Sitting with the Uncertainty

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March 2020: the month of the 1000 piece puzzle

I don’t know what day of “quarantine”/”social distancing”/isolation we’re on here. Heck, like most people now, I don’t even know what day it is. I do know that it’s almost the end of March and that I’ve got a big presentation to give (online) tomorrow and that that presentation which is supposed to last half an hour is not put together yet.

I’ve been suffering from too much time. Even when life has maintained its normal daily structure too much time is a phenomenon students and professional procrastinators throughout the globe are familiar with. It occurs when you know you have plenty of time to finish something but instead of spreading the work nice and evenly over all that time, you tell yourself “I’ve got time.” As in, “I really should start researching…but I’ve got so much time still.” In this pandemic induced stopping of nearly all time related obligation (for most of us), the too much time phenom has kicked into overdrive. It’s on steroids and is raging.

But this blase attitude, this extreme lack of motivation to do the things I need to do in allllll the time I now have available to do them, it’s more than the usual procrastinating tendencies. There’s a vague sense of purposeless that presses down like a heavy fog. The emotional roller coaster that takes you from “but look, I’m able to run almost every day and I’ve been getting so much sleep” to crying in the bathroom because Detroit is burning and so many people are not working and how are we all going to pay our bills and eat??? Back to thoughts of how much I’m saving just by not driving 110 miles back and forth to Detroit every day and then again to worries over my parents and my brother-in-law with frequent lung infections who was left a single parent by my sister’s sudden death a year and a half ago… and so I wander around the house and stare vaguely out the window. I try to check in on friends and family but get distracted by the cesspool of social media. And the hours somehow tick by. Slowly. But nothing happens. My presentation isn’t done. The information for my upcoming (also online)  tests and quizzes sits untouched.

Lat night while staring at my computer and feeling very stressed about the work I wasn’t doing, my best friend tested me with a question about her son’s teeth. All the dentist offices are closed until who knows when so an almost third year dental student is an okayish substitute. After we went back and forth about the lesion in her teenager’s mouth we started the usual chit chat about daily life, the kids, etc. Because some things haven’t changed. “Today was very somber, everyone is getting very weary around here.” she texts. I know exactly what she means; the reality of the current situation is setting in. At first there was a sense of novelty about everyone being stuck at home. Things were changing day by day, it was novel and sharp; there was a sense of urgency to take collective action and stem the tide of this pandemic. Very rah-rah-cis-boom-bah! And you could kind of pretend that the kids were just on an extended spring break from school and that’s cool and normal enough to get through it. But now there are rumors that they won’t be back this school year. There is a heavy sadness for the graduating (maybe?) classes who are missing all the festivities and emotions of such a pivotal moment in their young lives. We’ve been at home for almost three weeks. Or maybe this coming week is the third week. We’ve been at home, our lives have been slammed into a bleak limbo, for a timeless amount of time that will go on for unknown many days or weeks more.

And that’s it; that’s life for so many of us. We sit and watch the news, wondering who to trust and what is real. We watch the numbers climb ominously: confirmed cases of the virus, number of Covid-19 deaths, hospitals that are at capacity. Here in Michigan we look at the county-by-county break down of the number of cases each day and hope that we’ll see the effects of the Social Distancing protocols Stay at Home order that’s been in place since mere days after the first couple cases were confirmed. We need all this sitting and waiting to mean something.

We need results!

But what we have is uncertainty and all we really can do is just sit with the uncertainty and try to be at peace.

Hitting a low

Life, it’s been beating me down lately. Between parenting (which I’m pretty sure I suck at right now), coaching (middle school kids), working (super shitty night shifts), and trying (but mostly failing) to maintain some semblance of a half marathon training schedule I’m burnt right the fuck out. Like a tough, over cooked steak I’m beyond done. I’ve been feeling it for a while but Sunday was when it really hit me.

The day started early because I had to take my sixteen year old to my sister’s so he could babysit her kids while she was at Equestrian Team regionals with my daughter (but mostly the other high school team she coaches). Even though I hadn’t been to the meet once yet over the weekend I went back home instead of heading up there. I wanted to go back to bed but I knew this was the only time available to clean up and do the dishes from Saturday’s big breakfast that were still strewn about the kitchen and dining room. Later that day I was extremely thankful I did.

