Remembering RBG

In fall 2003, I was a first year law student in Washington, D.C.  In class one day, my criminal law professor assigned the entire section to go down to the Supreme Court, observe an oral argument, and write about it – just a few paragraphs about the case, the argument itself, and our impressions of the experience.  So on a bitterly cold morning, I huddled outside the Court with friends, waiting to enter through the public doors, sit in the gallery, and watch an argument for the first time.

We arrived early – 6:00 a.m. – because we had decided to watch argument of one of the line of “Pledge of Allegiance” cases that were making their way through the courts and garnering lots of media attention (or what passed for media attention in our little law school bubble).  My memories of the day are foggy; it was so long ago.  I remember that my friend Mike was in the group.  I don’t remember who else joined us.  (Mike and I did everything together throughout most of law school.)  I remember gazing at the separate entrance for members of the Supreme Court Bar and wondering if I would ever be part of that group.  (Spoiler: not yet, although my BFF is being sworn into the Bar of the Supreme Court in April.)  I remember filing past the Supreme Court cafeteria and the partially obstructed view behind a pillar in the gallery.  I remember wondering if the rumors were true that the reason Justice Thomas never asked a question was because he slept through every argument.  (Answer: I don’t know, but I can confirm from visual evidence that he was asleep during the argument I watched.)

Justice Ginsburg asked a few questions – just a few.  Although the argument we watched was a high profile case, I don’t think it was all that controversial, by which I mean the Justices all pretty much already knew what they thought about the legal issues – although they certainly were giving the arguments their attention.  I don’t remember any of the questions now, seventeen years later.  I wish I could remember what Justice Ginsburg asked about.

I do remember the chills I felt at seeing the legendary RBG in action.  I was a female law student; obviously she was my idol.  (To the extent that when I got married, I elected to have “two last names” and not to hyphenate: “If it’s good enough for Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it’s good enough for me!”  Big mistake.  Justice O’Connor and Justice Ginsburg clearly had more organized minds than I did and never said “I don’t know” in response to the dentist’s receptionist asking them what their names were.)  So: chills.  And a powerful sense of a grave responsibility from joining the same professional universe – however many millions of degrees removed from Justice Ginsburg’s powerful perch.

Yesterday, I planned my running route to go by the Supreme Court.  I have been working through my grief and my fear for our democracy over the past few days, like so many.  And I wanted to go in person, to stand before the pillars, to read the words “EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW” inscribed over the door – that principle that RBG made the core of her jurisprudence – and thank her for breaking ground for me and millions of other female attorneys.

I’ve been watching and marveling at the social media posts celebrating RBG’s legacy.  As a woman, I owe her so much: because of RBG, I can sign a lease or a mortgage in my own name; have a credit card, again in my own name; work while pregnant without fear of discrimination; play a high school sport – all of which rights I have personally enjoyed – and so much more.  So I ran to the Court (I felt RBG would approve that part, too) stood before the front entrance, bowed my head, and thanked her.  Then I cried the tears I needed to cry, squared my shoulders, and continued on my run.

As I ran down Capitol Hill and onto the National Mall, on my way back to my car, I noticed a sign in front of the U.S. Capitol: Stop Trump.  Vote.

I wish that we could all just mourn RBG and celebrate her legacy without a political firestorm.  But this is 2020 and that mourning period – like so many other things this year – has been denied to us by malfeasance and hypocrisy.  So along with grief must go resolve.

I did not agree with the “McConnell Rule” in 2016.  I do not believe there was any justifiable – or logical – reason to deny a Supreme Court nominee a vote, or even so much as a hearing, as was done to President Obama and Judge Merrick Garland.  At the time, I believed that the American people had spoken on who they wanted appointing Supreme Court Justices.  We spoke in 2012 when we elected President Obama to another four-year term.  Not a three-year term.  A four-year term.  And there were still, at the time, nine months left in that four-year term.  (Enough time to grow a human.  Certainly enough time to approve a Supreme Court Justice.)

Although there was no logical support for their position, Republicans under McConnell took the position that there was somehow precedent for not appointing Supreme Court Justices in an election year.  (Do the research: not true.)  So they created the “Mitch McConnell Rule” that SCOTUS Justices are not confirmed in an election year.  Fine.  It’s a bad rule.  It doesn’t make logical sense.  But they decided that this was a rule because – at the time – it was politically expedient for them, and it doesn’t magically become a not-rule when it is no longer politically expedient.

My legal practice – which I owe, in large part, to RBG and the ground she broke for the women lawyers who would come after her – involves a lot of counseling managers in the application of work rules.  What I tell them is: don’t have a rule unless you’re committed to applying it every time the situation comes up.  Don’t make policies that you are not sure you can apply evenly and consistently.  Because inconsistent application of rules leads – in the best case – to diminished workplace morale.  In the worst case, it leads to litigation.

I would say the same to Senate Republicans, if they would listen (they wouldn’t).  The “Mitch McConnell Rule” is a stupid rule.  It doesn’t make any logical sense.  The “precedent” they cited in support of this harebrained idea – that SCOTUS Justices are not confirmed in election years – was about 20% based on the fact that SCOTUS Justices don’t often pass away or retire during election years, and 80% imaginary.  It was always a dumb idea.  But it’s a rule now.  And you don’t get to have one set of rules for when it benefits you, and another set for when it doesn’t.

Steve doesn’t think there is enough time to ram a nominee through the Senate even if they want to (which, clearly, they do).  One of my law school friends agrees.  I hope they’re right, but I fear that they are wrong.  So it is left to us – the voters – to tell the Senate that there will be consequences at the ballot box.  It is left to us to vote them out.  To vote blue up and down the ballot, to send a message that the American people demand better from our representatives.  We demand that they choose country – us – over the craven clawing of any scrap of power they can find.

