It has now been 105 days since the last “normal” day, as I count it (Friday the 13th of March, aka my last in-person rehearsal). Some days, I feel like we’ve sort of settled in. We’re finding our way through this. I’m still sad, angry, and frustrated, mostly with the Trump administration’s anemic response. But I guess we’re all getting used to it.
Here’s sort of a round-up of what’s been going on.
Tragedies—local and national
Everything right now is in the context of tragic events, like a shadow over an already difficult time. I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around the fact that over 126,000 Americans have died from this disease that nobody had heard of six months ago. I also feel, as many Twitter wits have said, uncomfortably reminded of group projects in school. Everyone needs to do their part, or we all fail. When I go to the grocery store and see so many people not wearing masks, or wearing them incorrectly, I just want to scream. The only way this will end is if people start taking it seriously, and that is clearly not happening. I can’t believe that a virus has been so politicized. The virus doesn’t know or care who you vote for. It just wants to infect you.
We’ve also, of course, had a number of conversations with the kids about the protests and incidents of police violence against people of color. They have had a lot of questions, understandably. Unfortunately, many of those questions don’t really have answers. Even though these conversations are upsetting for all of us, we have to keep having them. I will not have my children growing up to be people who say things like, “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, the police will leave you alone.”
We also had a tragedy just here on our little road three weeks ago. My neighbor was backing up a tractor and ran over his four-year-old son. The little boy was killed. I was shocked to see our road pop up on a Facebook group that reports from the local police scanner. We only have six houses on the whole road. While we’re on good terms with all the neighbors, we don’t know them very well. This family is relatively new here, having bought the farm only a year ago. They’re Old Order, which means that they have a lot of community support—and also means that they have interacted with us very little, as that community tends to be quite insular. When I told Silas about the accident, the first thing he said was, “I never even got to be friends with him!” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the child’s parents probably wouldn’t have ever let him come over to play. The kids and I went to the house for the visitation and to offer our condolences, but I’m not sure what else we can or should do. We don’t know them well, but we’re right here and we do care. Losing a child is bad enough, but being the cause of his death? It’s a parent’s nightmare, and my heart is breaking for that family.
At the beginning of this time in isolation, I kept saying that Silas, being the most extroverted of all of us, was having the hardest time. He seems to have found ways to manage his need for socialization a bit better, though. He has organized his friends to play D&D online regularly, and they text a bunch in between sessions. I’m proud of them for figuring this out with basically zero adult input. He’s still quite demanding on the rest of us for attention and entertainment, but it’s getting better. I worry that this time in isolation has made him a little agoraphobic; on the few occasions we’ve gone anywhere, he’s asked repeatedly when it will be time to go back home. I wonder if that’s normal, if lots of kids are experiencing this.
I’m also super impressed with a lot of personal development he’s experienced in this bit of time. We always say that Petra is our slow-and-steady kid, making gradual progress all the time, where Silas is more leaps-and-plateaus. He’s just hit a big leap. He finally learned to ride his bike (mostly)! I was so ticked about how it happened, though. After WEEKS of my going out there with him every day to run alongside, holding this heavy kid and his heavy bike, I asked JC to do it JUST ONCE. And wouldn’t you know, that ONE TIME that JC was with him, he actually rode by himself for a good 20 years. Jerk.
He’s also doing better at a bunch of other skills. His handwriting has very suddenly improved, he’s typing correctly, and he’s able to cook a few simple things, although he still freaks out if anything goes a little bit wrong in the kitchen.
For a few weeks, he was super irritated and having a hard time sleeping. I thought it was just because of the stress that we are all under, but then I started adding up the amount of time he was spending using the computer. We regulate his screen time pretty tightly, but I wasn’t counting video calls against that. He’s an extrovert and this was his one social outlet. But then I did the math and realized that he had hours of calls in a given day. One day (an extreme example), he had a 30-minute call with my mom, a 90-minute D&D session, and a 3-hour call with his friend Max. Plus his regular half-hour of PS4, half-hour of TV, and half-hour of using the computer for writing. I sat down with him and explained that I thought that he was spending too much time staring at screens. I speculated that this might be related to his crankiness and trouble sleeping. So we agreed that two hours, maximum, would be a reasonable amount of time. I got 24 marbles and two jars. For a few days, each morning we sat down with all the marbles and used them to plan out his screen time for the day. Now he gets up and does that himself. He’s happily managing the whole process, moving the marbles from jar to jar. He’s not cheating. He had to tell Max that epic calls are no longer an option, but with a little planning, he’ll happily set aside the marbles to talk with him—on a day when D&D isn’t happening. He asked my mom to switch from daily calls to every other day. After a few days, he did feel better. He thanked me for helping him solve this problem.
