reality that we are all navigating is not meant to be what is normal, what helps us succeed as humans — and at the end of the day, that is what I want for my son. I want him to succeed, to be an individual who understands others, who knows the importance of putting hard work in, and how to appropriately engage with people in the world. For these experiences, I cannot depend on his school to serve its traditional purpose in the ways I’ve been able to lean on in the past. It’s up to us now, in varying degrees, to help him succeed even as a special needs student. I just hope we can figure it out.

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Pandemic Blues Are A Real Thing We Need To Talk About

“So, do you ever just like, cry for no reason?” my friend asked over Facebook Messenger video. I rolled my eyes and told her I’d forgotten my ID on a trip to the pharmacy that week. It had ended in a crying meltdown via speakerphone, with me weeping to my husband that we hadn’t been to a restaurant since March. I knew why, too: I have the pandemic blues.

It sounds innocuous: a little sadder maybe, a little more anxious. But really, sometimes I look at my husband and tell him that life is horrible, and will always be horrible. When he suggests a safe outing, I laugh in his face. “Where? We’ll just get the virus,” I say. “No one will wear a mask and I’ll want to scream at them.”

This should not be a shock. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that in mid-July, they found that 53% of American adults find the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. That’s up from 32% in March. 36% said they had difficulty sleeping; 32% reported difficulty eating, and 12% said they were drinking too much. Normally, one in ten adults report symptoms of depression or anxiety in any given week. In one week in July, 40.1% of adults reported clinical symptoms of depression or anxiety. This the face of the pandemic blues.

Do You Have The Pandemic Blues?

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that “rates major negative mental health impacts” tend to be highest among people sheltering in place and women with children under the age of 18. We don’t want to be gendered, but that’s likely because more cis women are shouldering the burden of childcare. We could probably amend that. “Primary caregivers of children under 18” might be more specific and truthful, no matter what their gender, but Scary Mommy didn’t conduct the study.

The Kansas Health System says that as of September, 30% adults of were showing symptoms of clinical depression. The pandemic blues are clinical and treatable. They aren’t a natural consequence of living in these conditions, and you don’t have to continue to cope unaided. If you feel sad all the time, avoid activities that make you happy, have trouble sleeping, and feel “hopeless and helpless” all the time, you may be suffering from depression.

Pandemic blues also include anxiety. The Rochester Health System reports that specific anxiety symptoms during COVID-19 may include “nervousness, restlessness, stress, constant worrying, an upset stomach, [and] feeling overwhelmed.” If you feel this way the majority of the time, you may have clinical anxiety.

The pandemic blues? They may be a treatable mental illness. Get to your doctor and talk to them about help.

The Pandemic Blues Aren’t A Joke

No, I’m not kidding. We don’t all feel “constant worrying,” “stress,” and “nervousness.” Don’t crack up. It’s tempting, I know. You laugh because nothing’s funny: it seems like everyone has the pandemic blues, like we’re all freaking out all the time. It’s almost reached adage status. If people are acting weird, it’s the pandemic, stupid. We’re losing our minds because we’re cooped up (many of us with small children) with the threat of a deadly disease hanging over our heads. A trip to the grocery store is a fraught expedition. Of course we’re all losing it.

But there’s a difference between occasional crying jags, between having some bad days and good days, and between full-blown depression and/or anxiety. Yes, we’ve all gone a little off our rockers, and we need to give each other space and grace for that. But some of us need more than that. If you find yourself mired in a sense of anxiety or futility, you need to seek help.

But We Have To Be Careful…

This isn’t a “mental health pandemic,” as Psychiatric Times points out. Those studies asked people about symptoms — but they didn’t conduct a full mental health workup. In other words, 40% of the country may be showing symptoms of depression, AKA the pandemic blues. But they may not be clinically depressed. Instead, they may be manifesting “demoralization” or disorientation and a lack of fulfillment, and grief. This lack of a formal diagnosis doesn’t make the pandemic blues less real, or less significant.

It may mean your doctor can’t magically “fix” you. But cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, fresh air, and forcing yourself to engage in pleasurable activities won’t hurt you, either.

The same goes for anxiety. The clinical standards for generalized anxiety disorder include anxious feelings and difficulty functioning for six months. No one who took those surveys in July, Psychiatric Times points out, could meet that standard if their symptoms began in March.

This does not make the pandemic blues less real or less distressing. Not meeting some clinical standard for anxiety or depression doesn’t invalidate your everyday experiences of stress, worry, futility, and meaninglessness. For example, about a third of the time, I cope with crying jags, a feeling of despair, hopelessness, and futility. I avoid most pleasurable activities during that time. However, these things don’t affect my ability to function (I still get my work done, mostly), and I’m already adequately medicated for my psychiatric disorders.

