Lightbulb Rebellion

It must be a sign that my kids are getting older and not hanging around me much anymore since I’m writing more about the antics of Alexa than I am theirs. Or maybe Alexa is just being particularly quixotic these days.

My husband bought a smart lightbulb for our closet as a Christmas present for me. He did it because the existing one was a simple pull-string light and he knew I got frustrated waving my hand around in the closet, trying to find it in the dark.

Asking Alexa to turn the closet light on for me meant recognizing the need for the light earlier. The time it takes me to ask and her to respond is longer than the time taken to pull the cord. For the first week or so, I found myself standing in a dark closet, knowing that all I needed to do was pull a pair of underwear and a bra out of the basket, but having to wait for the light to come on first.

Eventually, I learned to ask for the light as I exited the bathroom or as I rounded the bed toward the closet. In the back of my mind, I had always wondered what I’d do if Alexa decided she didn’t want to turn the light on.

I learned this past week that I don’t like it much. There’s the temporary obstinance where you ask her to turn it on and she either ignores you or bings like she did it but the light doesn’t come on. But when you ask again, she obliges.

Sunday morning, however, she refused completely. And then tried to blame it on the lightbulb. When the light didn’t come on, she claimed the lightbulb was giving her the silent treatment and refusing her entreaties to share the light. I gave my husband a ‘so what now?’ look. He shrugged.

After we both tried a couple more times, I opened the Amazon Alexa app on my phone and found the lightbulb in the devices section. I pushed a button a few times and eventually the light came on. When I asked Alexa to turn it off a minute later, she complied.

This morning, it started raining. Hard. Thunder, lightning, heavy pounding rain. It was glorious. Times like this, all I want to do is crawl back into bed and listen to the storm. So that’s what I did. I woke up the youngest child and then snuggled back under my covers. I knew I couldn’t stay that way forever but just a few more minutes surely wouldn’t hurt.

Eventually, I knew it was time to at least start thinking about getting up. Might as well make sure the light will come on first, right?

“Alexa, turn the closet light on,” I said. The light began to shine in the closet.

I groaned. My husband glanced at me as I muttered, “I was kind of hoping you wouldn’t turn it on so I wouldn’t have to get up.”

Alexa interrupted me by announcing that she had been unable to talk to the lightbulb and I should try again later or check with the manufacturer. I don’t think she’s lying. I think the lightbulb decided to cut out the unreliable middleman and just turn on by itself.

When Alexa Gets Chatty

My husband must have been listening to something very interesting on the radio when he walked back in the door after dropping our youngest off at school.

“Alexa,” he said, before taking off his coat, “play KERA.”

Alexa began babbling about how overwhelmed she was. “There’s a lot! For example, I can help with morning activities, relaxation, education, entertainment, and more. Which would you like to explore?”

He interrupted and tried again to get her to play our local NPR affiliate. “Alexa, play KERA.”

She ignored him and continued her monologue.

He tried a third time. I thought she was hung up on some new skill or app called Kira, although the logs on my phone don’t indicate that. He appeared to give up at this point, so I stepped in.

“Alexa,” I started, but she continued on with “Do you want to try it?” I shifted gears and said “no” before trying again. “Alexa, play NPR.”

Normally, when we ask for either NPR or KERA, she responds “Getting your KERA station from iHeart Radio.” But Alexa was in a special place that morning.

“NPR is rated 3.5 stars by over 27 thousand people. Would you like to try it?”

“Yes!” (I’ve listened to the logged snippet saved in my phone. I sound more than a little exasperated.)

“Great, here’s NPR. Live from NPR, here’s KERA.”

And with that, my husband resumed listening to Morning Edition. NPR listeners have long spoken of “driveway moments” – those stories that are so engaging that you sit in your car after arriving home because you have to hear it all. Alexa has fooled us into thinking it’s ok to rush into the house and get her to pick it up. Yesterday, she reminded us that it might be best to just stay in the car and hear it out. The excited dog at the front door will just have to wait.

Black-Eyed Peas

I’ll be honest. In my adult life, I haven’t been diligent in honoring the social tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. Like many Americans, however, I made it a priority in 2021, choosing to pull out all the superstitious stops this time.

Part of the problem is that my otherwise lovely husband hates beans of all types. That might have struck a death knell to any New Year’s Day black-eyed pea consumption had it not been for a fortuitous visit to his dad’s close friend on New Year’s Day near our first anniversary. With her help, I extracted a concession from him.

We got him to eat just one pea. Just one.

And we made a deal. If I fixed them on New Year’s Day, he had to eat one for every year we had been married (rounded up).

The problem was that in the beginning at least, that meant it was on me to eat the entire rest of the can. I didn’t mind black-eyed peas but they weren’t exactly something I craved. As a result, more often than not, they were not consumed on New Year’s Day nor (obviously) any other day of the year.

