Est Bonum Vitae

Party items

For nearly three weeks now, I have been trying to figure out why 77 is so much harder for me than 76. Somehow, 76 seemed livelier, as in 76 trombones or the spirit of 76 or Union 76, a place with clean restrooms when I was a kid and my mother had packed us off on another one of her road trips where she drove all night on the first leg.

I stand in front of the of the mirror. I don’t look 77 to myself, whatever 77 looks like. I spent a lot of time, money, and effort to make that happen. I am even okay with my body image for the first time in my life.  I’m still having trouble with my feet because of the neuropathy and my stomach is a problem, but they have been problems all my life. This isn’t even the worst they have ever been.

My kids are okay; my grandchildren are all gorgeous and gifted as well. Larry is his usual fine self, charging along on his mission to bring peace, justice, and the American Way to the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

It’s just that three years from now I will be 80. In 13 years (the current age of my oldest grandchild), I will be 90. 80! 90! Are you kidding me? What if I live to be 100? That is an insane idea. More importantly, what do I do for the next 10 years—just in case they are my last? I don’t know that I can ever sit still even if it means a walker or a person service robot named Andy, after St. Anthony, the one who helps you find things. Half the steps I take in a day involve finding my glasses, my drink, or my phone, which a robot should be able to accomplish. I should also be able to ride on him when I need too.

My main concern about being 90 though, is not so much physical as it is the fact that things are changing so fast, I fear I will no longer be able to understand anything at all, from commercials on TV (some of which I already do not understand) to cyberwars in virtual reality. In his book, Ray Kurzweil talks about the moment computers can think faster and better than humans. He calls it the “wall” and says that change will happen so fast we will no longer be able to predict what will happen. That may have happened all ready as far as I can see.

How does streaming work? Or, for that matter, how does TV work? I sort of understood radio and phones, but TV? What is up with blue tooth and microwaves? How can Alexa turn my lights off and on? How does a 777 get off the ground? People have even tried to explain these things to me without success. So, I guess engineering is out as a hobby.

Assuming I have another ten years when I can do what I want (which is a big assumption), what would that be? Anything that involves memorization is clearly out—no acting, I guess. Writing is in, but it is so hard some days it can’t be considered fun. I will write, of course, but I can’t sit and type all day long. Maybe I’ll take up painting again. I like that it attracts my complete attention, but it is a mess and messes give Larry apoplexy.

We will travel of course. Larry’s mad for Namibia. He’s up for a cruise of the Mekong River. He’s ready to trek in Nepal again. I’m more about seeing New York or Paris again—maybe Japan if Larry decided to climb Mt. Fuji. I’m more of a museum person than a trekker.

I could redouble my efforts to become an Instagram star. You never know when death is going to start trending. Unfortunately, you have to think about worthy topics to discuss on a regular basis, write down what you think, make huge cue cards, then look like you are not reading them. You have to catch full frontal light in the morning, after spending an hour on makeup and wardrobe so you look good in morning light. It’s a process, but then, I am 77 and have time for process.

Life is, after all, a process and I am a process within it, a wheel within a wheel. I remember at 45 first being terrified by the turning of the wheel. I imagined the Universe to be rolling through empty space, creating time, even though there is no such thing as time outside human existence. I cried out to the midnight sky, “Stop it! Stop moving; stop expanding; give me a moment to breathe.” But it didn’t. We are stuck here in the ever-grinding cogs of the universe.

Still, time can fly or drag. Painting makes it fly. Making Instagram clips takes forever. So, maybe Instagram is the answer after all. It makes the wheels appear to turn slowly. Furthermore, it is a decent justification for fancy makeup and new clothes. Then, I’ll paint in the afternoon to speed it all up again. Perhaps, this will give me the illusion of control.

Of course, it’s possible that what with Kurzweil’s wall coming, there is no sense in planning anything and I just need to take it as it comes, making what meaning I can of it and using virtual reality for that trek in Nepal.

Vaccination

January 15, 2021

I got my shot today. It was such a simple, easy fix to a year of misery. I won’t be protected yet for six weeks. I had the Moderna vaccine in the parking lot of the Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital at 11:15. It was an interesting journey. On Thursday, Hospice notified me that all Hospice workers were going to be vaccinated and sent me a link to a reservation porthole. Before the pandemic, many of us sat with people who were dying and had no one. It’s a program called “No One Dies Alone.” We could take some of the emotional burden again.

I felt a burst of wonderment and joy. Wow! How lovely to have that work recognized as important. Also, how lucky I am to benefit from the work of so many selfless people. What a relief it will give my family as I help to care for my grandkids. I don’t want them to ever think they gave me Covid as they start back to school. Jeeezzz. On the very same day, my friend, Daneen, was vaccinated in Seattle as a mental healthcare worker. She has three little kids and she is ecstatic.