I have the pandemic blues. It’s not a clinical case. But it exists. My husband has them, too. We acknowledge it. Luckily my good days tend to line up with his bad ones, so someone can usually keep the household humming.

So yes, I had a crying jag on the way home from the pharmacy. Some nights, I hop on Facebook Messenger and get way too drunk with my friends. I’m not an alcoholic by any stretch of the imagination, but my drinking’s definitely seen an uptick. I freak out about maskless people way too much and way too often. I have the pandemic blues. It’s there. I show symptoms of depression and anxiety, but not clinical ones.

So I do the best I can. I force myself outside. I talk to friends on video chat. I play with my dog. I do hobbies I love. It never goes away, not completely. But it becomes bearable. In these times, that’s all we can ask.

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Los Angeles County Starts New Stay-At-Home Order On Monday

In the midst of an upswing in new COVID-19 cases, L.A. County has placed one of the strictest stay-at-home orders in the nation

Even with the promise of a vaccine for some Americans as quickly as December, public health officials worry about a skyrocketing number of new COVID-19 cases if people do not take proper precautions. This week, the number of new coronavirus cases in the United States reached more than 200,000 nationwide — a number of experts fear may surge even higher as a number of outlets didn’t report due to the Thanksgiving holiday. In Los Angeles County alone, more than 4,500 new cases were reported.

As the number of COVID-19 cases swiftly rises across the country, Los Angeles County announced a new stay-at-home order that aims to ease the burden on an already overworked healthcare system. The measure, called the “safer at home” order, takes effect on Nov. 30 and runs through Dec. 20. The new plan followed an announcement that Los Angeles County would suspend outdoor dining at restaurants as the experiences a continued increase of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

The ordinance restricts all public and private gatherings with those who live outside of an individual’s home. The order does not, however, restrict faith-based services and protests, citing both as “constitutionally protected rights.” The county advises all residents to stay at home as much as possible and wear a mask when they leave their homes.

Additional measures include keeping the occupancy of nonessential retail stores, personal care services, and libraries at 20 percent; essential businesses like grocery stores can stay open with 35 percent maximum capacity. Businesses operating outdoors — including fitness centers, museum galleries, zoos, gardens, aquariums, batting cages, mini-golf, and go-kart racing — are all allowed 50 percent maximum occupancy.

The order keeps schools and daycares open as long as they adhere to reopening protocols. If facilities experience an outbreak of three or more cases over a two week period, then they are required to close for two weeks.

“We know we are asking a lot from so many who have been sacrificing for months on end, and we hope that L.A. County residents continue following Public Health safety measures that we know can slow the spread,” Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, reports NPR. “Acting with collective urgency right now is essential if we want to put a stop to this surge.”

Reactions to the new orders remain mixed, with some people taking to Twitter to voice their support — or frustration. Twitter user Michael J. Fell called the restrictions “tyrannical abuse,” while another decried mask mandates and shutdowns. Others praised the move.

 

Last week, Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, asked the Food and Drug Administration to grant an emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine — medicine which has been found 95 percent effective in clinical trials. An additional vaccine from the biotech company Moderna is expected to be submitted for emergency authorization in the coming weeks.

Those first vaccines, however, are set aside for frontline healthcare workers and those most at risk such as the elderly.

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United Airlines Begins Flying Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is reportedly being flown by United Airlines chartered flights to distribution hubs

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is moving quick. Not only did Gen. Gustave Perna, the logistics supervisor for Operation Warp Speed, recently tell reporters at The Washington Post that vaccination will be deployed to a portion of healthcare workers next month — with the first batch of 6.4 million doses including vaccines for prisons, as well as the Indian Health Service and the Veterans Health Administration — but according to the Wall Street Journal, United Airlines began operating charter flights to send doses of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to prepare for distribution.

“As a result of the historic pace of vaccine development through Operation Warp Speed and careful logistics planning, the FAA today is supporting the first mass air shipment of a vaccine,” the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told The Hill. Because Pfizer’s vaccine must be kept at below-freezing temperatures, the FAA said they are working with manufacturers, air carriers, and airport authorities, who are providing guidance on transporting large amounts of dry ice air cargo. And, according to the Wall Street Journal, Pfizer has been laying the groundwork to move quickly if it gets approval from the FDA and other regulators.