Thank you, Justice Ginsburg, for everything you have done for women.  Now it is up to us to carry on.

Fall Learning: Making the Best of a Bad Situation

Over the last month, I’ve been thinking a lot about fall and what I want it to look like.  When we started this sort-of-homeschooling journey last March, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  We were sent home for an “early spring break” with distance learning packets to open “if we weren’t able to come back to school right away.”  But we all figured, I think, that the time at home would be short-lived.  When it became clear that it wasn’t going to be short-lived, we made the first subconscious, and then conscious, decision to check out of the kids’ school and do our own thing.  The kids both hated the Zoom sessions with their classes, which were disorganized and chaotic.  And I wasn’t motivated to force it on them, because I was already so disillusioned and checked out of their school that seeing anyone affiliated with the place was the last thing I wanted.  So we pretty much did our own thing.  We worked our way through most of the materials the school sent home and supplemented with our own enriching activities.  Throughout the spring, I didn’t really know if I was “doing it right” or if they were getting what they needed, but I figured they’d be in a new school in September – we had plans to move to a better school district over the summer – and we’d figure it out then.

This fall is going to be different.  We made our move out to a neighboring county (with world-class public schools) in June and promptly got the kids enrolled.  And then it came time to make a decision about what the fall would look like.  Our new school district advised us that everyone would be starting the year online, and may never make it back into the classroom.  If they do begin to bring kids back for in-person learning – and that’s if – it will be two days a week, with another two days a week on the computer.  And no guarantees that in-person will stay in-person; everyone could end up back home if there is a big outbreak of COVID-19.

Steve and I weighed our options and there’s really no good choice.  The way I see it, fall could look any number of ways, none of them good:

  1. Elect the in-person option.  At first, I thought this would be my choice – school is still serving a dual purpose of education and child care, and two days a week is better than none.  Plus I hated the idea of little Nugget, who is a very social little dude, doing kindergarten on a computer.  (Peanut is more introverted and while she hates technology, except for TV, I think she’d be less impacted socially.)  But I would still have to deal with distance learning, their education would be disrupted when schools closed again – and I do believe that’s a when, not an if – and I didn’t feel that the school district’s plans contained enough detail about how they would keep the kids safe.
  2. Elect the distance learning option.  Another bad choice.  Like I said above, I hated the idea of little Nugget doing kindergarten on a computer.  And the idea of an entire school year of trying to balance two full-time working parent schedules with full-time online school, with no help, gave me hives.  But ultimately this seemed like the safer and less disruptive choice, challenges aside.
  3. Hire a teacher and pod with another family.  I like this idea, but I don’t know any retired teachers in the area, and we’re new to the school and don’t know any families, either.  This may be an option later in the year, once we get to know some of the other families in our classes, but finding these people in August felt very daunting, if not impossible.  And the idea of paying someone to educate the kids when the entire reason we moved here was for the public schools seems… frustrating.
  4. Homeschool.  From an educational and social/emotional perspective, this might be the best choice.  But it’s not really doable with my work schedule – not long-term, anyway.  And I found it very stressful to be the one responsible for deciding what we were going to do every day; I know many families find it freeing, but I felt very ill-equipped to create lesson plans and make sure the kids were learning what they were supposed to be learning.  I like the idea of incorporating some homeschooling into our school year for added enrichment, but having it be the sole source of education doesn’t seem like a good choice for our family.

Basically, none of these options are good.  They are all equally terrible, in different ways.  I don’t blame the school or the school district; I do blame the federal lack of leadership for their criminally inept response that left school districts – even big, well-funded ones like ours – to grope around in the dark for solutions.  Schools in other countries have found ways to make it work, but they have had more support from their national leadership.  Ultimately, in our area of the country, both the school district and the individual families had to make decisions with incomplete information.  Not knowing what the school year would look like (cohorts? pods? how would social distancing and masking work for little kids?) I didn’t feel comfortable signing up for it.  Steve and I had a family discussion and discovered that we both felt the same way – online learning all year, while a terrible option, seemed like the safe choice.

I told Steve that I want to give the public school distance learning program a fair effort and really try to make it work – which we didn’t really do last spring.  As I mentioned above, I was terribly disillusioned with the kids’ private school, and their approach to online learning was well-intentioned but chaotic.  Those two factors combined led us to essentially check out and opt for doing our own thing.  This is different – we chose this school district, and they have had time to plan for online learning.  I am hoping that the kids will stay in this school pyramid through high school, and I want to get off on the right foot.  But I also want to continue doing our own thing.  The hardest part of our spring homeschool, for me, was the planning – I was never really sure I was going in the right direction, or that the kids were getting what they needed from me.  But with better direction from school, combined with our own enrichment activities that are not the primary source of material, I think… we could make it work?

I’ve already written too many words about this, and we are just figuring out our structure for the year, so I won’t say much more right now.  We’ve decided that instead of dividing and conquering the day – as we did last spring and all summer, working in shifts – we will divide and conquer the kids.  So Peanut will have a desk next to Steve in the family room, and Nugget will be my new “office mate” in the dining room.  The hope is that as the online learning and the technology becomes more familiar, they will settle into a routine that allows us to work while our designated kid is watching a lesson or doing an activity with classmates.  It isn’t a perfect solution (that would be a vaccine and a return to full-time in-person school) but it’s what we’ve come up with for now – and if it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.

Meanwhile, I am scouting around for enrichment activities to build into the kids’ days.  I have a couple of nature-based homeschool resources and I’ve purchased some math lessons that can be taught outdoors; we haven’t put them into practice yet, so I will wait until we do and we know what’s working before writing about that.  I’m envisioning a fall semester in which the kids get their main education from the public school, but we combine it with things like “observations” at the neighborhood frog pond, dry erase math on the kitchen windows, lots of reading aloud, and teachable moments sprinkled into our family time.  At the end of the day, if they’ve learned basically what they need and we end the fall still liking each other, I’ll have done my job.