All of this relief is, of course, followed by a panic attack the night before the shot. I consider the wisdom of injecting virus DNA into my body. And that’s just the first shot. The second shot is stronger and challenges your system to create antibodies. Lots of people get sick. I didn’t get sick today. My muscles are achy, but I also worked out today, so that could be the issue. I worked for a while this afternoon and then took to my bed, but walked the dog this evening.

I received this manna from heaven at the Goleta Valley Community Hospital parking lot, neatly directed into one of 6 lanes where they grabbed our paperwork (already done). I think you get sidelined if you need paperwork. Next, they sent us forward to the double-check counter where they ask you who you are, etc. again and the shot is then administered. It hurts less than the flu shot. It’s over just-like-that. Whamo. You are in line to be saved. You have to come back in a month, of course; but you have taken the first step toward “how it used to be.”

They motion you to move forward and wait for 15 minutes in front of the vaccination station. A monitor comes by and marks the moment of your vaccination your window with chalk. You can leave in 15 minutes. Later, another monitor comes by and wipes off your window, waving you out of the parking lot. One of the monitors is a doctor. We talk about what a relief it is. I tell him it is the best thing that has happened to me this year, and I do mean the whole year from March 2020 on.

Then, it sets in how weird it is. How can such a simple, easy procedure return us to the world somewhat like we used to know it? Half an hour in a parking lot and you are on the road to recovery from the awful dread that has hung over us for the last 10 months. Waiting for my fifteen minutes to expire, I watch the sun glance off the coastal range north of Santa Barbara. Palms sway in a warm wind. It is 80 in Santa Barbara. We are praying for rain, as usual when January is dry. There is no rainbow, no band, not even a few balloons. It is a regular day, despite the (how many billion dollar?) Miracle of the Parking lot.

Despite all of that rumination, I want you to know that after about an hour when I felt achy and overly warm, I am fine tonight. I rubbed “Arnica” into the vaccination site and took two Tylenol as Daneen directed, and it is the first time that I have felt like writing since Thanksgiving. I tried over and over without success. I realized this week that the reason I have had such a hard time has to do with how I develop my thoughts: in conversation with my friends. Not the Zoom kind or a phone call.

I sit down with a friend and a cup of coffee and talk about what struck me as interesting or funny, or sad. I try to explain my feelings or thoughts or wild ideas. I love brainstorming. I love questions and observations. I love other people’s reactions. One of the most fun questions ever was my friend, Patrice’s sly question: “Why would I want to develop anyway? It sounds like a lot of work.” We talked about it for years. It inspired many conversations.  So, I guess what I want to say most of all is how much I appreciate you peeking in on me now and then. I feel graced by your presence in my life and always so happy to hear from you.

Happy New Year indeed. Don’t turn down the chance to get vaccinated! We owe it to each other.

p.s. It is now the 19th. I have felt quite tired off and on over the past four days as my system starts to crank out those anti-bodies. My arm was sore for two or three days. My ears plugged up a couple of times (one of the symptoms of mild cases) and I have sometimes felt like I was feverish, but it lasted only a few minutes. I have also been achy, a small price to pay.

The Queen of Denial

Queen in royal dress and luxuriant collar

I find that the older I get — and I’m getting pretty old — the more I see the benefits of denial. I don’t know what Freud would make of this, but the first time I began to appreciate denial benefits was when I was diagnosed with cancer nearly seven years ago. For one year we moved back from the Santa Barbara house into the duplex we owned in Seattle, so that I could undergo treatment at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. We really needed to move away — and not only to be close to my preferred treatment center, but also to avoid the grandkids. I love them like crazy, but they truly are kinda germy, and chemo is really hard on your white cells.

In this second-storey apartment we had huge picture windows, the kind where when the trees were bare we had a distant view of Seattle Center and on the Fourth of July we could watch the fireworks without leaving the house. One night, right around midnight, I was standing in front of those second-storey windows when — suddenly — I wanted my mother.

My mother?

You have to understand that my mother was one of the least comforting people on the planet. There were good reasons for that, but no reason I should find myself wanting my mother. Whenever I’d let her see I was in distress, she’d say this sort of thing:

“There’s nothing wrong with you. Snap out of it.”

And you’d snap out of it.

Of course, the problem would still be there.

I’ve since come to think that the ability to repress certain thoughts is a life-saving gift, but probably only since I started having emotions — right around the time I was 40. At that point I was a single mother of two, meanwhile helping take care of my dying father. My ex-boyfriend had tried to commit suicide that year (previous to becoming my ex, be it noted) and I was remodeling a house for re-sale. And amid all that, I had an epiphany:

I realized that when my mother said “Snap out of it,” she really meant “Snap into it.” The it being denial.