“The FAA established the ‘FAA COVID-19 Vaccine Air Transport Team’ in October to ensure safe, expeditious, and efficient transportation of vaccines. Several vaccines need continued cold temperatures during transport, which, in some circumstances, require dry ice, a hazardous material,” the FAA stated.

Pfizer’s mRNA-based shot needs to be stored at almost 100 degrees below zero. In order to keep the temperature consistent, the Wall Street Journal reports the company designed suitcase-size shipping containers that will keep the medicine at the required temperature for up to 10 days. Each container holds between 1,00 to 5,000 doses. Pfizer is planning to buy cargo space on about 20 planes per day from FedEx, UPS, and DHL International, in hopes to deliver doses as close as possible to vaccination hubs, such as major hospitals or rural medical centers. The pharma company, which is manufacturing the vaccine in Kalamazoo, Andover, Massachusetts, and St. Louis, plans to deliver 100 million vaccine doses in 2020 and 1.3 billion in 2021, according to MarketWatch.

Researchers have explained the need for “freezer farms” for vaccine delivery, something pharma providers use regularly, according to Pharmaceutical Commerce. The storage, called cold chain management, keeps drugs at the appropriate temperature during storage and shipment. UPS is building farms in Venlo, Netherlands, and Louisville, KY (both of which are near UPS air hubs). Each facility will house banks of supercooled freezers. The plan includes 600 freezers which can each hold 48,00 vials of vaccine. UPS will also build freezers in South America, Germany, and the UK. The shipping company DHL recently opened a 20,00 square foot facility in Indianapolis. Plans include temperature-controlled storage at 15-25,2-8 and -20 temperatures. DHL built the operations in what’s called a Free Trade Zone, which allows for international cross-shipping.

As for the first batch of doses, Perna said states and territories have been given information from Operation Warp Speed to “plan and figure out where they want the vaccine distributed.” States will then give Operation Warp Speed their top five sites capable of both receiving and administering the shot.

According to Fox Business, FedEx’s vaccine delivery plan involves 5,00 facilities, 80,000 vehicles, and 670 aircraft. FedEx has designated three temperature ranges for storage: frozen (-13 to -14 degrees Fahrenheit), cold (35.6 to 46.4 degrees) and controlled room temperature (59 to 77 degrees), says Commercial Appeal. The news organization reports air transport isn’t always perfect: the International Air Transport Association reported in 2015 that 25 percent of vaccines reach their destination degraded due to improper shipping.

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Managing Anger: Real Steps To Stop The COVID Rage

I’ve often said that COVID-19 took the last f*ck I had to give. And it’s true: things that would have sent me cringing and brooding are no more than everyday interactions now. I have shouted across a Target: “Masks don’t work when your nose hangs out!” I have held up my hand in a grocery store. “I’m sorry,” I said loudly, “what part of six feet do you fail to understand?” I have commented loudly, purposely, “People who don’t wear masks fuel the pandemic.” I have flipped my middle finger at people behind me in the drive-thru line, impatient when I’d paused to sanitize my hands. In other words, at times, I have not been managing anger well.

You might have anger issues, too. Your triggers might be different than the maskless masses that enrage me. Maybe it’s your messy house, or your spouse, or your kids’ wrangling. Maybe it’s virtual schooling. But whatever it is, we can find our inner zen again. Managing anger is hard, but it’s doable. I did some research and I’m (slowly) learning to calm my rage-y feelings. You can do it, too.

We can do it together.

Managing Anger Means Recognizing Anger

You know how I say COVID-19 took my last f*ck? It did. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. When I stopped caring about other people’s opinions, I not only gave myself permission to ask that others respect my social distance, I granted myself the right to be downright mean about it. I am not polite. I am not kind. I am a grade-A bitch.

Managing anger means noticing and naming it in the moment, and when I see people moving into my space or not wearing a mask, I feel angry. I am personally offended. I can name it now. I don’t excuse it or hide it or justify it. I feel angry. And I also recognize that it’s okay to be angry. Anger is a feeling. We can control how we act. We can’t control how we feel.

In other words, I can name my feeling. But that feeling doesn’t give me a right to act out.

Then Yes: Take Deep Breaths

Everyone tells you to take deep breaths. It sounds stupid and cliched. But as Healthline points out, anger kicks your breathing into overdrive: it comes faster and more shallow. So when you take those deep breaths, you’re really doing two things. You’re fixing that breathing, and when you do that, you send your body the message to calm down. Managing anger means calming yourself.

At the same time, those deep breaths force you to relax. I tend to tense, especially my jaw, so I make an effort to relax. As I relax, I do something else anger management experts recommend, pretty much universally: I pause. As the Mayo Clinic says, “Think before you speak.” No, don’t think of some really good snark. Think of the right thing to say. 