Which brings us to 2021. I sent our son Daryl to the store to buy black-eyed peas. He found some at his second stop. That should tell you something about how seriously people were taking this ritual. He brought them back along with the fast food we had ordered for dinner. Since I wanted to eat before it got cold, I didn’t stop to fix the peas right then.

I almost forgot.

But somewhere between 8 and 9 that night, I remembered and quickly heated them up in a pot on the stove. Nothing fancy, no seasoning, let’s just welcome in the good juju for 2021.

I counted out 28 peas under my husband’s watchful eye. He added his favorite pineapple salsa from Costco in greater quantity than the peas themselves and declared the dish delicious.

I then put a modest (but greater than 28 count) serving of peas in two small cups, added spoons, and walked to where our boys were playing a video game together.

“It’s very important that you eat these,” I said. “Make sure you finish them all.”

I talked about the history of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day as they began to eat. Daryl was dutifully eating but making a face. Hal looked up from his cup and eagerly asked, “Is there more? Can I have more?” Daryl looked at him in disbelief.

I walked Hal into the kitchen for the rest of the can. He then insisted on opening the second can and ate it all that night. He would soon accompany his dad on a trip to the grocery story, where he would buy one of every flavor of both black-eyed peas and purple-hulled peas he could find.

Now the boy that tries to subsist on bread and pasta and eggs and cheese and fruit cups and buffalo sauce packets from Popeye’s has added…black-eyed peas. We’ve warned him that a drastic increase in bean consumption may swing his frequent cheese-induced gastro-intestinal issues in the other direction. I’ve encouraged a slow build-up in his consumption of black-eyed peas. But I did see him walk by with a cereal bowl-sized serving just last night. He has eaten a can a day since we bought them.

When I served up the peas that day, I didn’t know I was creating a zealot. And now I have someone who will eat them with me if I add them to a meal – assuming he’s willing to share with me, that is. I’m not so sure that’s a valid assumption.

We all hoped for a smoother year than the last one. Unfortunately, last week showed us that either 2021 is colluding with 2020 or 2020’s death throes are still active. The rest of us ate black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day and thought we had done what needed to be done. Our intrepid young Hal may be single-handedly working to set 2021 straight. Let’s hope he succeeds.

The Family Dog

We have begun to ponder the mortality of our dog. We got her when she was around 2 years old and she’s now…10? Our problem for all these years is that we can’t really remember what year we got her. I’ve tried various memory techniques to remember. When the Facebook flashback shows up of her ride home with us on that first day, I try to pin it to something I will remember – the year of her birth, the age of one or more of the kids when we got her, what was going on in the world, something, anything. It never sticks. And you can only ask the veterinarian so many times how old your own dog is before it starts to get awkward.

So we know we have an aging dog. She’s medium sized and somewhere between 9 and 11 years old. She struggles with arthritis, sleeps a lot more than she used to, and is more prone to confusion. But she’ll still race full speed around the yard, still stalk squirrels for hours on end, still play with her rope, still jump up to bark her warning at a delivery truck. Although that last activity is now more likely to happen as the person sets the package on the porch or the truck drives away than when the truck first arrives.

We don’t believe the end is imminent but we’ve started preparing ourselves for her eventual demise and started talking about life after Rose. You see, Rose is an only pet. She has always insisted on being an only pet. We got her precisely because she was an only pet in a household with two dogs. Once it became clear there would be no peace with two dogs in the house, her previous owners opted to find a new home for the aggressor rather than the victim.

Don’t get me wrong. Rose has been an incredibly good family dog. She’s patient with the kids, loyal, gentle, loving, subservient. She loves to lay in my husband’s lap in the recliner while we watch TV. The boys fight over who she sleeps with each night. She’s great. We just can’t really take her anywhere or let her be around any other “four-legged critters” (as my husband describes them). She is particularly aggressive toward other animals. Obedience school was stressful and tense. We graduated, but she raised the eyebrows of more than a few of the other owners. After a few attempts to take her with us to the park, we fell into a pattern of leaving her at home. She’ll ride in the car – which she loves – but she doesn’t get out at the destination.

This process that we have been working through has led me to realize that Rose is “the” family dog. She is the one that the kids will talk about for decades. When we gather at Christmas years from now after all the kids are grown and gone, reminiscences will be along the lines of “Remember when Rose…?” She is the dog of my children’s childhoods. Our youngest was not yet in school, our oldest no older than our youngest is now, when Rose joined the family. All of our collective canine memories are of Rose.

And that fact has pained me in a strange way. It pains me because she was not our first dog. My husband and I had dogs before her – dogs who will never get the collective remembering at family gatherings because only two of us have those memories. Even if we share the memories with our kids, they do not hold those memories. They do not feel the emotions connected to those memories. They are just stories. We might as well be talking about some historical figure for all the meaning it has to them.