And I began to cultivate the habit.

Later, when I finally got the money together for a good therapist, I discovered my emotions. (I felt endlessly irritated by emotions to begin with, but have managed to come to terms with them a bit by now.)

Still, the ability to block thoughts that carry feelings on their backs has stayed with me. Sometimes it just makes very little sense to worry about Something Bad happening to you when there is no way to know how, when, or even if it will happen — or (if it has just happened to you) to worry about the possibility that it will ever happen again.

Denial has its place, especially in the pursuit of “graceful aging.” It even works on pain. You have to acknowledge the pain first, so that you can learn what can (and cannot) be done to alleviate it, but then you move on. The pain is still there, but now your mind is focused elsewhere. It helps. Research shows that, for example, playing video games helps people cope with pain. Hypnotism can be helpful too. It focusses your mind elsewhere.

As I climb past seventy-five, I am reminded of a famous article:

Why I hope to die at 75

I don’t find myself hoping that, but I do know that I hadn’t properly realized how challenging this whole aging thing can be. There are certainly a lot of physical changes, about many of which you feel you probably should consult a doctor. There are lumps and blotches and spots, knobs and pokey places you just did not have before seventy. There are all sorts of weird outcomes of sagging skin and organs (like your epiglottis gets so lazy that you can’t talk when you eat without coughing).  Everything requires a cream or an oil or a lotion. In the morning, you are stiff. In the evening, you are creaky.

Still, on the whole, I feel strong and healthy most of the time. Friends my age seem pretty good too, at the moment anyhow. Eighty looks like a whole new set of challenges, but I don’t know about them personally … yet.

(My friend, Sandy, is eighty.)

(She says it is unimaginable.)

There are some things you can do, or have done. Certain procedures, injections, physical therapies. Knee surgeries seem pretty successful. I love my new hip. Cortisone shots are handy if you can tolerate them. (Please note:  You must not take aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen sodium every day for months. That’s how I got ulcers.) My back surgery worked, but lots of people I know did not get the results that they were all but promised.

It takes six weeks to recover from anything. Twelve to recover from Bad Things. And if there are complications, it can take a year.

(Here is a tip about recovery: As soon as it is humanly possible, get up and walk.)

Denial also comes in handy when the world seems to be falling apart. I have always found housework a decent antidote for anxiety. There are always places in a house you can count on for dirt. The tops of window frames, the baseboards, behind the dresser, or you can just start mindlessly washing windows. Once I was part of a crew of friends fighting a wildfire in Burbank that was threatening one of their houses. The men were using hoses on the roof and cutting back brush, then coming into the kitchen with their dirty boots to help the women carry out the stuff and load it into someone’s car. I spent the entire day mopping the floor, over and over again, between stints of packing.

I need Windex to get through an argument with Larry. You can’t get all that mad when you’re under a sink scrubbing the inside of the cabinet. It focuses your attention elsewhere  — on not whacking your head against the drain pipe, for instance. The thing about cleaning is, it doesn’t take much real concentration. You can find a place between feeling and working, and then just hang out there as long as required. It’s also impossible for the other person to stay really mad at you when your head is under the sink and your rear end is sticking up.

Of course, denial is an unconscious refusal to deal with reality. I’m really talking here about a more conscious refusal. I wasn’t sure exactly what to call it until I saw this month’s AARP article on “Life Lessons from the Queen.” As Elizabeth II observed (according to AARP), “I find that I can often put things out of my mind which are disagreeable.” AARP referred to this as a “purposeful repression,” an ability to dial down negative mind chatter. “The trouble with gloom,” the Queen opines, “is that it feeds upon itself.” This article ends with research showing that the world’s happiest people are over 80.

It used to be that women over 70 were the happiest. Perhaps because we live longer now, the bar has been raised, which is okay so long as I get to make it to 95. I figure after a lifetime of worry (school, career, children, divorces, starting over, and then grandchildren), a minimum of fifteen years as one of the world’s happiest people would be only fair.

There’s no food!

“There’s no food in here!’ says the woman in front of the refrigerator.

“There’s only ingredients!”

Exactly where I am with cooking. Then, there is shopping–getting stuff out of bags, washing it, chopping, grilling, sautéing, seasoning, plating, serving, putting everything away. It all seemed so easy at some point in the far past. Like when we had parties. Or went to the movies. Or hugged our friends. Being unable to make food out of ingredients is just the beginning. There is also the general deterioration of housekeeping.

None of our friends have been allowed in our house for months. So, of course, our house is a mess. For one thing, it is strewn with half-finished projects. I set up a sewing corner where I created one of a kind masks for my family: Nana masks. You should know, I only passed 7th grade home economics by gluing my final project together. Anyway, the kids like paper masks in the summer.