Making A Plan Also Helps When Managing Anger

The American Physicians Association recommends handling and facing the problem of managing anger. Think about what makes you really mad. Pause. Make a list if you need. I know I’m enraged by people who don’t take the pandemic seriously. So I have a plan: I avoid them whenever possible. I keep my public outings to places which maintain mask and distancing safety. The pharmacy is safe. So are some other places. But I avoid the zoo at peak hours. I do not visit hiking trails where I am likely to encounter maskless people who may not socially distance.

By avoiding these people, I avoid my anger. And on the occasions that I do run into people threatening to violate my space or not wearing masks, I have armed myself with words: Eliza, this is not about you. Not close? Not your problem. Close? Move. Impossible? Say: Please move back. I maintain a six foot distance like the CDC recommends.”

Find Your Happy Place: Escape

Recently, I received an absolutely enraging text message while I was in the (parked) car. Luckily, I have a solution to that. I always sing along to the radio, and if I have kids in the car, managing my anger means soft singing. But if I’m alone, I crank it up to eleven and sing David Bowie: I start with “Under Pressure,” then move into “Modern Love” and finally “Ashes to Ashes.” Bowie stops me from rage-crying, and when I’m done, even if I only fit in one song, I can tackle the world again.

Find that escape for managing anger. Maybe your happy place lies in music, like mine. Maybe you can delve into a book. Maybe you can take a walk, or zone out to the TV. Regardless, the Mayo Clinic recommends taking a time-out when we’re angry. And it really does help.

Escape also forces you to do something else people recommend for managing anger. You have to walk away to do it. You remove yourself from the situation that’s making you angry, and this also prevents you from doing something you might regret.

Managing Anger May Also Mean Practicing Empathy

I haven’t quite made it there yet. I did with that text message (eventually). But the maskless? I try to tell myself they believe false information. But I can’t reach it yet. The only thing I can come up with: they have been worn down by isolation and can’t bear to take the virus seriously anymore.

But managing anger means shoving yourself into someone else’s shoes. You have to try to look at the world from their perspective. And it’s so hard. I’m stubborn. In seventh grade, my teacher wrote that I did not “respect the opinions of others.” Empathy for people who enrage me? Not a strong point.

Unfortunately, managing anger means trying to empathize, to put yourself in someone else’s place. I have a hard time making it there sometimes. But I promise I’m working on it. I practice with little things: my kid screaming about going to bed, or my dog barking endlessly. He’s sad he has to go to sleep. She wants attention.

I’ll learn.

Until then, please be patient. Please know I’m trying. But please, stay away when you hear “Under Pressure” blaring from my car radio.

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I’ve Never Showered Less, And Other ‘Firsts’ Of 2020

My sister-in-law recently tweeted “I’ve never showered less.”

I laughed out loud when I read it, because it was so true. Those five words seemed to sum up so much about 2020. As we finally near the end of this turbulent year, I realize I can claim numerous “I’ve never” statements. But for each, they are accompanied by a subsequent realization that allows me to see 2020 in a much different way.

I’ve never showered less.

Prior to March, I showered every day. It wasn’t a conscious decision – to clean my body and wash my hair at least once every 24 hours. It was just part of my routine. But in a time when I often don’t leave the house for days or see anyone outside my immediate family, the need to shower every day has gradually disappeared. It’s not like I’m ignoring personal hygiene, but showering every other day almost feels liberating.

Having grown up in a family where pride in physical appearance was emphasized, I have struggled with loving my body, despite its flaws. I’ve spent years trying to reach some mystical goal weight and I’ve lost time in front of the mirror, examining every new wrinkle or spot that appears. But when there has actually been more time that could have been spent obsessing over my insecurities, I’ve chosen to almost completely ignore them. I realized that every time I met someone new, I subconsciously compared myself to them. I’d think that they were fitter than I was, or had fewer wrinkles even though I was younger or we were around the same age.

But spending the majority of time at home leaves little opportunity to judge myself against the attractiveness of others. So, I have gradually come to care less about my outward appearance, and consequently have accepted myself more. I’ve never been more content with how I look.

I’ve never been less physically intimate with my husband.

In over 26 years together, I have never spent more time in the same space with my husband. He doesn’t have to spend hours each day commuting to and from work. He wakes up and heads to the basement office, and then emerges throughout the day to check in and have a quick chat. We are home together almost every hour of every day. And yet, we’ve never had less sex. Mainly because we live in a house with teenagers. Teenagers watch the same TV shows as adults. Teenagers do not nap. Teenagers stay up late. They leave little opportunity for private moments between parents.