A couple hours later I was finally on my way to watch my daughter show in her last few classes of the regional meet she had worked so hard to get to. I left three other kids and two friends playing video games and eating cereal. As I was leaving the shit storm was brewing. My younger sister had posted on our family’s Facebook group page asking for opinions about set up for her upcoming wedding. I responded, as did other people, saying the area in question would make a good kids’ activity space. She then asked if I wanted to coordinate this. To which I responded that I could not as I’m way too busy this week. It’s the third time she’s called me out specifically asking me to do something in the few days leading up to the wedding and (at least) the third time I’ve told her I cannot. Not that I don’t want to, I literally cannot. I had however, already told her I’d be more than happy to help clean up after the wedding. I just can’t do anything before. Why? Well, reread the second sentence of the post, I’m busy and already stretched thin. Apparently that’s irrelevant. I got shit for stating (again) that I’m not able to help before the wedding. Which, by the way, is on a fucking Thursday afternoon.

Later in the day, after being at the equestrian team meet for most the day, getting pestered via text by my almost thirteen year old about letting his friend go to his football game with him (which was a solid no as said friend would be unsupervised and needed to go home), stopping at the grocery store for dinner essentials and cat and dog food (which we were completely out of), I headed back over to my sister’s to pick up my daughter and the son who had been babysitting all freakin day. At this point it was close to seven in the evening. I still needed to make dinner and get everyone on track for school Monday. Plus I really needed to sleep a little before my shift at work started (10:30pm).

After handing my sister (not the one who is getting married, the one who was at the meet with my daughter) a twenty dollar bill in an apparently inadequate attempt to contribute to the cost of hauling the horse she informs me that it cost her at least $50 a week. Oh and that I don’t do enough for my daughter’s showing and she’s tired of helping her so much. I told her I’m doing the best I can. The bottom line, that’s not good enough.

That seems to be the message of the week. And it’s only Wednesday evening.

Even later Sunday evening I was finally getting the pre-work nap I needed. A whole hour and a half to sleep, some of it with my eight year old sitting next to me with a flashlight and a book. I didn’t have time to read him a bedtime story; this was the compromise. Thankfully he got tired too and decided to close his eyes after fifteen or so minutes.

An hour and twenty minutes into my nap (barely half an hour before I needed to leave for work) excessive dog barking woke me up followed by a knock on my bedroom door. “Mom, someone from CPS is at the door. They need to talk to you.”

And that was just the beginning of the week. It’s nearing the end of Wednesday. I think I’ve almost made it through but I can’t remember where one week ends and the next begins. When you work the whole weekend it’s not really something to look forward to. In fact I’m not sure what I should be looking forward to right now. Yes, my sister is getting married next week and that’s a celebration. My whole crazy family will be in one place, something that rarely happens anymore. And it’s going to be great. And, yeah, the half marathon I’ve been prepping for is ten days away. I’m excited about it.

But the celebration and excitement seem hypothetical and far away. Vague. Like oncoming headlights in a thick fog. Today, this week, I’m feeling (but trying not to wallow in) the low. I don’t remember another time in my recent personal history where things felt this downright bad. But I know, somewhere deep in my core, that that’s only because time dulls these pains and it has been much much worse. That somehow I’ve always made it through to the other side; this is a low, but it’s far from the lowest of the lows.

The Bad Things

The two most intense emotions that come with being a parent are fear and love.
People talk about the love all the time, and it’s great, that love unlike anything else.
But the fear, not so much. No one tells you about that though it is just as intense and  powerful.
The fear that Bad Things will happen to your kids.
Not the regular, everyday bad things that do happen: broken bones, scrapes, small hurts, being picked on, a friend betraying them, an adult letting them down, things of that caliber.
Those things happen.
They’re basically growing pains of life, bad but just part of the process.
They’re survivable.
These are not the Bad Things that parents fear deep down inside. Your child getting lost, abducted,  or kidnapped, taken. Your child being maimed in a car accident or killed or getting an incurable cancer or debilitating disease.
Things that happen but not that often; terrible, horrible, mostly unlikely things. Things we can’t prevent, fix, or control.
You get a small taste of it in the store when you turn away from your toddler; you turn back seconds later and they’re gone.
Empty space where your precious little person was. Your stomach drops, your heart pounds, time stops, you can’t breath. Panic.
Fear seizes you…until you see those mischievous little feet poking out from the bottom of a nearby clothing rack. Relief floods through you and suddenly you can function again.
But that’s just a snippet of the fear that hovers beneath the surface of every parent all the time. The proverbial tip of the iceberg. An iceberg with the power to sink the Titanic and more.