We have a children’s play area in the same space with the sewing station. The gym equipment is next to the sewing machine station on the other side from the extra guitars. My poetry project is one the coffee table next to the itch spray for the dog’s skin. On the couch next to me lie the last three pages of a list of references I am checking for my Handbook Chapter with Oxford. I am filled with loathing just looking at it.There is also a novel and a book I’m reviewing along with the cross-stitch project I started three years ago.

That’s just the living room. The yard is a whole other thing. And then, of course, there are the phone calls. You can’t see anybody, so you have to talk to them on the phone or, if there are a lot of them, on Zoom. Neither Larry nor I are totally with it on our Zoom calendars, a fact which our nephew (who graduated from college in computer science and philosophy) makes abundantly clear when he entreats us to do something or other by poking about in the Zoom menu.

I fear I’m wearing down now. This must be the final stretch, right?

This month, the Governor of the Great State of California, announced an entirely new scheme for understanding who can do what where, when, and with what “modifications.” It is color-coded by county. Santa Barbara, where I live, is purple. I discover this just as I am arriving at the outdoor operation of my hair salon. Everyone is masked, outdoors, spaced (looks like plenty of room to me) apart. I relay the information to Andrea, the operator of this small, woman-owned business.

“What does that mean?” She asks.

“I’ll try to figure it out,” I say.

“Can we go back inside? Purple sounds okay.”

“The governor says that 87% of California is purple.”

It turns out that Purple is also “Tier 4,” which is pictured at the top of the scale, is the worst tier mentioned. Get this! In the new plan, Red is better than Purple. Also, there is Orange, and Yellow which are all better than Red. There is no green and I have deduced that Blue would be even worse than Purple. Who is this guy’s communication avoidance advisor?  I honestly do not think that anyone can understand what the new plans means because, as upside down as it is, when you click through each level, to understand the modifications required, there is so much legalese that you give up immediately.

Apparently, the Governor and his entire team of 100 outstanding leaders on the re-opening team have reached the stage that Larry and I are at. Get obsessed by your list of references. Argue about how to hang the curtains while the house is burning down. In my neighborhood, people are at each other’s throats about the necessity of masks when you are walking your dog. We concentrate on what we think we might control as the opportunity arises.

September is the start of the school year, for heaven’s sake. This is sacred space for me as a single mother. This is the moment that, for so many years, my life became manageable almost barely. This is the time of year when I would meet my new students, when life would begin again for me as a child, when I could escape my family until at least 3pm. Other people’s blood runs high in the spring, mine peaks at the end of October. I once wrote a poem about Halloween in which I argued that it is the only good holiday.

Taking up this epistle two weeks later, I can report that we are creeping into Red—maybe Monday we will move up (although it is pictured as down on the Governor’s chart), from Purple to Red, where, apparently, those schools with good plans for safety can welcome some students back. We got indoor hair salons (with modifications) after we had been in purple for two weeks. You have to stay at each level for a minimum of two weeks.

On the TV, I hear that New York is experiencing ‘cluster outbreaks,” and maybe this is the first evidence of the “Fall Surge.” So maybe we will not get to Red this week, or if we do we will get “rolled back,” because of the surge. I wonder what is worse than purple. Will we be blue or black? Also, Halloween has been cancelled.

It’s August and we have finished everything we can think of to do that we might want to do. We are left with the things we do not want to do, like clean the garage and paint the office. In phase one of the shut-down, when we still all thought we’d be out by the end of May, Larry built raised beds for vegetables and a shack for my orchids, but he clearly doesn’t want to fix the fence. I must have sewn two dozen masks and planted a butterfly garden. I’ve organized my closets and drawers. The carpet has been steam cleaned. I finished the fun part of my chapter for the Oxford Handbook of Adult Development and Wisdom and worked on some old poetry. 

I’m left with figuring out how to embed video on my website and making a few more Instagram videos about various aspects of advanced directives. Also, the garage is a mess. These are things I would be doing Covid or no, but I used to be able to treat myself to dinner out or a new dress when I finished. Now, the restaurants are closed down again and it’s kind of creepy to buy things in a department store where customers are rifling through the racks and sticking their feet in the shoes. Can you get Covid from shoes?

Then, there are the days when I’m not going to get anything done at all, no matter how hard I try and even if Mercury is not in retrograde. I can’t straighten anything out at the bank because the phones are overwhelmed and you can’t go down to the branch and talk to a person. It is very hard to get a date with the DMV to renew your license before it expires, or get hold of the IRS to try and find out where your refund is. You wait in line for someone to answer the phone; when it finally picks up, it’s a message that tells you to go online to resolve your issue, but you are calling in the first place to get help with something you could not figure out on line.