However, the lack of physical intimacy has allowed me to focus on other ways our relationship is incredibly close. During 20 years of marriage, we created an entire world together. A world that lives inside our home, full of private jokes, silly songs, and unconditional love. But that world was also dictated by a busy schedule full of complicated carpools and little time together. Now we go for long walks and talk, about anything and everything, uninterrupted by a phone alarm signaling that it’s time to pick up a child from soccer practice. On the weekends, we get together with friends outside and abide by social distancing recommendations, which means sitting side-by-side, six feet away from the next couple. Instead of going to a party and seeing my husband across the room for most of the night, we sit next to each other and hold hands. We tell stories together, filling in the details for each other and adding our agreement. And we’ve started to act like teenagers a bit ourselves. Sneaking around to find opportunities to be intimate, just as we did early on in our relationship. I’ve never felt closer to my husband.

I’ve never watched more television.

There are days I feel like my youngest daughter and I have finished Netflix. We have watched countless hours of TV, sitting together on the couch almost every night. I have spent more time watching television than I did in college, when a hangover was an excuse to spend an entire Sunday sprawled out flicking through the channels. I went from a parent who carefully controlled my kids’ screen time to a parent who looked at the clock at midnight and said, “Okay, one more episode.” I’ve justified the binge-watching by emphasizing that it has kept us from endless updates about politics and the pandemic.

Episodes of Parks and Recreation have kept us laughing and gleefully oblivious to the daily infection rate. I have managed to stay informed, and keep my children informed, but watching entire series of sit-coms has also insulated us from information overload. Now that my daughter is 13, I have introduced her to some of my favorite shows, and she is old enough to enjoy them – although I am grateful that some references still go over her head. But even then, she will ask me what something means, and I have the opportunity to explain adult topics to her in an accurate and educated way. She won’t end up learning about something from a friend who learned it from an older sibling. She knows now that she can ask me anything and I won’t get embarrassed or make her feel embarrassed for asking. We have private jokes that are “Legen –wait for it– dary” and matching Lil’ Sebastian t-shirts. And every once in a while, she presses pause to tell me about a boy she has a crush on or a friend going through a difficult time. I’ve never had more time to bond with my daughter.

I’ve never felt less in control.

For most of my adult life, I have set goals for myself and then made lists of the things I could control to reach those goals. After my first child was born with Down syndrome, something I could not control, I spent every moment possible learning about her disability and what I had the power to influence or alter. I’ve taught my kids to focus on what they can control in life – things like how hard you study, how much you practice a specific skill or sport, who you choose to befriend… and how you react to the things that are beyond your control.

2020 has been unprecedented, unpredictable, uncertain, and at many times out of control. In mid-March, life as we knew it ceased to exist. We were unable to control whether our children finished their spring sports season or walked across a stage for graduation. I was unable to control the cancellation of a trip to Hawaii to celebrate 20 years of marriage – a trip I’d waited two decades to finally take. And I couldn’t control the decline of my oldest daughter’s social skills that we had worked so hard for years to achieve.

But, without all of the things that made life hectic prior to the pandemic, I had more time to focus on things that were always pushed aside. Early after the kids were sent home and the outside world shut down, I made a list of all the jobs and projects around the house that I never seemed to have time for … painting my bedroom, reorganizing my closet, framing photos from our last family vacation, cleaning out my email inbox, dusting the blinds. I told myself that when the stay-at-home order was lifted, I didn’t want to look back at wasted time. I viewed it as an opportunity to do things that there never seemed to be enough hours in the day to accomplish. It was something I could control.

As the months dragged on, though, my positive attitude faltered. I wanted to return to a time when I ignored chores and home projects because I was too busy traveling with my family or spending days at the beach. The further we got into 2020, the more it tested my resolve to control my reactions and stay optimistic. I watched people on the news react with indignation and selfishness. I watched others around me react with fear and distress. And although I experienced all of those feelings, helping my children handle the situation forced me to take a breath and re-steady my spirit. As I reminded them that they have complete control over the way they react to an uncontrollable set of circumstances, I reminded myself to be the example.

I made another list – of more projects I never had time for, things I can do to help rebuild my daughter’s social skills, and preparations I can make for when the pandemic finally ends – and I revisit it each time I feel like I’m losing control. I’ve never had more opportunities to control the way I spend my time.