How are you preparing for another season at home?

Autumn on the Brain

(^Okay, not quite that, yet.)

It might be because the sky is dark and the wind is howling as I write this (hey, Isaias!) or because we’ve recently gotten the kids registered for school in our new district and gotten a bevy of emails from different administrators about the coming school year, but – I have autumn on the brain.  Or more specifically, I have “back” to school on the brain (although we’re not going “back” in the traditional sense).

This school year is going to look different for everyone, and I’m still working out what it’s going to look like for our family.  We are getting some guidance about the school curriculum and it seems really organized and thorough – the kids will be booked up from about 9:15 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. (which doesn’t mean Mom and Dad are off duty – we’re going to have to be actively facilitating all this distance learning).  But in addition to their regular school curriculum, I have some goals for them – subjects I want to cover with them regardless of whether they’re part of the traditional curricula for kindergarten and second grade.

What I’m wondering is: do you want to read about that?  Writing often helps me crystallize what I am thinking about a subject, and right now my brain is a swirling mess of schedules, nature-based homeschool programs, supply lists and ideas for topics and projects.  I’m working through how I’ll balance these ideas with the school’s curriculum and my work schedule.  There’s plenty of material out there about homeschool and I’m not pretending to be an expert or educate anyone, but it seems to me that as a working mom, navigating home-based education while juggling two full-time working parent schedules, I’m working through the same new-ish situation that lots of other parents are.  And I’m wondering – it strikes me that this would be an interesting conversation to have, but I don’t want to post something that doesn’t interest anyone.

So – what do you think?  Are you interested in what we’re planning and doing for the 2020-21 school year, or should I leave it to the homeschooling mommy bloggers?

Let me know in the comments.

Sentiments

We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. Whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves, by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. Such has been the patient sufferance of the women under this government, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to demand the equal station to which they are entitled.

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise.

He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.

* * *

Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides.

He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.

He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.

* * *

After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it.

He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration.

He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction, which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.

He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education – all colleges being closed against her.

He allows her in Church as well as State, but a subordinate position, claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church.

He has created a false public sentiment, by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated but deemed of little account in man.

He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.

He has endeavored, in every way that he could to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.

Now, in view of this entire disfranchisement of one-half the people of this country, their social and religious degradation, – in view of the unjust laws above mentioned, and because women do feel themselves aggrieved, oppressed, and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights, we insist that they have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of these United States.

* * *

Firmly relying upon the final triumph of the Right and the True, we do this day affix our signatures to this declaration.

Declaration of Sentiments

Seneca Falls, New York

July 20, 1848

This is my Declaration of Independence.

America Now: Reflections on Independence Day 2020

“That’s the paradox of this Fourth of July. It is an awful time to be an American. It is a great time to look forward to a New America.”

~ John Blake, via this piece

I’ve been thinking a lot about this Fourth of July.  Independence Day has been my favorite holiday for a long time.  It hits my sweet spots – family, summer, outdoor fun on the water or the trails – with some classic Americana thrown in for good measure.  It’s less commercial than Christmas, less of a food frenzy than Thanksgiving.  I’ve got good memories of sparklers and fireworks at the lake growing up, and I love taking a day of togetherness to usher in the high summer season.

So the Fourth of July is more about grilling in the backyard to me, and less about waving a flag.  But this year I felt a little complicated and guilty about loving this holiday.  In the midst of a pandemic and a reckoning with our long hushed-up history of systemic racism, and no leadership, I almost don’t want to admit that I still love this holiday.

I thought a lot more about America this year than I usually do.  And here’s what I came up with: this country is a big, imperfect, unfinished, sometimes clumsy, experiment.  That’s always been true, but it’s never been more clear.  We’re polarized, and there isn’t much we can all agree on right now – which seems crazy.  There are concepts that seem really basic to me: Black lives matter, love is love, science is real, wildlife deserves protection, people should be paid fairly for their work, wearing a mask is an easy thing to do to protect my neighbors, etc.  But there’s still polarization and clearly, we have a lot to work through as a country.

While it doesn’t feel like there is much to celebrate this Fourth of July, I am celebrating anyway.  I’m celebrating big ideas.  This place has always been full of them – from the Founding Fathers, as I was reminded while watching Hamilton on Friday night (“the story of America then, told by America now”), to the proponents of the Green New Deal.  (Love it or hate it, it’s a big idea.)  Big problems require big solutions, and if Americans are good at anything, it is thinking big.

I am not trying to minimize the pain of the BIPOC community, who don’t feel truly free, or the First Nations and indigenous people who have to watch Americans recreate on their ancestral lands.  Or anyone who feels marginalized – and there are a lot of people who feel that way and for good reason.  But I am choosing to place my hope in big ideas, and to celebrate – maybe not the America now, but the America that can be if we hold up the tradition of thinking big.

Happy (belated) Fourth, and keep thinking big.

Bittersweet

On a hot summer day in 2016, a little family rolled into Old Town Alexandria after three chilly, lonely years up north in western New York.  When we decided that Buffalo was not the right fit for our family, we narrowed down our possible move destinations to two options – Washington, D.C. and Denver, Colorado – and agreed that the first job opportunity that came our way would be the decision-maker.  I diligently sent resumes to law firms in both cities, but deep down I think I knew that D.C. was calling me home.  And it did, and when that day came there was really no debating neighborhoods.  We’d lived in Alexandria – albeit south of Old Town, in the Mount Vernon area – for three years before our sojourn in Buffalo.  We couldn’t imagine being anything but Alexandrians.  Old Town had been our stomping grounds when we lived here before, and we had fond memories of strolling the waterfront and trundling baby Peanut in her BOB stroller over the cobblestones.  There was no question – Old Town it was.  We didn’t even consider any other neighborhoods.