I shouldn’t expect anything different, I know. They can’t reminisce about someone they never met. But one of those pre-Rose dogs did overlap with the timelines of the older two kids. We adopted Desnee when I was in college. She lived in our family for at least 10 years, longer than Rose has been with us. She was sweet and cute and neurotic – but in a different way and about different things than Rose is.

When I watch Rose race across the yard like a sleek, optimized race car, I also see Desnee skip and frolic through tall grass, hopping into the air with all four feet nearly touching as she takes a moment to survey her surroundings before descending down into the grass and then repeating. If Rose is like a leopard or cheetah, Desnee was a graceful gazelle.

When I watch Rose’s obsession with her rope – the way she has to run and get it so that she greets you at the door with it hanging in her mouth, I remember Desnee’s great love for racquet balls. We’d take trips to local fenced-in tennis courts to throw and bounce that ball for her to chase. She never tired of chasing that ball.

When I see Rose obsess over a cat in the yard, making her desire to rip it to shreds abundantly clear, I remember Desnee and how she put up with a cat that entered our lives after her.

Portia waited on the doormat of our apartment all night after I petted her on our way in late that night. My husband had said “Don’t pet that damn cat” but I didn’t listen. When I opened the door the next morning to take Desnee out to potty, the not-yet-named kitten sauntered confidently into the apartment, swatted at a shocked Desnee, and made herself at home.

Portia terrorized Desnee for years after that – not enough to be problematic, just enough to make the pecking order clear. Desnee quietly tolerated her – to a point. My husband and I laugh at the memory of the time Portia took a swipe at Desnee and Desnee had had enough. She growled and pinned Portia’s head to the ground with her jaws. She held her there just long enough for Portia to start to panic and then she let her go. Portia was more respectful after that.

If I ask, the older two will confirm that they remember Desnee, but it’s really more vague impression that there was a dog of that name. They don’t remember her – not like they’ll remember Rose. I don’t know why this has been eating at me. Why it feels like a sad thing. The people who knew Desnee (and Portia) remember them. Our parents, some of our friends, the two of us.

Maybe it’s because Desnee was ‘my’ dog and Rose is clearly my husband’s. And maybe it’s because my kids – this family we created – this family’s collective memories are more important to me than those we share with others. I find myself wanting to share all the joys of my life with my kids – the five of us all swapping memories. So when we do that thing with memories of Rose, I think of that dog that I loved so much more than any dog before (and since?) and feel a pain that those memories can’t be part of a special family moment.

Maybe it’ll be easier when we become empty-nesters in 6 1/2 short years. Maybe when my husband and I resume making memories that are just our own, it won’t feel so sad that the kids don’t remember Desnee’s epic sneezes or Portia’s obsession with shoes or propensity to getting stuck in trees. After all, if current conversations are any indication, there will soon be a new dog (and cat!) that the oldest two will have little exposure to, but that we will have memories of with Hal alone. Maybe I just need the next transition point to make the last one not feel so strange. Time is funny that way.

Parenting Final Exam

Perspective. Whose perspective matters most in a given situation? What shapes a person’s perspective, especially of themselves? How does one go about adjusting one’s perspective if they discover it might not be quite spot-on with reality?

I’ve been asking myself these questions lately, mostly as it pertains to my performance as a parent. I tend to be very critical, particularly toward myself, so I haven’t given myself a very good grade. I know I’m not a bad parent but I’ve always thought I fell short of the Hall of Fame of Parenting. No Parenting National Merit Scholar here.

I take their picture on the first day of school and share it on Facebook, but I don’t have that extra step of them holding a chalkboard with some cute information on it. I don’t take a picture on the last day and then post the two side by side. I can’t pull them all up later. Shoot, if they aren’t still on my phone, I have no clue where to find them.

I’ve tried various cute memorabilia things. I tried taking a picture of Jane as a baby every month on the same white blanket. It would continue yearly after a certain age. I’m not sure we made it to her first birthday. I wanted to do one of those photo frames with a school picture from every year, little circles for every year around one big one for the senior year. I’ve probably got all the pictures but I didn’t label them so who knows which was 3rd grade and which was 4th?

My mom was the queen of Halloween. She made the best costumes. She decorated for all the holidays. I’ve always felt I wasn’t living up to her legacy. But even here, this is where really thinking about things puts cracks in that sense of inferiority. I am not a seamstress like my mom. I didn’t make popcorn balls and candied apples for the neighborhood kids or anyone else. I really don’t decorate for any holiday besides Christmas.

But how many costumes did she make before I took over the making of them? Did she really make that much more than I did? Hers were more skillfully made, but I made a really rocking infant bumblebee costume that I forgot about until this moment of pondering. Then there’s the incomparable Firebolt broomstick made with Hal out of a sturdy branch and many sticks collected during walks. It came complete with a Golden Snitch dangling in front of it on a hanger wire. We have no neighborhood kids and it’s no longer acceptable to give people non-packaged stuff anyway.