2020 may easily go down as the most difficult year in our lifetimes. One that was full of upheaval, grief, anger, exhaustion, disappointment, and disgust. But it has also been a year of opportunities and growth. It has given me the chance to spend countless hours with the people I love most in the world, and the ability to prioritize the parts of my life that I miss most.

I long to return to a world free of the pandemic and the strife that accompanies it. But I’ve also realized that I don’t long to return to the pre-pandemic world. I get to take the lessons I’ve learned and move forward with them. I’ve never been more ready for a new way of living.

The post I’ve Never Showered Less, And Other ‘Firsts’ Of 2020 appeared first on Scary Mommy.

What To Do When Every Day Feels Like ‘Groundhog Day’

This year, Halloween crept up on me. One morning, it was suddenly the end of October though I could have sworn it was still August. Two weeks later, my son’s birthday would have also crept up on me if not for his thrice daily countdown announcement.

The other morning I spent a good twenty minutes trying to remember what I had cooked and eaten for dinner the night before. I had no memory of the night at all. Which could just be overwhelmed mom brain—even before the pandemic I might not be able to recall what I had cooked the night before—but this wasn’t just that I couldn’t remember. This was more intense, a complete inability to even find a moment to recall. There was a void in my mind, a blank space where memory—or at least a few threads of memory—should have been.

These experiences are disturbing, to say the least. This year has been unprecedented in essentially every way, noteworthy and memorable for sure, and yet, everything after March is more or less a blur.

I thought, at first, that maybe this strange way of experiencing pandemic time was a function of solo parenting during a pandemic. But as it turns out, the days since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic have been a blur for many folks.

Without the usual mix of work dinners and birthday parties and vacations and giant life celebrations to plan for, look forward to, and participate in, the brain’s ability to process and catalog memories is affected. Lucy Cheke, a psychologist and lecturer at Cambridge University who is researching the effects of the pandemic on memory, notes that the mind has trouble differentiating between memories when it’s not afforded breaks from repetitive routines.

At the same time that the days are unremarkable and indistinguishable, the days are also filled with an absurd amount of stressors. 2020 has been one crisis after another, which “can lead to a collapse of the reassuring sense that our lives move in orderly fashion.” The idea of a past, present, and future is hard to keep straight when the present is so…well, present…and the future is this murky idea that will emerge when the dust of COVID settles, whenever that happens.

The combination of boredom—from too many days that all look virtually identical—and anxiety—that’s all the anxieties: health, economic, social, political—works together to make it seem as if time is moving in slow and disorienting ways, and every day feels like the movie Groundhog Day.

Fortunately, there are ways to restore your sense of time. “It doesn’t have to be Groundhog Day every day,” says, social worker and holistic therapist Maura Lipinski, LISW-S in an article for the Cleveland Clinic Wellness newsletter.

Follow A Regular Schedule

Dr. Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California notes that, “Creating a schedule that approximates normal life can help one from falling into disorientation and confusion.” Not only will a regular schedule help avoid disorientation, but waking up and going to bed at the same time each day will help your internal clock.

Lipinski takes that advice one step further and suggests scheduling events to make sure Tuesday doesn’t look like Thursday. Singling out Tuesdays for tacos and Thursdays for laundry can help anchor your days and keep them separate.

Set Goals

Setting goals, both short term and long term, could be helpful to keep the days from blending together. While it’s tricky to set long-term goals right now (because who knows what else 2020 has in store for us), it could be useful to “have a direction for the future,” says Lipinski.

Engage Your Brain In Activities That Distract From Anxiety

Anxiety makes it feel as if time is slowing down. Kate Sweeny, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, suggests engaging in “flow activities,”—the kind that draw you in wholly and completely—to help distract from anxious thoughts. A flow activity could be something as engrossing as a movie or a TV show (Tiger King, anyone?) but is more effective when there’s an element of “personal challenge or feedback,”–which explains why for a while, everyone was baking bread.

Find Social Activities

While social distancing and staying home, it’s important to still find ways to socialize—particularly if you live alone. Kupers notes that, “When you don’t have other people to talk to, thoughts and ideas can get very jumbled.”

Zoom fatigue is real, but keeping up with social interactions, even virtual ones, is important to keep the mind from wandering into irrational and paranoid places.

Control What You Can And Go Easy On Yourself

There is no playbook for living through 2020, and so much is simply out of our control. But sticking to a routine will help. Controlling what you can control—what time you go to bed, when and how you fit in self-care—will help give the days structure.

But, if there’s a day that goes sideways, if that neatly scheduled routine is thrown off for whatever reason, it’s just as important to give yourself some grace and space. “If you notice a negative thought come up, try to change your perspective. We need some of that hopefulness during this time,” says Lipinski.