We’ve been here four years now, and we have loved pretty much every minute.  (The last few months have sucked, but that’s not Old Town’s fault.)  It has been four years of living in a quaint rowhouse, walking out the door and being within a few minutes’ stroll of favorite restaurants, playgrounds, soccer fields, the library, boutiques, coffee shops and ice cream parlors and – of course – our beloved waterfront.  Countless hours have been spent running barefoot in the grass at Founders Park.  We’ve slurped ice creams from The Creamery, run and walked miles on the Mount Vernon Trail, and finished off many a date night at La Fromagerie, toasting our good luck to live in a place that makes us happy every day.

These narrow, winding streets and chevron brick sidewalks welcomed us home after three years of exile, and they’ve given us a place to learn, grow, stretch our wings and bond as a family of four.  While there have been sleepless stressful nights, opportunities missed, and losses suffered during our time here, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

And now – we’re leaving.

We’re not going far!  This isn’t another multi-state move.  Just one county over.  The main impetus for the move is the schools – the one, maybe only, drawback to Old Town is that the schools are spotty.  There are two public elementary schools in the neighborhood; we happen to be zoned for one that (for many private reasons) we weren’t comfortable sending our kids.  So they’ve spent the past four years at a private school and, on top of the costs associated with sending two kids to private school in the Washington, D.C. area, our experience with the school has been decidedly mixed.  We had one great year.  The others have ranged from middling to horrific.  I won’t go into detail on here, but staying in that situation after this year was just not an option.  (One of the kids was fine there – the other was very much not.)  So about a year ago we decided that once our lease expired on our rowhouse, we would shove off for Fairfax County and its nationally renowned public schools.

The public schools are the main impetus for the move.  But there are other reasons to go, too.  There’s the simple fact that our lease is ending and our landlords want to sell the house – and while we’ve loved our time here, we do not want to buy this place.  And I’m looking forward to having (a little) more space – including a guest bedroom! – and a yard in which the kids can run around.  My new place has a garden that is choked with weeds right now, so I’m also anticipating many happy hours with my hands in the dirt.

Perhaps the thing I’m most looking forward to – other than watching what happens to my savings account with the lower rent and free school – is the hiking riches.  The town we’re moving to, while it’s an easy commute into the city (once things open up again, anyway) has a very rural feel and is surrounded by parks and green space.  So while I’ll miss not being able to walk out to my favorite restaurants, a ten minute drive to spectacular hiking is decent compensation.

Fairfax County Perks

  • Gorgeous natural beauty!
  • Wealth of nearby trails for hiking, running and mountain biking.
  • Family movie nights on an honest-to-goodness village green.
  • Outdoor space to stretch, run around, and garden.
  • FREE SCHOOLS!  And cheaper rent!
  • Guest bedroom – visiting family won’t have to pay for hotels anymore.
  • A sunroom!  Will I become a crazy plant lady?  All signs point to “yes.”
  • New neighborhood restaurants to discover.
  • Room for EVEN MORE bookshelves.
  • Tall, tall trees.
  • A playroom for the kiddos, and a workspace for Steve.

But I’ll Miss ALX…

  • No more playgrounds and restaurants within walking distance.
  • No more boats within walking distance, either.
  • Actually, ALX is just way more walkable in general.
  • There’s no Buy Nothing community in my soon-to-be new neighborhood.
  • I’ll miss my pretty yellow kitchen so much.
  • The whole town is just way more quaint than anywhere else.
  • And there are no McMansions here.
  • And there’s public transportation!  I’ll miss Metro so much.
  • I can’t imagine not seeing the world’s sweetest next-door neighbors every day.  No one else compares!

It’s time to go.  The moving truck rolls in next week and then it’s on to new adventures.  It’s going to be bittersweet in many ways, but we’ll still be here all the time and we’ll carry all the gifts these four years have given us.  It’s funny that I feel so mopey about this move, because I know that on balance it’s going to be an improvement in our quality of life, and we’re only moving about 25 minutes away from our current neighborhood!  But Old Town has a huge piece of my heart, and I will definitely leave some of myself here.  I hope that one day, I call these streets home again.  For now – off to experience the life in Fairfax.

Have you ever gotten nostalgic ahead of a local move?

Quarantine Silverlining

As this pandemic and quarantine stretch on and on and on, I am trying hard to hold onto the perspective that this is only temporary (even if it doesn’t feel this way) and to look for the positives in every day and situation.  Sometimes I succeed at this, and sometimes I don’t, but it’s a journey, right?

Recently, on a Zoom call with my practice group, one of the partners suggested that we each share one of the silver linings to our particular quarantine cloud with the group.  The answers ranged from sweet (lots of people celebrating newfound or renewed connection with family and friends) to funny (a partner shared that he has been drafted into his daughter’s Tik Toks).  My answer was that we are finally sitting down for family dinners.  My kids go to bed so early that when I’m in the office, Steve usually ends up giving them dinner before I get home.  But since I’m now teleworking like everyone else, it’s easy to take quick break to throw dinner in the oven so we can all sit down together.

It got me thinking about and looking for some other silver linings, too.