Other days, I just can’t make it all the way out of bed, not for lack of sleep, but for lack of enthusiasm about getting up. There will be more bad news. Things will go wrong; the President will tweet at 5am; the news will dish up some horror story; the radio will remind me to wear a mask and wash my hands as though I never heard about it before. Things I bought at the store every week for the last million years won’t be there anymore—or ever again, like Clorox disinfectant wipes. The stock comes and goes at random from the shelves at Vons. Why are there no pepperoncini?  NPR reports that we are running out of the tin the cans are made of.

I know people everywhere have lost their jobs, or their apartments, or both–people who can’t feed their families, people who have no health insurance. I’m grateful to be who I am, where I am, but that doesn’t stop me from having days when the world is more than I manage: when I am too angry, when I am too sad, when I would run away, if only there was somewhere to go.

If my grandkids don’t return to school in the Fall, I don’t know how my kids will ever make it through Zoom school while they are all working. That means that I may soon be teaching 7th grade math or 3rd grade social studies. It’s not the material that’s the problem. It’s how they do it, especially the math. I can get the answer using methods I learned 50 years ago, but it only makes them cry because it is not the way you’re supposed to do it now.

All of this wishing and wanting and judging is exhausting by itself, without having to wear a mask and rubber gloves to the pharmacy. I used to find ordinary things relaxing. I have always loved grocery shopping, especially  the produce section. I have spent a lot of time in pet stores, often with small humans in tow. I don’t go to the pet store these days. It’s easier and cheaper online, and anyway the pet shop doesn’t show off kittens and puppies anymore. I can’t take my grandkids inside to marvel at ordinary household pets or to beg for goldfish, pretending that their mother would not mind at all. In fact, they’d attest, their mom would say that it was fine with her.

Nothing is more soothing than puppies.

Two weeks and a few days after the 4th of July, our whole family got together. Things were good in California. We celebrated. Our kids were on their way back to work. School would probably open. The hospitals were churning out knee replacements and hernia repairs. I was able to see my new doctor in person. He had a mask on and complained about how difficult it was to manage his work and his home life. It’s possible we are friends now.

Then it all shut down again.

Last week, Larry told me that researchers have documented cognitive decline among people in isolation. These studies were done in “care facilities.” Persons in care facilities are not the only ones. Both Larry and I have trouble remembering what day it is anymore, much less what we are supposed to be doing. We start things and wander off to other things. We argue about who said what to whom when. We even blow past a Zoom call now and then, but I’m not sure this is age-related. Zoom calls can be dull as a post. Children won’t sit still for them.

And so, we soldier on around here, doing our best to stay safe, to appreciate our family and friends, to help out as we are able, and to find hope that all of this will somehow, someway, lead to a better future. There certainly are noticeably more birds and butterflies. Smelly the skunk is back, and so are Dead Guy the possum and Buzz the hummingbird. We didn’t see them last year. They are joined this year by Fatso the lizard and Howie the Western Scrub Jay (and his friends and family). The slower pace seems to suit them just fine.

Of course, they don’t have to walk through the mess in the garage every day.

     March, 2020

I’m not going to watch anymore TV news. Not even PBS.

Newscasters who scream the news, or spend hours trying to pin

our misery on the President, who is losing the battle with his demons.

There is no real news: just new numbers, more deaths, more

                            new cases more

                            new hospitalizations, more

                            patients in ICU. And now,

                           more recovered.          

ER nurses blanch in horror; small businesses have disappear.

                           We sit in a stupor; eat too much.

                           We can’t remember

                           what we did this afternoon, or

                           how long this has been going on.

                          We are safe here inside these walls.

An occasional grandchild invades,

touches doorknobs and nonporous surfaces.

Later, we spray with Clorox Household Cleaner.

We explain to the little ones.

                          We can’t hug you. We can’t

                          touch you. We can’t

                          sit by you. But

                         we wish we could.

Lily is twelve and taller than me.

She touched my face today and grabbed my hand.

                         She’s not supposed to.

                         She forgets. Or

                         feels rebellious.

Me too. I want to touch then, to kiss them, to lie in their arms.

I can wash my hands forever if I can hug them again.

April, 2020

                                          The Plague

I am running out of projects.

I finished my last academic paper—ever. That’s it. The end. Basta.

There will be feedback to accept, references to extract from the welter

of notes made in long-hand on yellow pads with green lines, the way

I have done it all of my life.

Or at least as long as I can remember.

Now…what?

This summer there will be family and beaches. Shops will be open.

Gyms, hair salons, small businesses. Beyond that it’s vague.

                                      There are not enough tests.

                                      There are not enough swabs.

                                     There are not enough reagents.

                                     There are no PPCs, nor N95s.

                                     There are no surgical masks.

On the TV today, Trump says that we are about to be amazed

by this new test that is definitely going to be released soon.