Let me say that again. My nine-year-old thanked me for limiting his screen time. I feel like a bad parent for letting it get bad enough that even he recognized that it was a problem…but if I hadn’t done that, I don’t think he would have as much buy-in for solving it.
Silas has become a lot more confident recently, which is also a big development. I remember a while back, maybe a year or more ago, I found him sobbing in his room. When I asked him why, he said, “Because I’m not anything!” I finally got him to explain that he was upset because Petra was a paleontologist (“She’s found real fossils and everything!”) but he wasn’t anything. I tried to talk to him about how everyone is on their own path, and how he is a lot of things—a good friend, a story teller, an adventurer. I was surprised and pleased, though, to find this in his recent chats with my mom (shared with his permission):
One major contributor to Silas’ improved mental health is that we’ve decided, with the other “Kutelope parents” that occasional, outdoor playdates are okay. None of the children have been literally anywhere in three months. The adults have all only done minimal grocery store trips. All of us have been working from home. The odds that any of us have the virus and don’t know it are not high, and for the kids, it’s basically zero.
They were so joyful to be all together, playing and talking. Petra and Arthur played at being Water Benders in the river. Lillian and Silas went on a long scouting trip together. Elisabeth set up a ceremonial camp, where the youngest Kutelopes all were promoted to the next rank.
The kids have been doing a great job of not being all on top of each other. They might not always be a strict six feet apart, but they are doing better than I thought they would be able to.
I don’t know if I’ve ever gone three months without seeing these kids, in their entire lives. We haven’t seen each other weekly, as we used to do, since Arthur started school, but we still would get together regularly, and more than that, we’d stop by to drop things off or run into each other in town. We don’t run into anybody any more. I just kept staring at them, unable to believe how grown up they all are, so suddenly.
Petra is having a bit of a rougher time.
She doesn’t have the same need for socialization that Silas does. Kind of the opposite. She’s feeling a lot of frustration with him always around, always demanding her attention. We’ve been working on helping him learn to give her space, but it is…not easy.
Silas is starting to learn that if he leaves her alone, she’s more likely to come offer to play with him. When she’s done, though, she is DONE. Silas sometimes has trouble respecting that.
We’ve also been working with Petra to manage her feelings when she can’t handle him anymore. She can be really cruel to him, and that’s not acceptable. On the plus side, I know she’ll grow up to be the kind of person who doesn’t get herself into trouble by being polite when she’s uncomfortable. Parenting is a long game.
Petra’s making some real strides academically, maybe out of boredom? She’s regularly reading whole novels (She was beyond thrilled when Iris offered her an outgrown collection of Erin Hunter books). Her math skills are excellent; she’s easily doing fourth- or fifth-grade work, even though I think she’s technically just finished first grade (fall birthday, just after the cut-off). Her handwriting is still terrible, and she doesn’t like to practice it, but I’ve started folding it into writing “lab reports” for her science experiments, and she’ll tolerate that.
We’ve been doing a number of house and garden projects, since we can’t go much of anywhere. Petra has been a big help with those. I cleared out our shed, a project that has been “on the list” for literally years, and she helped me haul a bunch of trash out of there. When I cleared the shed, I discovered materials for a bunch of projects I meant to get around to and…didn’t. So now we’re getting ready to paint some trim, maybe build a new chicken coop, repaint some yard furniture, build a platform for the zip line, etc. All without having to go to the hardware store.
I finally hired a friend who is a house painter to help me finish painting the bits of house that I couldn’t reach. I still have a little trim to do, but we’re nearly done! My house is green now, and I love it.
Natalie gave me a bunch of beautiful macrame plant hangers for Christmas. Plant nurseries are abundant in my area, and are one of the few places we can go that feel pretty safe for shopping. So I bought some plants and Petra helped me pot them. Some of the ones I got wouldn’t tolerate the shade, and our house is very shady, so I ultimately had to plant them in a sunnier spot and replace them in the hangers with other options. Most of the nurseries around here don’t have many shade-tolerant plants; I asked about this at one nursery, and they told me that those are harder to grow because you have to set up shade cloths. It’s annoying, because I want to shop locally, but for shade-tolerant plants, which is most of what we need, I might not be able to?