The biggest one, I think, has been that I’ve learned to be more assertive in both my work and home lives.  Now that I have to homeschool my kids, I am just “out of office” while I’m doing that.  I do sometimes end up taking a call in the morning, but for the most part I have been able to tell colleagues and others when I am available, and most people respect that.  (Certainly my colleagues do!  Results are a bit more mixed outside of my firm.)  On the flip side, once I am logged on and working, I am “at work” and I’ve been able to tell my kids “Daddy’s in charge” during my work times.  I have a fear of appearing unavailable to anyone – it’s perfectionism rearing its ugly head; I can’t easily wrap my head around being anything less than the perfect employee and the perfect mom – but I have had to get over that, because I have no choice.  If I’m trying to do both jobs at the same time, it goes horribly – witness when I’ve attempted to contribute substantively on a work call while simultaneously taking the kids for a walk to get them out of Steve’s hair.  So I am trying not to do that anymore.  When I’m with the kids, my attention is on them, and when Steve and I swap “shifts” my attention turns to work.  I’m not 100% yet, but I can tell that my ability to be fully present with whatever task I am engaged in at the moment is getting better and better by the day, and I’m feeling less guilty about it.

Another thing I am feeling less guilty about: running.  In recent years I’ve found it hard to get motivated to lace up my running shoes and enjoy my old sport.  There is always something or someone that needs my attention, or I’m just tired.  But with quarantine, despite having less time than ever, I’ve insisted on taking the time to run.  (This is something Steve is really good at: he doesn’t ask permission or feel guilty; he just puts on his shoes and goes running when he wants to.  Now instead of jealously wishing I could be like that, I’m just doing it, too.)  I signed up for a Train Like a Mother virtual race program and have been enjoying the thoughtfully-made training program and all the support in the private Facebook community for TLAM participants.  I haven’t done every workout on the calendar, but I’ve done most of them – really embracing one of Another Mother Runner’s taglines: “Don’t Think.  Just Go.”  I don’t really think about running anymore.  I just put my shoes on and go do whatever the calendar tells me to do.  The fresh air and movement are paying off in so many ways.

Hiking has been pretty impossible.  First the trails were unusually crowded – it was as if everyone in DC suddenly discovered hiking – and that made us nervous.  And then the parks started closing their gates, either entirely or partially.  Some stayed open “for passive use only” meaning hiking was still allowed, but you couldn’t park your car near the trailhead.  Some intrepid folks might be able to find a parking spot on a road outside the park and hike two miles in before they even get to the trailhead, but we’re hiking with kids and we can’t do that.  So while we’ve made a few attempts at it, hiking has been mostly off the table – which has been hard.  (I know, many people have it worse.  I recognize the privilege in what I just wrote, believe me!  But hiking is a huge part of our family culture and one of our favorite things to do together, and I miss it.)  The upside of not being able to hit my favorite trails as often as I am used to doing: we are going for more neighborhood walks than ever.  We still want our fresh air and to get out and walk together as a family, so this is how we have to get it right now.  And it’s forced us – or me, at least – to stop and pay attention to the beauty in my own backyard.  I’m on record as thinking that my neighborhood is the most beautiful town in America (change my mind) so it’s not like I was failing to appreciate it before.  But I usually look at the historic buildings and the quaint cobblestone streets, and now I’m also noticing the blue skies, blooming trees, and sunlight sparkling off the Potomac.

With the library being closed for going on two months now, one of my quintessential weekend activities is tabled: there’s no popping by the branch to return books and pick up new holds, or letting the kids run around the children’s section.  In addition to the obvious benefit to that (we are physically unable to check out that book about motorcycles for the four millionth time, Nugget, I am super sad about that!) I’m finally reading from my own shelves.  Not all the time – I did have a stack of books checked out when the library closed its doors, and I am rationing those, and I also had a small pile borrowed from my friend Susan that I am finally getting around to reading (I just don’t know when I’m going to be able to see her to give them back, but details).  But luckily, that’s not all I have.  I’ve got a pretty big, and thoughtfully curated, collection of books that I have either read many times and cherish, or that I just know I’m going to love (I’m fairly well acquainted with my own reading tastes at this point).  I’m always saying that this will be the time I read more from my own shelves, library addiction or no library addiction – but now it’s really here.  It just took a quarantine and a closed library to make me do it.

This isn’t really a new thing, but baking with the kids is getting more and more fun.  Before the schools closed, Peanut was struggling a lot with her confidence around math.  I could write a book-length blog post about that, but I’m not going to for several reasons (including respect for her privacy).  Since we have started homeschooling, I think she has made a lot of progress with math.  In addition to workbook pages – which I do make her do every day – I have been trying to show her how we use numbers in our everyday lives.  We talk about money, and I show her how I use math in my work (for instance, double checking to make sure a client has cut settlement checks in the right amount – I am pleased to report that my clients always do that correctly).  We measure the amount of birdseed that we need to fill our feeder, and we talk about clocks and telling time.  But more than anything else, we bake.  At the beginning of quarantine, scanning homeschool resources, I came across a sentence in one blog to the effect of “A great deal of homeschool math is done in the kitchen.”  I’ve used baking before as a way to teach Peanut to follow directions – she likes to march to the beat of her own drummer, which I think is cool, but sometimes you need to follow directions and baking is good for that concept, since she enjoys it.  Now we’re also using it to talk about measurement and fractions.  And at the end, we get Victoria Sponge, or upside-down cake, or muffins, or bread.  (Don’t worry, about half of what we churn out is handed over the fence to the neighbors!)  Win-win, right?

This is definitely a weird and scary time, but practicing gratitude and looking for silver linings is keeping me grounded.  I’m starting to think about what I’d like life to look like after this is all over – I believe that there will be things that will have shifted, both for me personally and on a global level, and I want to be intentional about the way I structure my life after quarantine.  These silver linings are definitely guiding my perspective around post-quarantine priorities.  More on that to come, maybe, if I have any organized thoughts to speak of at any point.