If I take away the Facebook comparisons to other people’s curated lives and I stop comparing myself to my mom, how do I fare? I still have a tendency to think poorly of my performance. Despite reading to them when they were little (especially the first two), I have a sense that I didn’t do it enough because I didn’t do it every night. I didn’t pray with them before bed every night, or even very often at all. We don’t have family meals often. Shoot, at this point, with a 12 year old and 17 year old in the house, I rarely fix dinner at all. Each person just finds their own something to eat. I sometimes try to guilt them into things or lose my temper when I get frustrated. I always apologize but I then worry that each outburst did lasting damage.

But I think this is where one of my questions above comes into play. Whose perspective matters? When it comes to my job performance as a parent, it’s not mine. It’s my children’s. And I’m learning, at least in the case of Jane, I’m actually faring pretty well.

Jane is in her second year of college. She’s made new friends from different places and deepened a friendship with a childhood acquaintance who is attending the same school. By her account, all of her friends’ childhoods were terrible. She often feels awkward when talking about us because she is talking about a relationship that is foreign to them.

She’s had a rough year with her mental health and we’ve been there supporting as we can. First her roommate told me that she wished she had a mom like me. Later, a friend that I was working with to get Jane’s dog cared for during an absence stated that she had never seen a family be supportive during mental health concerns and Jane was really lucky to have us.

More recently, Jane told us of a conversation with a group of friends. They were talking about how miserable their parents were and one girl said, “my parents weren’t that bad.” One of the others told her that she had nothing on Jane.

“You don’t understand,” she said. “Jane had the perfect childhood.”

Jane tried to equivocate, talking about times we had fought or things got a little rough. The response? “Your mom wasn’t a meth head who sold your stuff in order to buy cocaine.”

Now, I’m not saying that I should consider myself a great parent just by measuring against THAT, but it gave me pause to consider just how many kids really don’t have it good growing up.

“Tell her just one random example of life in your childhood,” the friend continued. “Just one normal, average thing.”

And this is where it got surreal for me. She told them that they would get ready for bed and then I’d sit down and read The Phantom Tollbooth to them. We’d read it every night and then I’d tuck them into bed and give them a kiss.

The friends then talked about how they didn’t think anyone actually did that with their kids. They thought it was all the stuff of movies and TV shows. No one actually has a childhood like that. Since Jane had, that meant she had the perfect childhood.

But as she told us this story, I struggled to remember reading The Phantom Tollbooth to them. It certainly wasn’t a regular thing. Like we didn’t read it multiple times. By the time they could read themselves, I didn’t read to them much at all anymore. But this was the story she told.

Now, I recognize that Jane was picking a shining moment because that’s what she was led to do and I would guess a certain amount of pride caused her to pick such an impressive “humble” example. The thing is, she remembered that moment. It really did happen and it made an impression on her. My kids have periodically recalled events from their younger years that I barely remember or don’t at all. I’ve focused on my failings but that’s not usually what they remember.

I don’t think comparing myself to Jane’s friends’ abysmal parents is any better than comparing myself to my Facebook friends’ chosen highlights of their parenting life. It does provide perspective though.

We recently finished playing Pandemic Legacy Season 2. It’s a cooperative game whose rules change as the game goes on. You discover more about the real objective of the game. You add stickers to the board, tear up cards, get new game pieces. You make decisions not knowing whether they are good or not, because you don’t yet know what’s going on. You win or lose each month, with two attempts each time, until you get to December. Again there are two attempts at the stated objective. You either win or you lose in meeting that objective.

At the end of it all, you score your performance. Even if you lost that last objective, it doesn’t really mean you lost the game. You get points for various things, like how many months you won in the first half versus the second, how well the cities on your board fared, how many cards you had incorporated into the game.

There are two sets of cards to read that describe how the world fared based on your performance in trying to save it. The set for if you failed the last objective is darker than the set for if you succeeded, but they followed the same pattern. Scores were divided into five groups. The lowest group doomed the world – maybe something could grow out of it but it’ll be a long time. The highest group had set the world up for a bright future.

We finished smack dab in the middle of the middle group. We had gotten the job done. We had met the last objective. The world would heal. All would be good. Basically, we did fine. We didn’t damage our kids sense of well-being in a meth-addled haze. We didn’t create the perfect life where everything was sunshine and roses and their path was laid out perfectly before them. We did meet their needs and give them the tools to build their lives. We did fine. Considering we were playing the parenthood game without knowing for sure what would be important and what wouldn’t, this was a great outcome.

My husband has often repeated something he heard about how you really don’t find out how you did as a parent until you see how your grandchildren turn out. It’s worth noting that none of Jane’s friends want to have kids. They don’t want to bring a child into the world and risk them having the kind of childhood they had. Jane is the only one that wants to have kids. That is the best indicator I have right now that we did alright. She’s willing to have a go at it herself.