Good. I am totally willing to be amazed.

                                     Amaze me!

I want to hug my grandchildren, put an arm around the guy

down the street who lives alone. I want to laugh over a glass

of wine in a good restaurant with my friends. I want to kiss

people I love and choose cantaloupes by pressing on the rind.

You can’t smell the roses with a mask on.

Please! Amaze me.

May, 2020

We are in the waiting time.

You know. It has been announced. Things are about

to CHANGE, but not right now. The Governor started

out saying weeks, months, maybe years.

                            It was so simple two weeks ago when

we knew that we should stay home, order out, send

our grown children out to shop for us or hire

someone else’s grown children.

We didn’t have to worry about consequences for

other people, 30 million unemployed,

most with no health insurance.

                              It was so simple two weeks ago.

We would stay home forever if that is what it took.

We would stop traveling, stop touching our children,

wear masks everyday for a million years to stop the thing.

But. it turns out:

                               we can’t stop the thing.

                               It will be here for months, maybe.

                               More people will die.

                              More children will feel they caused it.

Now, however, we are in the waiting time. They have told us

they will let us out now. The Governor talks now in terms

days and weeks, not months. He fears rebellion.

The word quarantine derives from Italian for forty.

                               Forty days in the Garden.

                               Forty days in the ark.

                              Forty years in the desert.

The ancients knew that 40 meant the end of the human patience.

No kidding!     

How to Talk to Kids about Coronavirus

based on an article by Pam Rutledge, Ph.D., media specialist.

In the midst of this pandemic, we are all trying to get answers makes us feel safer. This isn’t just true of adults. It’s true for kids, especially in times of crisis and uncertainty and Covid-19 evokes a lot of uncertainty and fear. Kids are dealing with their own social and academic uncertainties and are highly tuned in to their own sources and worries. Kids hear a lot of what adults hear but it’s filtered and translated by young brains. This means kids are easy targets for misinformation and a lot of wrong information can sound believable and terrifying.

How do you talk to your kids about the coronavirus when there are so many things we don’t know?

Here are 10 ideas:

  1. Start with your own anxiety.  Do a quick check-in with yourself to see how you’re feeling. We communicate emotions just like we communicate information. Voice, movement, facial expressions and even being distracted all communicate our state of mind. Try not to transmit your own anxiety.
  2. Before you talk, figure out what is important for kids to know.  What is age appropriate? Remember that they think differently than adults and worry about different things. They often feel they have powers to cause harm or to fix things when there is little they can do one way or the other.
  3. Listen to them. Begin with questions. Find out what they already know. This will give you a clue to what is age appropriate. See if they have the facts straight. This not only tells you what facts they possess but can give you a place to begin explaining the crisis at their developmental level. Correct their misinterpretations and build on what they already know.
  4. Find out what they are afraid of and address those worries.  Fear not only makes people act crazy, it is hard on the immune system. Focus on the precautions your family and the community are doing to stay safe and healthy.
  5. Be honest. Don’t promise they won’t get sick. Promise what you can deliver–that you will do everything in your power to keep them safe and that you will be there for them.
  6. Reassure them. For kids, it’s helpful to let them know that children seem to have very mild symptoms and the important thing is to stop it from spreading to people who are vulnerable.
  7.  Explain why precautions like hand-washing matter.  Tell them how viruses spread through coughing, sneezing or nose-blowing. Give them a silly song to sing that lasts 20 seconds (Google “20 second handwashing songs”). The alphabet song works if you sing loud and slow.
  8. Inspire them with stories of how people are working together, helping each other out.
  9. Keep the lines of communication open.  The news is changing every day – be open to a continued conversation, especially when things affect them directly, like school closures and activity cancellations.
  10.  Keep things as normal as possible.  Don’t give up on mealtime or getting dressed in the morning because their school is closed. Many will have a chance to experience some form of distance learning “Classroom to Cloud” with Google classroom, Zoom or other tools. Make it an adventure.

You may need to address your own anxieties as well. Remind yourself that you are doing what you can to avoid getting sick. You are not alone. Reach out to friends and family that seem to be weathering the storm well. Eat what’s good for you; allow enough time for sleep; meditate or pray; sing, dance, take walks. If you don’t take care of your own mental health, it can make harder for the kids. They take their cues from you.

Look for uplifting and inspiring programs and performances on TV and the web. Take a break from the 24/7 news rooms. Feed your own sense of well-being. Caring for yourself will keep your own immune system strong. As my Yoga teacher used to remind us, “You must take care of others from the energy that flows over the rim of your cup—not the dregs at the bottom.”

To summarize: Honest talk, reassurance, good listening, keeping routines and handling your own anxieties will make all the difference for your kids.