What are your quarantine silver linings?

A Day In The Life, COVID-19 Quarantine Edition

Recently, I read a Washington Post article tracking a day in the life of a D.C. family with two working parents and two young kids, as they try to navigate this quarantine.  I almost didn’t finish the article, because it felt so familiar – but at the same time, it was a little bit comforting to see others in the same boat.  We are all dealing with this situation in different ways, and each facing unique challenges, and it occurred to me that it’s been awhile since I did a day in the life post on here.  While I am not sure I’m really going to want to remember all of these details… here they are.

5:55 a.m. I wake up to the sound of the kids’ voices playing either in Nugget’s room or downstairs.  Their “okay to wake” lights flash on at 6:00 a.m., which means they’ve ignored them.  Again.  I’m told these “okay to wake” lights are supposed to be miraculous for keeping kids in bed until they should be up?  Mine couldn’t care less.

6:15 a.m.  I tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t.  I decide to forego any additional attempts at sleeping in favor of getting up before the kids’ play turns into squabbling and then fighting, so I get up and go looking for them.  They’re in Nugget’s room.  Peanut is chilling in a pile of his “lovies” and he’s jumping on his pillow.  Good morning.  We have another talk about respecting the “okay to wake” lights and then go downstairs to eat breakfast.  I start mixing up morning chocolate milks and taking breakfast orders while the kids dismantle the couch.  EVERY DAY.

6:50 a.m.  I’ve spent the past half hour running back and forth between the kitchen and the living room, bringing the kids their breakfasts as they watch TV and complain about what I’ve given them to eat.  (Stonyfield Kids organic yogurt, yuck-o.)  While they grouchily eat, I clean up the kitchen counter.  I like to work at a makeshift standing desk, but it tends to get heaped up with the daily detritus.  That’s definitely the case today, so I quickly put some things away, then start working on a memo that I really need to get out this morning.  Steve sits down at his laptop and starts work for the day, and I pound away at my keyboard while listening to the kids.

8:40 a.m.  I’m still working on my memo, but it’s almost time to take the kids out for the morning walk.  Steve and I are working in shifts during this quarantine, and I have the kids in the morning while he focuses on work, then we swap.  I still try to stay connected and check in when I can in the mornings, though.

8:55 a.m. The TV is off, and the kids and I both head upstairs and get dressed to go out for a stroll.

9:05 a.m.  And we’re out the door, only five minutes past my goal time!  This is pretty good for us.  (By contrast, the following day we did not get out the door until 9:35 – more than half an hour past the goal time – and only then after a lot of yelling by everyone.)  Nugget asks to walk to the waterfront, but that’s a pretty long stroll for their short legs and we have plans at 10:00 that we have to be home for, so we head for the bike path instead.  We walk to the end of the bike path segment nearest our house, then turn around and head back, with a few long breaks to explore the green space and check out some trees.  On our walk we discuss birds’ nesting habits, and how electricity works.

10:00 a.m.  Back from our walk, right on schedule.  I get Peanut set up with her math workbook and Nugget takes his phonics workbook up to his room.  Our 10:00 plans are a FaceTime play date with his buddy, D, from school.  So while Nugget settles in, I call D’s mom over FaceTime.

We catch up for a few minutes about work – we’re both lawyers, upstate New Yorkers, and Cornell grads, so we have a lot in common and love to chat with each other.  After a minute or two, I turn the phone over to Nugget, and D’s mom hands her phone to him, and the boys start a marathon FaceTime session in which I think they mostly talk over each other and brag about their toys.

Once the boys are set up and chattering away, I head back to the kitchen, where I divide my attention and my time between the memo I’m working on and Peanut’s math workbook.  I help her figure out the equations, then launch her on some word-focused activities (language arts workbook pages, followed by reading time) and keep working on my memo.

11:00 a.m.  I’ve been back down in the kitchen while Nugget is on my phone.  Peanut finished up her math, did some phonics exercises in her BrainQuest workbook, and read a few chapters in her current book (The Mystery of Mr. E, from the American Girl WellieWishers series).  She’s been complaining about being tired – no surprise, since I have no idea how early she got up and started playing; I jokingly offer her some coffee – so after she finishes her work she drifts off to lay down.

Meanwhile, Nugget is still on FaceTime with his pal.  He wants to watch his favorite show – Octonauts – but he doesn’t want to hang up, either.  So he suggests that D can watch Octonauts at the same time.  I don’t think Nugget has ever heard of a “watch party,” so this is just something he thought up on his own.  I’m duly impressed, and D’s mom and I fire up the same episode (The Octonauts and the Cookie Cutter Sharks) and press “play” at the same time.  Nugget settles in on the couch, which still has no cushions.  I don’t see how this can be comfortable, but I guess it is?

11:50 a.m.  Nugget has been on FaceTime for almost two hours.  I’m cutting him off!  We hang up with D and turn off the TV while Dad makes lunch for the kids.  I realize that I forgot to eat breakfast.  Whoops.

12:00 p.m.  I finally got my memo out.  I was hoping to send it before the kids and I left for our morning walk, but that didn’t happen.  But it’s gone now!  It’s been a hectic morning of juggling the kids and work, and I need to blow off some steam.  Steve is taking over with the munchkins, so I hurry upstairs, throw on some running gear, and head out to hit the trail.  Now that it’s finally starting to warm up for the season, running at the hottest part of the day isn’t ideal.  But I’m squeezing it in when I can.  I head for the bike path and bang out a few miles.  The buff makes me feel like I’m being strangled, but I’m being a good citizen and wearing it anyway, pulling it up over my nose and mouth whenever I am near other runners, walkers or cyclists.  The bike path isn’t exactly crowded, but it’s definitely not deserted either.