Daryl’s Words of Wisdom

Daryl had his wisdom teeth removed today. When we got him loaded back into the car, he looked drunk and groaned and moaned while looking at himself via his Snapchat camera.

One long groan eventually morphed into “I can’t feel my face,” repeated at an increasing level of anxiety and concern, interrupted only by the hiccups. We decided to stop by the pharmacy to drop off his prescriptions, my husband walking in while I got out to wipe the blood off his mouth that had him so concerned.

“I could die!” he insisted, pointing to his mouth. “I’m bleeding!”

I assured him that he wasn’t going to die, wiping his lips gently as I said, “You just had surgery. Of course you are going to bleed a little bit.”

“Wait. When?” His voice was high-pitched, in shock.

“Just now,” I responded.

“No,” he said, shaking his head and squinting his eyes. He mumbled something indiscernible about his time at the surgeon’s office, so I explained that he had had his wisdom teeth removed.

“Why? Do I still have teeth? Do I still have teeth?”

“Yes, you still have teeth. You just don’t have wisdom teeth. Those are the ones in the back.”

He looked really confused but eventually pointed to the side of his face and said, “But that’s how I chew my food. With the ones in the back.” The pointing became more insistent. We went on talking about his molars and how he doesn’t need the wisdom teeth for a few minutes.

“It’s a hard job!” he declared, referring to the oral surgeon. “Ahh! Did they hurt my nerve?” he asked, tapping his jaw. More nonsensical whining before: “What time is it? {looking down at his phone} It’s been an hour?!” His head bobbed and he kept on hiccupping as his dad returned to the car.

We pulled out of the pharmacy parking lot and he kept staring at his face on Snapchat before becoming alarmed. “Wait. Where are we going now?!”

“We’re going home sweetheart.”

“Oh. You say I’m not going to die?”

“No. You aren’t going to die.”

He zoomed the camera in to show his bloody teeth. “I look like a vampire. {unintelligible words} Wah? I’m bleeding. I’ve got to send this to Jared. He said I should video it.” (This while unaware that I was, indeed, videoing him.)

“My tongue! Where’s my tongue? Did they take it out?!”

“No, they didn’t take it out. It’s still there,” my husband responded patiently. Daryl stared at him like he didn’t believe him. “You’ll be able to feel it. Don’t worry. When the anesthesia wears off. No, don’t put your finger in your mouth. It’s ok.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s not there. It’s not there!” As we tried to assure him that it was, he kept insisting that no, it was not. “They took my tongue out! I’m not even going to be able to talk. Why did they take it out? I’m going to have to have a robot talk for me! I can’t talk anymore! It’s not there!”

He reached to his face, ignoring our assurances that it would be ok, and as he cupped his chin, he exclaimed, “OH! Oh no! My whole mouth is gone!” His dad told him it was just numb. And he dozed off for a second, letting his head bob down before snapping back up.

Turning to his dad, he asked, “Did they take my teeth out?” As his dad explained yet again, he poked his finger toward his teeth. “Don’t put your finger in your mouth,” dad warned. Daryl splayed his fingers out with a reassuring wave, like “Ok, ok… I’m good” before lowering them slowly to his lap.

“What’s wrong with wisdom teeth?” he asked after a long pause. “What did they ever do to anybody?”

“They take up too much room,” I said. To which he responded, “Then why do we even have them? But I don’t have them anymore.”

“No, you don’t” we said.

“Will they grow back?” A variation of this question would be asked another dozen times over the course of the day. Along with, oddly enough, a request to have them removed as if he still had them. He would also authoritatively tell his sister that “Mom says they won’t grow back.”

As he pondered the sins of wisdom teeth and their permanent removal from his body, his head drooped toward his right arm, where he noticed a purple wrap holding the cotton gauze in place from where they had administered the anesthesia.

“Whoa!” he exclaimed in renewed alarm. “What’s this? Did I have ELBOW surgery?!” (Keep in mind that his mouth is full of gauze and he’s stoned so this, like everything else, was mumbled and sounded like “el…bow…sur…fer…ee.” He stared at his dad’s explanation, obviously not comprehending, so I assured him that he did not have elbow surgery.

We drove along in silence for a little while until my husband commented that Daryl’s hiccups had gone away.

“No. I don’t hiccup because I don’t drink alcohol,” Daryl said sagely. “You know who does? I could be a pirate. They drink alcohol.”

“You have to be a pirate to drink alcohol?” my husband asked.

“No. But they drink a lot of it,” Daryl said. He then starting waving his right hand in front of him that looked at first like a drunken conductor, but eventually evolved into shooting a gun as he softly made little pow-pow noises. Then he raised his left hand in the obvious pantomime of lifting a jug of rum to his drunken pirate mouth. “There’s shooting and then there’s some rum,” he said. He held the invisible rum above his mouth for a long time before announcing, “And then you’re out! Like a light.”

After a brief pause, he pointed out the windshield and pondered, “What if pirates had cars? Then they could just be a pirate on the highway.”