Sheltering in place


I was about to send you a piece I’d written about both the pleasant surprises and unavoidable miseries of academic writing at my age, but this seems far away at the moment as I scheme about how to get my son to understand my grocery list.

Five days ago, the Governor sent us an order to shelter in place. My children had been on me for days to stay home, but there were certain things I needed to do. And I am having trouble taking orders from my children, but I did give in. Now its Larry and me and the dog. The dog, at least, is immune.

I am relatively calm about it although I had decided to peel back on the anxiety meds in February as things looked so relaxed and prosperous for us this year and then….

Kapow comic speech bubble image with hi-res rendered artwork that could be used for any graphic design.

Denial, shock, numbness. Are you kidding me???? This is an overreaction. We have it under control in Santa Barbara—only 1 case so far. It is just out there on cruise ships. Control. Contain. Wash your hands, in fact, scrub them had, it tears the corona of the COV-19. On day, my hands bled. I wonder how people with ODC are managing!

I have actually become something of a germaphobe now—she who shared her food with grandchildren; she who prided herself on allowing certain benign floor bacteria to be consumed on crackers within 10 seconds of landing. I wash my hands ten times a day even when I don’t go out. I sing the alphabet song once. Happy birthday is a terrible son.

I clean thing with alcohol spray or Clorox, depending. I use hotter setting in the washing machine and dryer. I have consider making masks out of bandanas for my grandkids, but now my sister, who really knows how to sew, is doing it. Of course, I also worry because my son has been laid off, my hairdresser was forced to close her shop, my nail tech too. How will they get along for a month without pay? We try to patronize the local restaurants by ordering take out a couple of times a week, but otherwise we are cooking at home three meals a day. Just when I had decided that cooking for 50 years was enough.

Worst of all, I have to sit on my rebellious streak. I want to go out. I want to go to the store and read labels. I don’t need anybody to thell there is something I can not do because of my gender or my age or my poor spatial abilities. I’m smart and heathy. I will wear a mask and gloves. I will get a hazmat suit if I have to…I AM STRONG. I AM INVINCIBLE. I AM WOMAN.AN.AN.AN……

There is no way to know what is going to happen. Stay present. Stay calm. There is a lot of stuff that needs to be done around the house. I have a chapter to write, poems to edit, friends to call, a website to build, a blog to do. I have a new Parker Roller Ball pen as a gift from Fielding for my birthday. I should use it. So, I did to write you this.

This morning, Larry and I danced around the living room for twenty minutes and did some stretching. We can do this. ¡Se Puede! As we say in California where the hospitals are about to be overrun. ¡SePuede!

If it isn’t happening in the next 30 seconds, don’t worry about it.

Thanksgiving 2019

This season we have lots of reason to be grateful at our house. Emmy’s sneaky-sweet little smile has returned along with her love of the sleepy time cuddle. She still melts down, but at least there is sun again after the storm. She is doing well in school—reading at the 5th grade level in the 2nd grade. Lily has started middle school where she likes her math teacher and has taken up the viola. She made the honor roll, and best of all, she has found a clothing store she likes. She grew past me this year, shooting up from her long legs and out through her size ten and half shoes. I am so grateful that they are doing well and getting what they need. I am so lucky to be with them every Tuesday and every other Saturday.

Brett and Manu are struggling their way through the hard part—you know, where you have two little kids and you are both working too hard and sleeping too little but they look fabulous and the kids are happy. Kaiya and Lukas are 5 and 3 respectively, that age where you live from Halloween to Christmas in a state of nervous ecstasy. I take the after school on Thursdays.

Banjo is also doing well and Larry is fine. Banjo has earned the right to wear a vest that says “Love on a Leash” and visit hospice patients. Larry has climbed Manchu Pichu and camped out in an Amazon jungle with tarantulas the size of a toaster oven: living the dream.

As for me, I am working hard to slow down. I have always been in a hurry; but when I hurry, I make mistakes. Mistakes cost you more when you are old because everything takes longer. So, it takes you longer to make the mistake in the first place, and then it takes you longer to straighten it out. Furthermore, if it is a physical mistake, like when you don’t look where you are going and fall down, it will take you one heck of a lot longer to get better. Therefore, slowing down at this age is actually a form of speeding up.

The most inspiring thing I saw or did this year was attend a presentation about compassion from Roshi Joan Halifax

She believes compassion requires the aspiration to end suffering and the action required to follow it up. What was enlightening to me was the idea that, while compassion springs from empathy, empathy requires regulation. If empathy is unregulated, we can get sick from the suffering of others. Empathy can overwhelm and immobilize us. She told this story about serving in a remote area of Nepal. An older man came running into the clinic with a child in his arms who had burns over more than half of her body. Roshi Joan said she felt those burns in her own body and thought she was going to faint. She wanted to help, not faint, so she began to focus on the ground beneath her feet, to feel the ground with her feet, to realize that she was in her own body, that should was okay. That tiny practice allowed her to take action. She suggested that compassion relies on our ability to control our own attention, to be present to the suffering without owning it.