This fear lurks at the back of my mind all the time. I push it aside, keep it at a low level buzz, so that I can remain a functional human being.
I’m pretty sure this is normal but maybe not. Maybe I’m more paranoid than most. But just because Bad Things haven’t happened yet doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t.
That’s a true story.

Like all decent parents I do my best to protect my kids and keep them safe. That’s not to say I don’t let them learn some of life’s lessons the hard way (really how else does a person ever learn anything?) but I look for every opportunity to reduce the chances of those big  Bad Things from happening. I don’t let my eleven year old walk to town by herself….even though it’s close and a small town and she’d probably be fine. But maybe she wouldn’t. Who knows?
You never really know. That’s where the fear comes from.

Divorce has been a defining factor in our family life the past couple years. It’s a bad thing that has happened to my kids; I’m not sure if it’s one of the Bad Things.
Not being a child of divorce I don’t really know what they’re going through. Sometimes I wish I was so I’d have some idea, some clue of how they really feel, how bad this is for them.
It’s probably better not to know.
I do know that divorce has changed my children in a way that’s not positive.
A friend I’ve had since childhood, who’s known my kids their entire lives, commented that they’re different now. They’re more reserved, less sure of themselves, less comfortable than they were before all this happened. They’re walking through life on eggshells right now, being careful not to make a wrong move, not knowing who they’re going to upset.
She didn’t say it but I am at least partially to blame for that. I chose this. The divorce was “my decision”.
The irony of it is that they were the deciding factor in that decision.
I didn’t want my kids to learn or think it was acceptable to treat someone they love, or any human being really, that way. I didn’t want them to be part of a cycle that was spiraling through generations of a family.
Repeating and destroying.
It’s not okay.
Not for my kids and ultimately not for me.
But I did it for the kids, pulled the plug on a lifelong commitment after just over a decade.
It’s not a choice I made lightly.
And I didn’t know it would be like this.
I never fathomed that I would loose so much of them, have half their lives hacked from me like a limb in a medieval battle. It was one of my worst fears come true and I was totally unprepared for it. I’m the good parent, the one who’s been with them their whole lives. He had been barely a spectator at best and much worse than that at times.
Everyone knew it, surely the courts would see it.
Of course the kids love him and wanted time with him; he’s their dad. I understand that. I didn’t want to or think I was going to take them from him but I thought I’d be able to give them the stability, security, the safety that I’d worked my whole adult life to provide for them.
I thought wrong.
As far as divorces go it was not a good one.

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Monday afternoon when I woke up it was storming. The tornado sirens had just stopped going off. Mondays are one of the two afternoons of their dad’s parenting time week that I pick the kids up from school.
I go to the preschool first then to the middle school where all the others are bussed.
When I got to the preschool I found out the school was on tornado warning lock down. Parents were allowed to take their kids or they could wait in the small windowless room with them until the warning was lifted. It had about twenty minutes left. An e-mail had come in from the other school saying they too were on tornado lock down and kids were not being released yet. I stayed with my youngest at the preschool for part of the time then left with him.
Another e-mail came through saying the warning had been extended another half hour. My older kids were stuck at their respective schools huddled in a windowless hallway.
As I drove to the other school to wait I began to feel worried, not that my kids would actually be caught in a tornado but about them being scared that they would.
My nine year old is afraid of tornados among other things. It’s an anxiety producing fear that wakes him up some nights and keeps him awake others.
Tornados. Fires. Car accidents. Abandonment.
Bad Things, things beyond his control, things that seldom happen but are entirely feasible.
This broad sweeping anxiety is one of the changes this past year of stress has yielded in him.
I try to make him feel safe when I’m with him, calm him when the fear flairs up, reassure him that everyone he loves is okay.
I try but I understand, I know this fear all too well.