“Oh! I should check Snapchat,” he said as he picked up his phone, squealing in delight when he saw a message from his best friend. “That’s a laughing emoji.” He took a picture of himself while emitting a slightly maniacal giggle and attempting to smile.

He then fumbled with the settings before finding a laughing emoji, saying, “Watch this.” He enlarged the emoji to be a sticker on his photo. “Boom!” as he was successful in his attempt. “And now… I respond…and send… Boom!” he waved his arms out to his side, gleeful at his successful use of Snapchat.

A little later, he announced, “My feef hurt!”

“Your feet hurt?”

“Uh-uh!”

“Your TEETH hurt?”

“Yah!” As his dad explained (again), he muttered about how his teeth hurt and he just didn’t get it. “Is this what Codeine feels like?” he asked, tapping his lip.

“Is that what Codeine feels like? Um, no.”

“What is it? Eth-a-nol? Alc-o-hol?” Those last two words were given in a sing-songy voice.

“No, it’s anesthes-“

“OH! It’s a cop! Slow down.”

“I don’t need to slow down and, yes, I’ve seen the cop for about a mile now.”

As we drove by the cop, Daryl looked out the window and waved his hand. “We’re good, officer. It’s OK.”

He went on to make weird noises and bob his head before asking how long the surgery took. When told an hour, he exclaimed, “An hour?! For a tooth?”

“So about 15 minutes per tooth.”

“What do you mean ‘per tooth’?” he bounced his head a few times. “I’ve only got one tooth!” And then after a pause, “I have four?” All of this was delivered in a high-pitched, incredulous voice that modulated up and down on every word.

“You had four.”

“What?! How many do I have now?” He looked very concerned.

“You don’t have any wisdom teeth anymore.”

“Well, what? Why, where, is my any more wisdom?… I get my wisdom from my wisdom teeth.”

“Well, you still have the wisdom. You just don’t have the teeth.”

“Well, what if I can’t get any more?”

Eventually the weird noises turned into a bit of a rhythm and he started slapping his hands on his knees and bobbing his head as if listening to music.

“I’m gonna start a A ca-PEL-la band! I might!” Later, when I remarked on the long undulating vocalizations he was making as he waited to be led to bed, that he was getting a good start on his a Capella band, he doubled down.

“I could be the singer!” He put out his index finger. “And the drummer!” His middle finger. “And…the guitar!” Three fingers closed into his hand as his dad helped him to lay down.

He also declared he felt like a ferret. He wavered on the sidewalk and exclaimed he was ice skating. He walked toward the window of the house instead of the door. He reenacted how quickly the anesthesia took effect. He acted like the thermostat on the wall in the hallway tried to attack him. He insisted the gauze was in his mouth when it wasn’t. He declared that swallowing pills was the hardest thing he’d ever done. He grabbed his hat and asked if they had given it back to him.

And to think when I first saw him in the room, sitting quietly, I had worried that I had taken off work for nothing. There would be no drug-induced hysterical talk. That he’d be his usual quiet self and share nothing. Fortunately, he did not disappoint.

Quarantine Report #3: Imagining Church

I was at our church building to collect supplies for local charities. There were five of us there – all in masks and staying 6 feet apart – waiting for people to drive up with their donations. The weather was unpleasant so we were not busy.

Eventually, I wandered into the building and looked around. I walked past the coffee and tea bar. I stood at the welcome desk and studied the flyer for the Moms of Preschoolers group that never got off the ground, glanced over at the Lost & Found basket, noted the mints sitting untouched in a bowl on a table.

I walked into the Narthex and listened to the pastor record our worship service, by herself, in an empty sanctuary. I thought about walking in and sitting in the back pew. I thought it might make her feel less alone, make it easier for her to feel she was talking to someone. But I also thought it might startle her. These recorded worship services are difficult. I didn’t want to risk making her start over.

So I stood just out of view by the open door. I teared up. Hearing her in person, with her voice carrying through the sanctuary, was so much better than through my TV as I sit on my couch. I whispered Amen and Thanks Be To God in all the right places. The tears ran their course down my cheeks.

I got a glimpse in that moment – a glimpse into the hearts of the people who are so angry. The people protesting, the people believing conspiracy theories, the people harassing and even shooting others over the social distancing rules. They have lost so much. They have lost normalcy, predictability, routine, control. No wonder they prefer to believe this is a hoax or the response has been overblown. Believing such things gives them people to direct that seething anger at. It is a person or a group of people’s fault – this situation they are in. And if those people will just quit lying to everyone, we could all go back to normal. It’s overwhelming to think we won’t go back to normal.

I’m an “out of sight, out of mind” kind of person. I have been coping fairly well. I just do what’s in front of me and typically don’t spend much time thinking about what I’ve lost. I’ve just had parts of my life on pause. The first time my church did this charity drive, I teared up when I saw one of the other members who doesn’t participate in our online activities. Now that she was there in front of me, I realized just how sorely I was actually missing her.