For some reason, I have found that story made it easier to get through the day, the news, this difficult year. I just drop into my feet, feel the ground and take the next step. Half way through our second year since Don died, things are smoother, a little easier. I am grateful for all the help we gotten from so many people at every turn. Writing about it all has certainly helped me and that is helping me help other people, which is very cool. I hope that this moment finds you all well and reaping a fine harvest this fall.

p.s

I have a new piece on the web, too. It’s about advanced directives and I know that if you are over 25, you need to think about this. Do it for your family and friends. Don’t just sign the papers, have the conversation. You can check it out at https://dyingwithwisdom.com/advanced-directives/

Retirement Blues

young cat at home

Almost everyone agrees that, once you retire, there are so many things to do that you’ll be busier than ever. I don’t know if this is because people take on too many things, or if it is just that everything takes a person longer, but I sure have been busy. I am doing a lot, for sure: volunteering at Hospice, keeping up a website, editing a new international handbook on adult development, taking care of my grandchildren 2 or 3 days a week, remodeling a rental property we bought this year. But it’s not more than I have ever done.

The year I was 40, I took care of my dad while he was dying as I tried to help a boyfriend who had tried to commit suicide. I was a single mom; my ex-husband filed for bankruptcy and stopped making child support payments, so I took a second job as a real estate agent and lived in a home that I was remodeling and so I could flip it. I also started working for Fielding part-time—that makes three jobs. I remember stressing about money, but not about doing too much. I think I was writing a book on adolescence as well.

Now, I need a nap at 4 or 5 in the afternoon. If I rush, I make mistakes and have accidents. I had two fender benders this summer, running into things in parking lots when I was in a hurry racing from Home Depot to the tile store and the plumbing supply. I forget appointments and lose my stuff. I lost my wallet twice last week—retrieving it both times, but only adding to the worry that I am “losing it,” in a more general sense. And, of course, once the mind identifies a downward trend, the idea that it will only get worse arises.

My body is changing. It aches and creaks and requires exercise, rubbing down, greasing up, exfoliating and soaking. This is all just normal aging, arthritis and bursitis. I feel lucky because some of my friends have cancer, Alzheimer’s, various neuropathies and heart failure. I try to provide emotional support and dinner.

The paperwork is ridiculous, from filling out forms on the internet (so I don’t have to shop) and answering questions my insurance company finds the need to ask every six months, to sorting through piles of mail to decide which charity is worthy or which magazine to renew and whether I have already paid to renew it.

When I think about the fact that I may live another 20 or 25 years, it seems exhausting. Maybe that is how, ultimately, people die in a modern world—exhaustion. Exhausted by the news, by the need to repair the past and work toward a decent future. Exhausted by the errands, the driving, the crashing of electronic devices, the proliferation of knick knacks, the need to conserve water and eliminate waste. Don’t forget, plastic is forever.

This month, I vow to slow down, to say no, to take walks with the dog and listen to music, to dance every day. We’ll see how long that lasts with the holidays coming along. Where did the year go? It’s October! Garden spiders and pumpkin patches are everywhere. The “season” is in full swing: fundraisers, new plays and movies, invitations to dinner, requests for time and money.

I remember once seeing the universe as a giant wheel, looking something like the death star, relentlessly pushing time forward. Nothing you can do to stop it or rewind it or even slow it down a microsecond. I know there is supposed to be no time in outer space.  They say there are multiple worlds and even universes (universi?) out there too.  Here on earth, however, there is only one world and time marches on with or without you.

So, here is a poem I use to remind myself that feeling overwhelmed is nothing new. I wrote it nearly 30 years ago:

                                                                                            Thursday

                                                Mammogram. Bad food for lunch. My stomach aches,

                                               Magic Johnson is HIV positive. It’s been a lousy day.

                                               My right ear rang for hours. I ran a temperature.

                                               Hot flash maybe, or anxiety attach.

                                               Who knows anymore?

                                               The morning paper is enough to

                                               ruin the entire day, not to mention television

                                               or the first day of a four day weekend boogie

                                               for my adolescent daughter in her run down

                                               goes-anyhow, uses-a ton-of-gasoline car.

                                               Furthermore, I have to work on Saturday,

                                               my neck aches, my feet are cold and, on the radio

                                              Dr. Jane Jensen, the KIRO vet, says you ought

to brush your cat’s teeth with a Q-Tip, assuming

                                              you have a cat, which I don’t, thank God because

                                              if I had to brush my cat’s teeth, I don’t think

                                              I could what with everything else that’s going on.

 

 

 

 

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