The COVID-19 crisis will come to an end—the ultra-positive vaccine news feels like a light at the end of the tunnel—and time will return to normal. And when it does, I hope I never again take for granted the tiny markers that help separate one day from the next. Until then, from my family to yours: happy March 265th.

The post What To Do When Every Day Feels Like ‘Groundhog Day’ appeared first on Scary Mommy.

From The Confessional: We Are Coping By Clicking ‘Add To Cart’

Thanksgiving week, over the past few years, has become synonymous with amazing shopping deals—and this year they’re all online! Maybe the fact that we really can do all of our holiday shopping without putting pants on is the COVID silver lining?

But for some, the ease and instant gratification of online shopping has gotten out of control. What used to be a fun distraction or means for a “treat yourself” occasional splurge is now a full-blown obsession with no hopes of ever paying off the bill.

So this year, let’s remember to keep track of our spending, but also take advantage of the ability to stay out of stores and help stop this relentless COVID spread. Enjoy a hot cup of tea or glass of wine and do your shopping from your couch—you’ll love it and might never shop in a store again. Also, remember that your delivery workers are putting in long hours, so don’t forget to say thank you. Consider leaving a bottle of water, Gatorade, or soda and bag of treats on your porch to show your appreciation for the UPS delivery person who barrels down your street twice a day.

And if you spot a fab online deal, tell your mom and sister and bestie so they can get in on that action too—that’s the rule.

Happy shopping.

Confessional #25806067

“I've lied to everyone. I say I'm a minimalist, but I LOVE online shopping. I'm homebound, so deliveries give me something to look forward to. I make sure I never have an abundance of stuff, though.”

Confessional #25792525

“Got a birth announcement about my youngest cousin's first child, so I went on Amazon to get her some baby toys. Good LORD - I'd forgotten how deep a rabbit hole baby shopping can be!”

Confessional #25787185

“My son moved and I had the best time shopping for stuff for his new place.”

Confessional #11689674

“I love online shopping over going to the store, but add to it that hot man in his UPS uniform that delivers it and DAMN! I shop everyday. He should be here any minute.....”

Some people (and by “people” I mean me) LOVE online shopping. “Add to cart” is my favorite phrase ever, and my favorite emails include the word “delivered.”

Confessional #25795529

“I can’t stop shopping. It’s so embarrassing”

Confessional #25784762

“I've had to completely remove all my cards from my favorite shopping places. My shopping has gone out of control during this pandemic”

Confessional #25498556

“I’m addicted to online shopping on Etsy and smoking weed. I’m trying so fucking hard to stop, but my kids and being a work from home mom and my family history has made me miserable. Idk what to do”

Confessional #24838192

“I'm addicted to online shopping. We can afford my purchases but I really don't need more stuff. I do it because I'm bored.”

Confessional #16713020

“Six of the eight most visited websites on my cell phone are for online shopping”

However, it’s so easy and such a fun distraction that it can be hard to stop. Especially when those sneaky ads pop up convincing you that you NEED a light-up Grinch for your yard when you already have a blow-up Santa, blow-up reindeer, and giant candy canes lining your sidewalk (and also your bank account is bare).

Confessional #25794437

“I have been shopping online to deal with depression and it makes a horrid cycle. Spending too much makes me amxious, so I shop to feel better. How fucked up is that?”

Confessional #25758743

“I worry that the poor won't have access to goods or food because of online shopping. It's not a craze. It is a clear socioeconomic gap. And I work for Amazon!”

Confessional #18008360

“"I make too much money and am too old to still be this broke, in debt, and living paycheck to paycheck. I don't understand why things are this way." I say to myself as I fill my online shopping cart with more shit I don't need.”

Confessional #20812009

“Now that I have a little bit of extra money, I see how dangerous online shopping is going to be for me.”

The truth is, online shopping can get you into trouble. Because guess what’s coming in a few weeks? That credit card bill, sucker. Also, this is not an effective coping strategy for dealing with your mental health. All it’s going to do is drag you into debt, which isn’t good for anybody.

Confessional #18845730

“Every time my door bell rings my kids say "mom another Christmas present is here"! Love online shopping!”

Confessional #25759766

“I see from the email receipt I received that an order I placed went through just 27 seconds before midnight, and the end of the store's Black Friday 25% off sale. It's ridiculous how pumped and triumphant I am about just getting in under the wire.”

Confessional #20396236

“I like online shopping. I like receiving deliveries, even if they're just vitamins.”