12:39 p.m.  Back from my run, and back on the computer.  I have a long to-do list for the afternoon, with a few calls sprinkled between a bunch of tasks that I absolutely have to get through.  Steve runs interference for me (taking both kids for walks and facilitating more reading time for Peanut), as I did for him in the morning, and the kids mostly leave me alone.  I buckle down and power through most of my to-do list.  Nugget brings me Bear to say hello.  Peanut copies poems out of a few of her books and reads them to me, falsely claiming to have written them herself.  I gently suggest that we try writing a poem ourselves, but she’s content with plagiarism for now.

4:42 p.m.  Still working on my computer.  Peanut and Nugget wander into the kitchen.  Peanut asks for coffee (what??? – turns out she thought I was serious this morning when I offered to make her some) and Nugget tells me that Dad is napping in his room.  This seems far-fetched to me.  Steve is a napper, but this would be late for him.

4:50 p.m.  Steve comes downstairs.  It turns out he wasn’t napping; I knew it.  I quickly start dinner – putting a pot of red quinoa on to simmer – then get back to work and finish up a few more things before we start eating.  A colleague called while my phone was charging in the other room (Nugget burned through a lot of battery life during his marathon FaceTime play date and Octonauts watch party) so I return the call while fluffing up and seasoning the quinoa.

5:40 p.m.  Dinner is ready, yay!  I haven’t eaten a real meal all day, just grazed a little bit between calls, so I am hungry.  We’re having red quinoa, leftover tofu with taco seasoning, and steamed broccoli.

6:10 p.m.  Dinner went fast – I guess we were all hungry.  I clean up the kitchen, which is fast and easy tonight because Steve emptied the dishwasher and put the breakfast and lunch dishes away this afternoon – so all I have to do is load up the dinner dishes, press a few buttons, and then spritz and wipe the counters and table.  Keeping the kitchen clean has been a bit of a challenge – Steve and I both need to be on top of it – but it is such an important thing for my peace of mind to have a clean (or at least clean-ish) kitchen.

6:22 p.m.  Steve is upstairs helping the kids get into their jammies and brush their teeth before we watch a show as a family.  I should help, but – to quote Phoebe Buffay – “I wish I could, but I don’t want to.”  So I hide in the kitchen sending more work emails and looking for things to clean while I wait for them.  Eventually they come downstairs and we watch an episode of Rock the Park.  Nugget is a big non-fiction guy (books and TV) and he loves nature, so this show is his jam.  (It’s mine and Steve’s, too.  Peanut mostly just tolerates it.)

7:15 p.m.  We’re done with our episode of Rock the Park.  Peanut collects her good-night kisses, then heads to her room to read for awhile.  Nugget and I go upstairs and read his Lonely Planet Kids: USA’s National Parks book.

He wants to goof off and be silly, so I wander off downstairs.  Upstairs, I can hear him jumping on his bed and constructing an “Octopod” out of Legos.  He seems content enough, so I hide in the dining room and work on my 1,000-piece puzzle (almost done!).  Nugget summons me upstairs three times, just so he can tell me to “GO AWAY” each time.  Love you, too, buddy.

8:25 p.m.  Nugget asks me to come upstairs and sit in his chair while he plays.  I grab my book – Merry Hall, by Beverly Nichols – and follow him.  As soon as I sit down, he crawls into my lap with Good Night, New York State.  I read it, then he buries his face in my shoulder and passes out.  I used to rock him to sleep every night, but it’s been a few months since he sacked out in my arms like that.  I love it.

9:00 p.m.  I’ve been rocking and cuddling Nugget for more than half an hour and loving every second of it, but it’s time – so I reluctantly carry him to his bed, tuck him in, and tiptoe downstairs.  Steve is already on the couch playing a video game, so I open my book.  I have a hard time concentrating – it’s been a long day, and tomorrow is going to be another long day – and my attention flits back and forth between my book and my phone.  I scan Facebook and Instagram a little bit, get distracted by a Financial Times article about the federal government’s bungling of the COVID-19 crisis, go back to my book and eventually wander upstairs to read in bed.

10:13 p.m. I really wanted to finish this chapter, but I can’t keep my eyes open.  Lights out.  Another quarantine day in the books, another one just like it coming tomorrow.

These days are long, and they tend to run together.  We are definitely finding moments of fun and connection – and making them when we can – but there’s a lot of frustration, too.  I like to be present for whatever I am doing in the moment, and it’s hard to toggle my attention between work and the kids so much.  But it’s not possible to keep them separated right now, so I’m just doing the best I can.

How are you weathering these long quarantine days?

Quarantine Real Talk

Six weeks in.  So, how are you holding up?  We’re all taking it day by day, aren’t we?

I’ve been seeing this quote floating around social media quite a lot.  Along the same lines, I’m seeing a lot of thoughts to the effect of: “Our kids might not understand what’s going on, but they’ll remember the time that we all had to stay home together – the family dinners we ate, the stories we read, the projects we created…”  And while I’m down with anything that is comforting folks during this weird and scary time – am I the only one who is getting more stressed out by seeing these kinds of posts pop up in my feed, over and over again?

To me – it feels like a lot of pressure.  It feels like the internet is telling me that on top of working full-time from home (which I recognize I am fortunate I can do) and educating my children and entertaining them in a smallish urban townhouse, I am also supposed to… find this all really meaningful?  I am supposed to create art, meditate, cook nutritious and soul-warming family dinners (from the pantry, guys), officiate board game nights, clean my house, listen to the wind, and be a generally more peaceful person?  All while healing the earth and my spirit, and creating lifelong family memories, of course.  And put it all on social media, no filter necessary.

(Those are suns, not coronaviruses.)