This day, I turned away from the sanctuary as our pastor began her sermon. I walked slowly down the hall, looking at everything. The painted rocks on the patio. The wall of scholarship plaques. The stack of church cookbooks on one of the bistro tables. The notices on the bulletin board for choir, handbells, yoga. I noted the bottle of hand sanitizer near another sanctuary entrance – put there the last Sunday we worshiped together as an extra precaution.

I headed down the Sunday School hallway. None of us had bothered to turn on lights anywhere except the pastor in the sanctuary. I started to imagine my church family in the halls. Some kids running through, maybe grabbing a drink at the water fountain on their way. Adults entering their classrooms and saying good morning to me.

I opened the door to my classroom and looked around at all the seats exactly as I had left them. All of the books except the one I had taken home to teach via Zoom still sitting on the small table by my chair. I sat down. Not in just any chair – in my chair.

I looked around the room and imagined my friends all sitting in their usual seats. I shrunk back just a little bit because they all suddenly seemed too close. Would I ever be comfortable sitting in a small room with people again?

Closing my eyes, I filled the church with people. I imagined people milling in and out of the kitchen, gathering in the commons area, kids clambering over the play set. I imagined leaving my classroom to get ready for choir. I saw us all brushing past each other to get into the small storage closet that houses our gowns. I saw people joking as they gathered their music and sat down next to each other, rubbing elbows.

I imagined a typical Sunday in the life of my church. And I cried. My face crumpled, my tears soaked the mask I was still wearing, and I sucked the fabric into my mouth as I gasped for breath. I suddenly wanted it all back. I was no longer content or patient. I was crushed with tremendous and overwhelming sadness.

My church is being cautious though, and I am grateful. I’m not foolish. I know all the distancing had nothing to do with stopping the virus, only slowing it down so we aren’t overwhelmed. I know that eventually I will probably get it and, odds are, I’ll be fine. I know we can’t stay shut down forever, although I’d feel much better about reopening if more than a fraction of my town was actually following the social distancing recommendations as part of reopening.

Just like all the people refusing to wear masks and going out and about, I want my life back. I want my church back. I want my friends and my family. I want my gaming group. I want to have meetings in conference rooms at work.

But I also want to protect my elderly family and church family. I want to wait as long as I can to get this virus, because the later I get it, the more the doctors will know and the better off I’ll be. I want that for everyone. The best way for that to happen is to take it slow. To avoid hugs. To stay away from people. And that’s what I’ll do for as long as feasible.

But in that moment, as I sat in my chair in my room, and imagined my church family all around me, it felt so real. So painfully real. And I wondered, when we finally come back together, will it ever be the same again?

Quarantine Report #2

I’ve started trying to converse with Alexa.

Daryl stays up late every night playing games with his friends on the ps4. I bounce back and forth between the advice to keep your kid on a schedule through this and the opposite advice to give your kid some space and back off. Since he stays up late playing games, I’ve been asking Alexa to open “rain on a tin roof” every night.

“Rain on a tin roof” is one of many sounds on a skill that makes white noise to block out distractions. I used to know others but I’ve forgotten them. I’ve also forgotten the name of the skill. I just know that I need to be sure to tell her to OPEN rain on a tin roof. Because if I mistakenly ask her to PLAY rain on a tin roof, I get some strange song.

Wait. I used to. But I just asked her to play rain on a tin roof so I could get the name of the song to share with you and she opened my forgotten-name skill and started up the rain noises. She must have learned over the past few years what I really want regardless of what I say before “rain on a tin roof.” Hmm.

So anyway. I ask her to open rain on a tin roof. She responses with a pleasant little bing sound and then a brief pause and then the rain starts pattering against the tin roof. It’s close to my head so it’s loud enough to drown out all the exclamations in the living room. There for awhile, she would lecture me on all these great new options available in the skill before giving me the rain. I was annoyed that she was talking so much as I tried to go to sleep. Maybe it’s the Pandemic because she’s since backed off and given me my space.

Last night, I felt like we both knew the routine well enough. I sighed as I snuggled into the bed and fluffed my pillow.

“Alexa,” I said, “you know what I want you to do.”

But, actually. She didn’t.

She started reading me the dictionary, I think. I was getting all sorts of definition and etymology and history. When she finished, I asked my husband what she had just done.

“I think she gave you the dictionary definition of ‘do’.”

“Alexa,” I said. “You aren’t very helpful.”

To this, she responded with a very angry sounding bong. It was nothing like the cheerful bing I get when I ask her to open rain on a tin roof. And then she gave me the silent treatment.

“I think you made her mad,” my husband said.

I gave in and delivered the best apology I could.

“Alexa,” I said, “please open rain on a tin roof.”

She binged happily and then the rain started.

I don’t know. Maybe I expected too much out of her. Her love language obviously revolves around being given plain instructions. I’ll keep that in mind, I guess.

