Saturday, October 10, 2020

There's your moment

Lockdown is practically a distant memory now.  We have fallen back into the rhythms of school and work and seeing each other briefly, grumpily in the mornings. Hectically, a bit less stressed in the evenings.  But homework and bath time and egging both kids to do what they need to can turn that evening quality time into a quagmire.  

Then there is usually one moment (if I am lucky more than one!) where I pause on purpose or in spite of myself and say, this is the good part of my day.  I try to find that moment and hold onto it, even if I have to turn back to the computer for lesson prep or some other admin task once the kids are in bed.  Even if I have left pots and pans in the sink (every day!) and must just avoid eye contact with that area of the kitchen as I dash in for a yogurt after dinner.  I try to keep that takeaway moment with me even into the next day, when I am back at work longing for the next reunion with the kids and family time.

It becomes that little nugget that keeps me going.  

Sometimes it is a very short moment.  Sometimes it is a photo that I can look back on during the workaday week and remember.

Sometimes it is a moment I am not even participating in fully but just watching between my children or my husband and one of the kids.

Here are some examples:

When my oldest reads my youngest a bedtime story and the put their heads so close together.

When my youngest comes into my lap first thing in the morning and takes a strand of my hair.

When my daughter says something so very American that makes me realize, hey, I have done a decent job at making her bilingual!

When, miracle of miracles, there is a moment of silence at dinner because everyone thinks my simmered pork is tasty.

When I drop my pre-schooler off at school early and he sees the moon in the sky and points it out excitedly.

When a student tells me they enjoyed our lesson.

When a friend sends me a joke or silly GIF on my photo and we both think it is just so funny!

When my US family and I go off on some private joke or crazy idea that makes me smile at my screen.

When the cat comes right smack on the middle of my lap and my fleece blanket when I have settled down on the couch. 

When my husband and I talk about new ideas for the garden  (and we actually agree!). 

When said husband comes into the living room with ice cream cones for us both. 

When I catch the sky looking particularly lovely. 

And I often say in my head, there's your moment.  And it might not keep all the stress and anxiety at bay.  It may not stay with me eternally but if I string all those moments together, it makes for a pretty good life. Perhaps we won't remember all the years that pass, but it's those little moments that will sparkle and glimmer back at us when we are older.  

What are your moments? How do you "keep" them? 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Get away

The suitcases have been put away.  The postcards we bought for ourselves adorn the fridge.  Our walking sticks, picked up in the forests, are still waiting in a corner of our foyer, a little reminder of where we were. 

Last month we were lucky enough to get away for two weeks to the mountains, in Savoie in the Alps.  I say lucky because in a year when covid has smashed everyone's travel plans or made some reluctant to travel at all, we do feel fortunate to have had a real vacation. It wasn't the one we planned last spring when we had hoped to go to the US. But there was that pesky virus...

So we set out by car to the mountains.  The road trip sensation crept in quickly as we picnicked on our fleece blanket at a rest area. The kids watched a dvd in the backseat.  Alex kept taking off his arm straps on his car seat forcing us to stop the car and speak sternly to him. And then the kids squabbled, or rather my tween got annoyed with her toddler bro. And that too is part of road trips.

I found it hard the first few days  to cut myself off from work and I'm not sure I ever truly did. But I made an effort not to check the emails I was on copy on immediately or not at all if they didn't seem urgent. I realized once again that I have a hard time focusing on the moment and not letting worries about the next thing bother me.  I feel anxious about bus schedules, meeting times with the airbnb owner and finding our way and those are things it's hard to shed even on holiday. 

Despite that, just the fact of being elsewhere is important to me. Every since I was a young teen, I have appreciated the feeling of changing place, seeing the world from a different perspective.  When we would hit the road to go to Texas to visit my grandma and aunt, sometimes I would keep a travel journal. I would look at the wooden-paneled houses we drove past on a sunny day and imagine what the inhabitants were doing.  Their lives seemed happier, sunnier, just because I was on vacation. 

