Three Weeks In: Almost Losing It, Regaining It, an Anniversary and Making ESL Videos in the Garage

We’re halfway through week three of this shelter-skelter situation. N is now set up in the garage and we have a rectangular metal outdoor planter that has moved to the spot next to the garage door. I leave chai tea early in the morning and then eggs around nine. We are lucky RH is too young to realize JoJo runs off to the garage to be with Mama right after her breakfast. If RH knew Mama was home, this whole thing would be much harder, as N’s work is always time-sensitive and RH is too young to understand boundaries and logic.

With Aaron and Bijan, we bake muffins. We walk in the places that are not yet blocked off or closed to the public. We learn how to take turns. We scream with voices that are definitely not inside voices. Thank goodness for dogs. The public must walk them and so green spaces still exist. And thank goodness for our dogs these days.

RH is exploding with language and enthusiasm. I’m lucky I get to witness so much of it again after all these months of preschool and my commuting to Daly City and night teaching in Berkeley. She’s ready to “walk the neighborhood,” holding JoJo’s leash, copying the urges of her friend. “Walking the neighborhood” includes touching cars, telephone posts, picking up stones, rocks, and wanting other people’s flowers…we surreptitiously scavenge sometimes. She’s ready to run all over the grass, hooting and hollering as her legs kick out to the side behind her.

We all go on, one day at a time.

***

Thursday morning was hard. I was running out of patience and energy. Rebelle Harmony and Bijan have developed into good buddies. She’s always looking forward to their morning playtime. On Thursday, Bijan was extra feisty and bouncy. He’s full of energy and enthusiasm. By the end of our week, it wore me down. I started putting more direct limits on things. It was mostly fine, but when it came time to share RH’s toys he had trouble and then he started playing with a train and making really loud screech sounds. My ears were ringing. He was clearly pushing buttons other than the ones on the toys. After his Dad gave him a warning, and he did it again, I needed to say something. I said if he made the sound again, he and his dad would need to leave, and I didn’t want that to happen. I felt myself close to losing it. I make a serious effort not to lose it these days. Mild irritation builds and then there’s a red carpet to anger. I usually notice the red carpet. After I cooled down a bit and took the pepperoni pizza came out of the oven, we all sat down. Aaron and I talked more. We didn’t leave on bad terms, and we’re still good for the coming week. On the one hand, Bijan’s age (four this summer) gives me a preview of what’s coming. On the other hand, I want to show Rebelle Harmony our expectations. In some ways, it comes down to what kind of boundaries and limits work for you as a parent.

I grew up with clear boundaries and rigid limits imposed by my mom. There was no negotiating, though it didn’t stop me from trying. “Screen time,” whether sports or shows, or video games, was limited. There was always a pressure over my older brother and I. My mom was a single parent and a second-grade teacher. Our behavior, our homework and our chores. There weren’t many open rebellions. Those boundaries were generally useful but the enforcement was rigid and at times overbearing. I realized how neurotic and prone to perfectionism I’d become by junior high. I knew I didn’t want to impose that kind of pressure on myself when I was living on my own, but it was both nature and nurture.

Both of my parents are hyper detail-oriented. My mom has her own peculiar handwriting font. She was always presenting her writing on bulletin boards in her classroom and on handwritten yearly poems she’d send out to friends and family. She would frustrate herself with how long her twice-yearly student comments would take..her school was all about teacher comments…but she refused to type her comments or change her handwriting to go faster.

My dad is an accountant and does Sudoku for enjoyment and relaxation. It’s my sense that most people who work with numbers become conditioned to want exact results and often struggle with abstraction and ambiguity. There’s a kind of comfort in math that suggests life might be ordered and certain. A comfort that is exploded by this pandemic we are currently living through. The unpredictability of the contagion. The asymptomatic nature of the spread. The number of confirmed cases…is based on the small number of people that went to the hospital, not the true number of people who have developed flu-like symptoms and a strange lingering cough…but never went anywhere near a medical building.

That number on the screen should read: ??????? just like the thought bubble that hovers over our fearless leader’s head.

Wouldn’t a life of numbers and calculating…make one more calculated? Not all, maybe, but I’d guess the vast majority.

Though Aaron and I both emerged from divorced households, and lived with our mom and older sibling, it sounds like my house was a lot quieter and more strict. My Mom’s single, post-divorce, romantic life was much different than Aaron’s mom. Nobody ever moved in. There were suitors, but they were kept at arm’s length. After about 1989, she didn’t date. I imagine it’s complicated for every divorced mom with children to bring a new romantic partner into the home. I also imagine finding someone to share the love as well as parenting duties, can reshape a person’s life. Just like love is a roll-of-the-dice, love after divorce is a roll-of-the-dice.

Everyone deals with their own stresses, but it is interesting how our instincts around limits and safety and comfort with our children often relates to our own experiences as kids. I saw it with my friends growing up, too. How each household had its own energy. How opening the door to a friend’s house, you never quite knew what you were walking into.

Back to triggers: Boumie’s barking, especially when RH used to have trouble napping, would set me temporarily off. His booming bark can still aggravate as it is an alarm bark and the older he’s gotten, the deafer he seems to be, making the bark louder and more neurotic sounding.

N was able to take Friday off. I went to the market early, mask and gloves at the ready. It was a cold morning, in the mid-40s. When I arrived, I was fifth in the taped-off-by-six-feet-of-separation line. I took my time and the market wasn’t crowded, but wearing the mask was uncomfortable after a while. When you know you’re shopping for the next week or 10 days, you really want to make sure you get everything you’d planned. I guess I’m sort of learning what it’d be like to live off the grid, where a trip into town was a big deal. We are all kind of “off the grid” now, though it’s more like the grid is off, and we’re wondering when it’ll go back on.

The rain was welcome. It’s easier to enjoy being inside (again) when the edge of the street, next to the sidewalk, is a stream flowing downhill. It’s Saturday. Our 21-years-since-we-started-dating anniversary. It was April of freshman year. We were college rookies, and stumbled into each other one Saturday night. Strange to think how young 19 feels now. That Rebelle Harmony and Bijan are closer to 19 than we are.

These last few weeks have allowed us to see more of each other than we’ve seen in a long time. No commute and no night class for me, though our school is ramping up our distance learning soon, meaning I’ll be headed to the garage at 6:45 four nights a week until early June.

We’ve had time as a family. Badly needed time. If only it were able to happen while the world wasn’t falling apart.

***

Here are my initial attempts at YouTube videos for my ESL students. We bought the white board today. It felt good to be a teacher again for a few hours. We’ll see if any students show up for these future Zoom classes.

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