Quarantine Report #1

I had some stories I was going to write-up a couple of weeks ago. And then the world imploded and it seemed weird to write about events that happened before everything shut down. But I didn’t have anything to say about life in the Pandemic. So I wrote nothing. Seems time to rectify that, so here we go.

Here is a list of every fun thing my incredibly privileged sons could be doing or learning to do during their shelter-in-place at our house:

  • reading
  • writing
  • playing video games
  • working logic puzzles
  • throwing pottery on a wheel
  • slab or coil building pottery
  • firing a kiln: electric, gas, or wood
  • stained glass
  • glass fusing
  • bottle slumping
  • bottle cutting
  • jewelry making
  • painting
  • quilting
  • sewing
  • machine embroidering
  • knitting
  • crocheting
  • felting
  • Kumohimo braiding
  • 3D printing
  • coding (computer programming)
  • archery
  • basketball
  • four square
  • treadmill
  • stationary bike
  • laying outside in a hammock
  • gardening
  • cooking
  • baking
  • playing with the dog
  • playing the cello
  • playing the keyboard
  • working jigsaw puzzles
  • playing board games (we have hundreds!)

Here is a list of everything they are actually doing:

  • playing Terraria together on the ps-4
  • playing video games on the laptop or Kindle Fire or cellphone
  • watching Netflix

The eleven year old is also, when pressed to get off screens, sometimes building some KiwiCo kits he got in the mail over the last few months. And playing with the dog more than usual and helping bake some. And the sixteen year old is fond of sleeping. But that’s it.

So forget all your free virtual tours of museums and other cool stuff that everyone is sharing online. My kids have more variety available to them than I would wager any other people on the planet, and they. Won’t. Take. It.

I hope someday they look back and see how unique their existence was. And how much they squandered the possibilities. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to that 2000-piece puzzle I’ve been working mostly on my own. Then I’ll make some more progress on the quilt. And the book I’m reading. Oh, and that bottle of wine. 😉

Hal Learns Mimi’s Storied Past

Hal and I were sitting in the front pew next to each other, each with an ashen cross on our foreheads. The rest of the two congregations that had joined together for Ash Wednesday were lined up the center aisle, progressing forward for the Imposition of Ashes.

We saw someone he knows best from outside of church in the line and I asked if he had noticed her. He had. “Does she go to that church?” he asked, motioning to the other pastor.

I laughed and said that no, she went to ours but she hadn’t been on Sundays that much lately (and when she is there, he’s usually too busy running around to notice her anyway).

“She doesn’t come on Sunday but came on Ash Wednesday?!

“Everyone has their own lives and their own complications. People stop coming to church regularly for different reasons. Sometimes they have scheduling conflicts or they fall out of the habit or they are struggling with something. Mimi stopped going to church for years because she was mad at the church.”

I realized right after the words were out of my mouth that I had stepped into dangerous territory.

“Why was she mad at the church?”

“Well, it had to do with Grandpa.”

Hal, not understanding the difference between a local church and the greater denominational structure that I was referring to, looked up at me shocked.

“Mimi used to go to Grandpa’s church?!”

“Um, well, yes. You know they were married, right?”

“What?!! I didn’t know that!”

“They are my mom and dad!” I responded, equally surprised but also amused.

“I know that, but I didn’t know they were married.”

“Ok, so do you know that Poppy and Grandma were married?” I asked, referring to my husband’s parents.

“Yes,” he responded. No recognition was in his voice on the lack of symmetry in his understanding of his grandparents. To be clear, I don’t think the distinction in his mind was that they had perhaps been an unmarried couple. He had just never put together that my parents must have been together at some point in the past. Yet he somehow came to that conclusion for the other set. It was strange and quite humorous.

“Well Mimi and Grandpa divorced when I was 5 and Mimi stopped going to church for a long time. She started going back when Papa…” I paused as a whole flood of emotions washed over me.

My mom started going back to church when my step-dad was diagnosed with cancer. He announced one day that they were going to church and she said ok and off they went, becoming weekly attendees and involved congregants in almost no time. The church-involved Mimi is the only Mimi Hal knows.

But Papa Bill…Hal doesn’t know him at all. He died three years before Hal was born. By the time Hal was born, my mom had fallen in love again and moved out of my childhood home. Hal knew none of that.

“Well,” I picked up again. “Mimi remarried after the divorce. She was married to Papa Bill. You don’t know him because he died from cancer before you were born.”

He nodded quietly. That was a lot of information to absorb suddenly like that. Not only had Mimi been married to Grandpa, but she had been married to someone else before the only man that Hal has ever thought of as Mimi’s husband.

We don’t make it to Ash Wednesday service every year. We try to make it a priority but it doesn’t always work out. Hal doesn’t recall having ever attended before, although I know he has. I can’t help but think that this one was memorable enough to be retained.