Even visiting a gas station in a new city and checking out the different sodas and candy bars can be fun.  In French they have a good word for it: dépaysant.  But it is hard to translate accurately: exotic, disorienting, don't seem right. The best translation I have seen is the idea of a change of scenery. It's amazing to me to see how, each time, a change of place can generate a change in your mind.

So in this year of limited travel, a change of scene was sorely needed. When I wasn't worrying about this that or the other, I truly enjoyed the landscapes and prairies of wildflowers.  We walked more than we usually do so and doing that with a toddler in a backpack carrier or pushing him uphill or down steep paths in a stroller was rather physical (the husband helped on this, too, of course).  So I may have had a nice mental break but physically I felt tired after this trip and am still catching up on sleep!

And as the wanderlust never truly leaves me, I am already thinking of daytrips and bigger trips in our future!  If 2020 has taught us one thing it's that our health is so valuable and we never know what life has in store for us.  So travel when and if you can and no matter what try and enjoy each day!

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Why I love Young Sheldon (and you should, too!)

I have a confession to make.  It might make some of you gasp or un-friend me on Facebook.  I have never been a big fan of (hiding head in shame...) The Big Bang Theory.  I know!  You can't believe it.  The concept is one I should dig, being something of a nerd myself.  But I could never get past the canned laughter and some of the running jokes have run their course for me.  (Feel free to argue with me in the comments!).  Of all the characters on that show, Sheldon is probably my favorite though.

But Young Sheldon is a whole different universe and one my family and I gladly dip into each week.  They have smartly ditched the canned laughter and traded university and apartment for a ranch-style house in East Texas.  The show has planted us firmly in the late 80s when Sheldon, just ten, has skipped enough grades to start high school.

There are just so many things to love about this show, so I'll make a list:

1. Each episode is well-written and sometimes downright poignant.  They pack a lot into their 22ish minutes without superfluous moments.  The episode where the mom is pregnant (SPOILER ALERT....) and then she miscarries, doesn't go into the maudlin but captures the pain of the parents with respect and tenderness. There is humor without being slapstick (what I don't like so much in their parent series, The Big Bang Theory).  They don't bang you over the head with their message.  It's kid-friendly too even if they touch on mature subjects sometimes.

2. It's a trip down the 80s nostalgia lane.  If you were a child of the 80s you will find at least one cultural reference you know.  The daughter Missy is into Cabbage Patch Dolls and Cyndi Lauper.  They talk about Alf and Carl Sagan.  The episode where the dad couldn't figure out how to turn on the washer (which is practically the same 80s type my mom still has!) just tickled me to death ("It's a button you PULL!").  And frankly it's refreshing to go back into a world where cell phones and even cordless phones didn't exist. 

3. The characters are flawed but loveable. It took me a while to warm up to the older son's character on the show but as the series goes on I start to understand him more- the kid who isn't really made for school but loves mechanics and girls.  The dad could literally pass for any middle-aged good ole boy but he is deeper than that and loves and supports his family fiercely.

The mom is golden with her soft Texas accent and her eternal struggle to do good for her family and be a good Baptist (she made a deal with God when her daughter almost died at birth).  Despite her 80s hairstyle and wardrobe she could easily be a modern mom, juggling work and home. 

Sheldon and his sister Missy are spitfires in totally different ways.  The star of the show, Sheldon, is smarter than his teachers but often clueless about everyday life.  Missy is Southern sassy and doesn't let her twin brother's attention-hogging intelligence get to her.

And then there is Mee-Maw, probably our favorite (because Juliette loves this show, too!).  Annie Potts is perfect as the I-don't-give-a-damn young widowed grandma.  She lives across the street from Sheldon's family and is the kind of grandmother who spoils the kids silly and pops open a beer and goes bowling with her buddies.  My great-grandmother was also known as Mee-Maw. 