Confessional #19580920

“I'm just chillaxing all day under a blanket, online shopping! Perfect Saturday!”

Confessional #17379695

“I need to get my finances in order and pay off debt. Starting next week I'm gonna track every $ and cut back on expenses. But for now - like when a dieter says they'll start on Mon - I'm gonna indulge and do one last online shopping splurge.”

But if you’re able to pay the bill once it comes due, online shopping is exactly the salve many of us need in 2020. We can’t stroll through stores. We can’t grab lunch with our besties. And this Christmas, we can’t even see Grandma. This year sucks in lots of ways. But know what doesn’t suck? Your doorbell ringing and a delivery appearing on your porch.

For me, online shopping was already a big part of my life prior to the COVID outbreak. But now it’s a lifeline. All of my gifts for my kids, my husband, my parents, and my girlfriends all over the country have been purchased via the click of a button this year. But now, even my groceries come that way too. I haven’t had to change out of sweats or put a bra on to go shopping in months. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever go back. Sorry, malls. I’m an online girl for life now.

The post From The Confessional: We Are Coping By Clicking ‘Add To Cart’ appeared first on Scary Mommy.

10 Thanksgiving Safety Tips from 4 Badass Women Scientists

The holiday season is colliding with the second wave of COVID-19 and it’s not pretty. While assessing risk is a personal choice, Scary Mommy’s Live Work Thrive virtual series sat down with four scientists who dropped expert knowledge on the questions many are struggling with this year. Tune in here for the full video and don’t forget to sign up for our upcoming events that can be found here.

 

       1. Kids Can Infect Grandma

Children can be asymptomatic carriers of the virus and do have the ability to infect others. If your child is doing in-person learning, your bubble is a big as the number of kids and staff they are in contact with. Factor in all the risks when making plans.

 

       2. Ventilation is Key

If you choose to gather with people outside of your household indoors, open windows at least halfway to allow for fresh air circulation from outside. Homes are constructed to seal in air, and by nature do not have great ventilation. Home air cleaners are also a great solution. If you have to take a taxi or other form of transportation with someone outside of your household, open windows and turn on air vents to circulate air. Check out this video for more on how transmission happens.

 

       3. Buffet is King

Experts recommend buffet style over passing plates of food during a meal. However, a buffet should include: a bottle of hand sanitizer used by all before they touch serving utensils, AND should wear masks while serving food. If you serve appetizers, create individualized plates instead of having people use hands to self-serve finger food.

 

       4. Respect Restaurant Workers

If you eat out, outdoor dining is safer than indoors. Wear your mask while waiting for food and/or whenever you interact with your server and other restaurant staff. Eating in outdoor tents or sealed “bubbles” are not conducive to adequate ventilation.

 

       5. Testing Has Flaws

COVID can take 24-48hrs to show up in a test. Saliva tests and PCR tests are shown to be more accurate than rapid tests. Testing does not replace quarantining due to these limitations.

 

       6. Don’t Shop ‘til you Drop

Avoid crowded indoor shopping areas. Buildings with high ceilings allow a greater volume of air for the virus to move around in, which can help distribute more so than in smaller spaces. While shopping, aim to not touch and put back items that could spread droplets to others.

 

        7. 3 Ply Masks for the Win

Any face covering is better than nothing. Masks protect both the wearer and those around them. The most effective masks are three ply and should be well fitting with no gaps around the nose and chin area.

       8. Women of Color Are Disproportionately Impacted

Women and young girls and women of color, in the education and service industries, are bearing much of the burden of the pandemic and will continue to do so over the holidays. Inquire at your school and with local businesses this holiday about how women who teach, clean, work in retail establishments will be supported and kept safe over the holidays and throughout the pandemic.

 

       9. Logic and Fact Is not Going to Persuade Your Relatives

Family members may disagree on COVID-19 precautions. Despite the urge to share information supporting your own point of view, logic is in most cases not helpful in changing someone’s mind. You can only explain your reasoning and desire to keep everyone safe, trying to convince them otherwise usually is not effective.

        10. Holiday Planning is Both a Scientific and an Emotional Decision

There is no easy answer. How you spend your holiday is about assessing the risks of your family and those you will interact with and weighing the risks you are willing to take. Be aware of how your behavior can impact others who may be vulnerable and recognize your ability to pass on the virus to others with tragic consequences.

Whatever you do this holiday, lead with the facts and think of your fellow humans, especially the essential workers. We are all in this together. Happy Holidays.

The post 10 Thanksgiving Safety Tips from 4 Badass Women Scientists appeared first on Scary Mommy.