The geranium my mom gave me is doing the best of all of these. The bougainvillea and nasturtiums are healthy but not flowering, and I had to move the lanky…I forget what they are to a sunny spot by the pond.
I also had a bit of a Pinterest fail. When we were cleaning out my granny’s house, I found this canvas shoe organizer. The internet told me I could use it to make a hanging garden. It was pretty while it lasted, but I had to move most of the plants to sunny spots in the ground before too long. I love living in the shade, but I need to get better at picking plants for it.
We do have some good flowers around in the gardens that have been long established. Petra was excited to find the flower of a tulip poplar.
We have an area over by where we park the cars that has always been just ugly grass. When I cleaned out the shed, I found a lot of cardboard. So I used that and a bunch of compost and straw to make “lasagna beds.” I ordered a wildflower mix and Petra helped me scatter the seeds all over that area. They’ve sprouted, so…fingers crossed! Petra also made a stone path through it, all by herself.
One lucky thing in this lockdown: We had one of the best foster kittens we’ve ever had. Pandemonium was cuddly, fierce, beautiful, and sweet. She got along well with Lyra and Hairy, and was very healthy. We were happy that she ended up finding her “fur-ever home” with people I’ve known for a long time. I’m sure we’ll get regular updates.
Around the time Pandemonium was getting ready to move out, we found two kittens in the chicken coop. Their mom is a stray we’ve seen around, a tortoiseshell whom we called “Tortilla.” We named the kittens “Taco” and “Burrito.” They’re now official Cat’s Cradle kittens, and adoptable! Taco broke his leg at some point before we found him, but he’s healing really well. They are very sweet kitties.
Hairy and Lyra have been getting along better, and Hairy has been more adventurous than ever.
Lyra was having some health problems (she’s very elderly), but she seems to be doing better now. We know we don’t have much longer with her, but she seems comfortable and happy. I think the cats like having everyone home all the time.
Something about this strange time is making us… strange. We’re sort of desperate for something to break up the days and give a rhythm to our weeks, a sense that we’re accomplishing something (anything!). But at the same time, we’re having trouble mustering the energy for anything that has to be done at a specific time. We barely acknowledged Mother’s Day or Father’s Day (not that we usually do a TON, but we’ll encourage the kids to make cards or a small gift or SOMETHING). I did a lackluster job on the Easter baskets (although I was proud of the Easter clothes I got them—for Silas, a t-shirt that says, “My Patronus is a Sloth,” and for Petra, a tank dress with an image of Freya driving her chariot pulled by cats). But then, we’re doing other things that don’t have such a specific “you have to do it on this day” thing going on. For PRIDE, we watched The Wizard of Oz (rainbows!) and had several long talks about gender identity, sexuality, and historic oppression so that was fun.
In an effort to give our weeks some rhythm, we’ve had “Weird Wednesdays” when the kids don’t have to do normal chores or school work, but do have to help with other, unusual goals, like “make muffins” or “break down boxes for recycling.” To support local restaurants and give ourselves a break from our own cooking, we are getting takeout on Saturday evenings. We’re also doing one night of “desert for dinner.” When we started it, we thought that this lockdown would be like…six weeks? Joke’s on us. It’s “a thing” now.
I’m also finding myself more susceptible to random funny ideas. I guess because…what else are we going to do? When everyone was recreating museum pictures, Katherine challenged us to do this one.
We….did our best.
Another time, I was trying to think of what to make or buy for my friend Kate’s 40th birthday. A mutual friend shared this meme, and somehow, cross-stitching it with the names of her friends as they had tagged themselves seemed like the obvious thing to do.
But nobody identified with “The Quack PhD,” so I replaced him with “My Lord of Duckingham,” which is a joke from our production of Richard III. Kate was kind enough to video call me when she opened it, so I could see her bewildered, laughing face.
We’ve been trying to get out of the house as often as we can, although there’s a limit to where we can go. Several weeks ago, a friend from church invited us to come feed her massive fish and splash in her brook. We couldn’t go into the house, obviously, and we do have a river at home—but we loved just getting out and exploring a different body of water.
We’ve been seeing my mom and Gary for occasional, socially-distanced outings. I’m glad they live close enough that we can get together. We’re missing the other grandparents though. We’re going to spend some time with JC’s parents in a few weeks, and are hoping to connect with my dad soon. It’s hard on everyone, not seeing each other. But we understand it’s how we’re going to keep everyone safe. This time is like the song about the bear hunt: We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it. Oh no, We have to go through it!