5. But what I think I love the most is that it takes place in the South.  I have never had a strong Southern accent but when I watch this show, it's like mine starts coming back with a vengeance!  I don't know if all the actors are indeed Southern but they do a damn fine job with their accents.  I have family in Eastern/Middle Texas so I know this area.  One evening Juliette wanted to pretend we were Sheldon't family at dinner and she was amazed at how much I could channel his mom's accent! Well, I am from the South, I told her proudly!

So if you haven't checked out this gem of a sitcom, what are you waiting for?  It's funny, well-scripted and an ode to the south that for once doesn't paint us as hicks and rednecks but just people who have an accent (and love football). 

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The one word that means so much

I was talking with a couple my husband knows who both worked non-stop in their large supermarket during the lockdown period.  The wife is a cashier and had to wear gloves and a mask and visor, sitting behind her plexiglas shield.  I asked her if it was hard facing the virus (potentially) and working while others stayed at home.  She replied right away.  "No.  Because I had a reason to get up every day."

I almost took it as a rebuke but knew she didn't mean it that way.  Instead I agreed sincerely, because I was lucky to have realized quite quickly during this lockdown what I needed to get out of bed every morning.  One word that can change everything in your day.  In your life.  Motivation.

When you are motivated, or more precisely, when you have a goal each day, waking up is the first step on your fabulous journey.  It can be a goal in your house like organizing that problem corner in the living room or cleaning the windows, but what worked best for me were creative goals.

After a week or so of sleeping late-ish (and when I had my small bout with the virus I did rest more), I started, wait for it... setting my alarm!  I made myself get up at least by 8 and more often 7:30 before the kids were up.  (Ok, granted, that is not super early by some people's standards!) 

At first it was out of necessity.  The intranet site for downloading homework for my daughter was saturated at other times of the day.  So I connected early and printed out her homework. But after that I kept the habit and used that time to do something I wanted to do or at least something creative.

I started making quizzes for my company's Facebook page to hopefully help attract customers in these slow times.  I wrote a blog post.  I edited a few videos on my iPhone for the library or friends.  I started my sillier than silly Glee parody videos.

And now I vary the activities.  Some days I water the plants before it gets too hot or I garden or weed in the front yard.  Or I watch one of my shows on Netflix that the kids don't like as much (Brooklyn 9-9) or that I shouldn't watch with them around (Outlander).

At other parts of the day we try to keep busy, too, while still allowing some chill time!  The kids and I planted climbing flower seeds and beans around our new bamboo tee-pee.  We planted seeds in toilet paper roll containers (Five Minute Crafts that Juliette watched!) to get them started before transplanting.  Juliette made a killer brownie recipe we had seen on TV.

Some days I may try a new recipe myself or make homemade hamburger buns for dinner.  I don't always do each of these things every day.  And if I get my little one to nap, I may nap too.  I help my big girl with her homework.  I try to read some myself when time allows.  But I certainly can't say I have been bored during lockdown and now post-lockdown.

I don't have time between household tasks, trying to do something creative, occasional recipes, gardening, constant toddler surveillance and de facto tutor to my middle schooler.  And honestly despite not being able to get out as much (especially during official lockdown), I have to say I have enjoyed this opportunity to explore hobbies I didn't have much time for before.  Most days I wake up pumped to get started on a new project or just get the house more liveable (endless, fruitless task, but I persist!).

Not every day is perfect and productive.  But I am happy to be drinking my first cup of café au lait and listen to the birds as I type on my computer this morning.  And that's a start!

Tell me what motivates you these days! What are the tasks you still don't want to do?!

Saturday, May 9, 2020

When all this is over

"When all this is over" is a phrase I have heard myself saying these past six weeks of lockdown.  I say it to my daughter when she says she needs more art supplies from our favorite Dollar Tree equivalent store called Action.  I say it when I complain about the peeling paint on my garden table set and that I'd like a new set.  I say it about inviting the new neighbors or old friends for a barbecue.  I say it to my father-in-law about going to the coolest zoo ever (in my opinion) in Belgium, Pari Daiza, later this summer.  

Sometimes I say it in a dreamy way.  When all this is over we'll be able to go to the supermarket and take our time and not worry about wiping down our carts (ok, that probably won't be for a year at least- we'll still be wiping down carts for months to come!).  Or, when all this is over I will invite my friends for tea again.  

At other times I am almost apprehensive about getting back to my regular life.  When all this is truly over I will be back to a fairly intense job and travelling on the road during the day plus all the household and mothering duties.  Do I even remember how to manage it all?

I won't lie to you that when I learned the news in mid-March that school was suspended and daycares were closed, I was a little pumped.  Parents like me who had no alternatives could stay home and receive a stipend from the government, That later got transformed into furlough pay when my company closed temporarily.

This down-time would be a little respite from waking at six on some days, making sure my 11-year old was up by 6:50 and operational for when her schoolmate came by at 7:45 for their walk to school. Some days, depending on my schedule, I dropped Alex off at daycare at 7:30.  Then I drove around all over the place for my English classes, sometimes having a puny lunch in my car or just an apple, then picked Alex up at 4:45 on a good day or 6:20 on a long day.  Going to sleep just to start over again the next day.

When I woke on weekday mornings, I longed immediately for the weekend when I could sleep till 8 (if my husband didn't kindly remind me that I shouldn't sleep all day).  In the evenings as I rushed around making dinner and trying to spend a wee bit of quality time with the kids, I thought about Saturday and Sunday around the corner when we could take our time.

I used to joke that a month of Sundays (at least the lazing around the house type) would be dreamy.  Be careful what you wish for.  Though I am generally doing ok with this lockdown life, there are times it is very limiting and tensions rise at home.  The motivation to complete projects and do spring cleaning comes and goes.  I think watching two kids all day certainly limits the amount of things I can do!

So when all this is over will we go back to our normal lives as before? Will we be glad to be back at work and more active again? Will we no longer take for granted a quick jaunt to Ikea or a hike in the local park (closed now in France)?  Will we  buy lots of things to make up for lost time? Or will we be more careful with our purchases? Will we hug our friends or just do air kisses for a while? Will we value our friends and family differently?

The way things look in France, we won't go back to a truly normal schedule till September.  Until then I suppose I will take it one day at a time and remember what the actress Terri Garr's mother used to have printed on a pin for her shirt: EGBOK.  Everything's gonna be OK. Or as they say in Italy, a country that knows the stakes in this situation: andrà tutto bene.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Silent spring

Silent as our cars stay parked in the driveway.  As the children stay home instead of playing in the parks or schoolyards.  Silent for those who have left us too early.  From this virus.  From cancer.  Silent as we contemplate life after this.

She chose a beautiful day to go.  In fact she went in her sleep in the wee hours of the morning, the call from his distraught father waking my husband and me up.  I managed to go back to sleep a little anyway and woke around 7:00.  As I went downstairs I could see from the hazy sky that it would be another gorgeous blue-sky day.  Unseasonably warm for April.

Even her funeral was more silent than usual.  Only a few family members came as the others were afraid of the virus and we were limited to 20 people maximum, including the pall bearers.

No church service, only the flowers my husband and I could find in his greenhouse.  A few arrangements were delivered from customers. But it wasn't what my husband wanted to offer her.

I have to believe she would understand though.  Where she is now there are millions of flowers she never needs to prune or water or repot.  Unless she wants to.  Now she is in a place with no cancer.

Now we continue.  Confinement is tough. The walls seem to close in on us.  Even the garden seems smaller everyday as I do my little inspection of the new growth.  We are edgy, grumpy at times.  We start to lack motivation for all those projects we thought we'd get to.

But for those who are still working, like my husband, it's tough too.  Feeling as if you are the only one still out there while the others rest at home.

"Tu peux pas savoir", my father-in-law kept saying this week as he dealt with the pain of losing his wife.  "You can't know what it's like."  He is right.  I can't know what it's like to lose someone you knew for 46 years (my whole life).  And unless you have lived in lockdown before or worked non-stop amidst this virus, you can't know either.

We helped my husband out some this week, braving the lockdown rules, being stopped once by the gendarmes and having to show our "déclaration sur honneur" that we printed from the Internet.  I know we are doing the right thing though chasing Alex in the greenhouse while my eleven-year old alternately pouts or sighs (though she has come around and is a great helper!) has been something of a nightmare. At least we have helped a little.

And this week they were allowed to truly open to the public to sell their plants.  We have been blessed with amazing weather during this lockdown and people have the time to garden.  So the clients have been streaming in, some with masks and gloves, some blissfully uncareful even shaking hands with my husband.  Some give their condolences about my mother-in-law who they knew from the cash register.

As Alex scoots around on his little tractor and we put the radio on to repot baby plants, spring has become less silent.  We hear the chatter of customers, laughs about what a strange world we are living in.

We hear birds more clearly too as there is less traffic to drown out their songs.  We hear conversations with elderly neighbors in the middle of the day that normally wouldn't take place.  We hear voices of friends on the phone that we would otherwise text or wait for church or tea time to see.

And for the first time in a while, we hear hope.  That there will be an "after" and that things will get better.  Maybe a little silence did us some good.  If only to appreciate that melody of sounds even more.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Light and fluffy

I remember light and fluffy.  I remember strolling in the mall and window shopping or even buying some trinket I didn't need.

I remember running by the store on the way to pick up my daughter from scouts, killing time and buying some nice dark chocolate (for me) and a bottle of white wine for dinner.

I remember saying, geez, too bad it's raining, but we could still go to the museum in town or just take our umbrellas and walk the squares anyway.

Since France has been under lockdown (officially since noon on March 17th) I can't just do those things on a whim.  All but non-essential businesses (grocery stores, pharmacies) are closed.  And you are encouraged to only go to them when you really REALLY need something.  I saw a gendarme on TV blessing a woman out for buying a cart full of six Coca Cola bottles and what looked like deli meat.  He said it wasn't essential and she needed her permission slip to leave her house.  And that she would get a stomachache.

I remember when my WhatsApp conversations went something like this:

Me: Hey, how are you guys today?
Mom/my sister/my friends: Ok, just going grocery shopping and working.
Me: Sounds good.  Off to pick up Alex and think of what to make for dinner.  Catch you later.

Now they're more like this:
Me: How are you feeling? No fever?
Mom/my sister/my friends: Ok, just going stir crazy in my house. No fever though.
Me: Yeah, same here.  Gotta find enough ingredients to make a healthy dinner.  More later.

How many of you are looking deep in your cupboards now, getting super inventive and not wasting a morsel so you can avoid going back to the store?  Facebook is full of recipes of things you can make with what you probably still have on hand.

Still I remember light and fluffy.  Making cakes just because I wanted to eat something warm and sweet. Now I scrupulously count my eggs and see how much butter I have because I also need those for other meal options.  But I still make cakes when I can ;)

But in our new normal, let's call it slow and steady, it's the little things that stand out more.  I catch the way the sun looks at different times around my house.

I know the best time for us to go in the garden and get some of that precious sun (after lunch).

I see the bulbs coming out of the ground (I had time to plant some more) and how the color is slowly coming into the buds.

I see that my white steps in the stairwell shine now (cause I finally cleaned them).

I see that my little one really does get sleepy around 2:30 and that even if he doesn't go willingly, he will settle down eventually.

I see that my daughter loves crafts and organizing (already knew that) and that she loves it when I do art with her.  And she needs mommy time even though her brother is so demanding.

I see that the cat really doesn't do anything all day except go in and out and sleep on her radiator perch.

Funny how something so little, microscopic in fact, like this virus, can stop a whole world and make me see the little things.  The little things that count.

So one day light and fluffy will come back and we will savor it that much more.  For now slow and steady is an unexpected change of pace that we must accept.  With grace and kindness to others and ourselves.