Fine, internet.  I give up.  You come break up the tenth screaming match that has broken out in the preschooler’s bedroom before lunch.  You lay on your stomach fishing Lincoln Logs (the smallest ones) out from under the bookshelf where they skidded across the floor after someone tripped over a cabin again, while the five-year-old wails that he is THE WORST at Lincoln Logs.  You try to find a clean space on the counter to knead that homemade loaf of sourdough sandwich bread that no one will eat.  You try to work in shifts, only to find yourself fruitlessly repeating “Daddy’s in charge” all afternoon while the kids interrupt your designated work time to ask for paint, markers, scissors, to make egg carton caterpillars, to do sidewalk chalk, and to watch TV.

I’m exhausted, and overwhelmed, and climbing the walls, and just generally over it all.  Work has been stressful – nothing I can talk about on here, and while I am not worried about being laid-off, it’s been hard to try to navigate this new situation and keep my co-workers calm through all the changes we’ve had to weather.  The kids are at each other’s throats constantly these days, it seems, and the only way to keep World War III from breaking out is to keep them separated, but we have nowhere to go.  I’m worried about the economy and about catching the virus, and now there are murder hornets too???

I recognize that I have it much better than most.  I have a job that allows me to work remotely, and I am not in fear of losing it.  Steve works remotely all the time, so other than having three new “co-workers” his situation hasn’t changed and he’s not in fear of losing his job either.  We have food and household essentials – enough, not Doomsday prepper style, we’ve left plenty for others, but we’re not in danger of running out.  We have the flexibility to alternate our work and childcare, and employers who understand.  And most importantly, we have our health.  We’re all young and strong and none of us have the virus (that we know of).  So – yes, I have no cause for complaint.

Here’s how I’m coping (admittedly, some days better than others, and yes – real talk – I am doing a lot of yelling):

Lots of fresh air.  Playgrounds are off-limits right now, but there’s still the bike path, and watching the empty Metro trains rush by.

There’s the Carlyle House garden, which seems to be one of the best-kept secrets in town.  Peanut hosted her friends for a “reading party” here in happier days.  Lately, we’ve always been the only ones there, but that just means we have our pick of sticks for digging worm obstacle courses.  Or we did, until Alexandria closed off all fenced parks and gardens.  No more Carlyle House for awhile.

The library’s closed, but we can still look at the outside of the building.

We can hike sometimes, when we’re able to find a trail where the parking lots are open and the crowds are mostly missing.  This is becoming a harder and harder task these days.  But occasionally the stars align.

I can run in my neighborhood.  This isn’t the way I thought I’d be spending my last few months in Old Town (although we’ll still be here all the time; we’re only moving a county away).  While I can’t enjoy eating in my favorite OT restaurants – some of them are not offering takeout – or popping into Red Barn Mercantile, Pacers, Conte’s Bike Shop or Old Town Books, I can still take in quaint cobblestone streets lined with historic row houses and feel the breeze blowing in off the Potomac, via my running shoes.  And the fresh air and movement is needed, all the time really, but especially now.

We have lots of chalk to write uplifting messages for our neighbors.  I wrote “BE WELL.”  Nugget wrote his own version of uplifting messages: his name, his sister’s name, and “LOVE U MAMA.”  Peanut drew a garden gnome.  We’re all contributing in our own ways.

Chalk rainbows and sunbursts.  Washed away with the next rain, but we can always draw them again.

How are you handling the quarantine?

The Spring List 2020

I am making this list against my better judgment.  As I sit down to draft the post, it’s the second day of spring and the eighth day of social distancing due to COVID-19.  Even just a couple of weeks ago, this was all unthinkable – I don’t need to tell you that, you know that – and now I am seeing posts on Facebook and Instagram about “our new normal” and all I can think is crap, I hope this isn’t the new normal.  For all my introverted tendencies, I am not a homebody, not at all, and this being tied to one place, unable to access most of my usual stomping grounds or to explore new spots… I’m climbing the walls.  And while I would woman up and adjust, I’m also trying to work from home while homeschooling two strong-willed children and keeping them from murdering each other in a small townhouse.  I’m overwhelmed and I hate this and it better not be my new normal.

So – it feels like something of a leap of faith to make this list.  And I am putting some things on here that just might not be possible.  But if I don’t keep hope alive that things will get back to normal, then I’ll fall into gloom and I don’t want to do that.  So here are the things I’m hoping and dreaming and some of them may not happen.

  • Go to New York and see my beautiful cousin, Jocelyn, as a bride – maybe; it’s looking increasingly like the wedding will be postponed but I’m still putting it out there in an abundance of hope.  (Peanut and Nugget will be in the wedding – as a flower girl and ring bearer, respectively – and I can’t wait to see them walk down the aisle, too.  Peanut’s an old pro, since she scattered rose petals for my best friend, and her godmother, back in 2017.  I’m sure she will show her little brother the wedding ropes.)
  • Related: while in New York, spend time with my grandmother (hopefully her skilled nursing facility will be allowing visitors again) and meet my cousin Jaime’s baby boy, who will be born by then.
  • On a different note: hold and cuddle my dear friend Connie’s baby boy.
  • Get in our annual tradition of hiking through the stunning Virginia bluebells.  (Can’t miss this!)
  • Read A Shropshire Lad, by A.E. Housman.
  • Help my sweet neighbor, Zoya, with her project of planting native Virginia species along the roadsides in Old Town.
  • Make actual progress on cleaning the basement.  For real, this time!  It’s zero hour, because…
  • Move to a new house.  (We were planning to move out to Fairfax County in July, but it looks like it will be June, instead.  I’m a little sad about missing summer in Old Town, but we’ll still be here all the time.)
  • Read the Elizabeth trilogy by Elizabeth von Arnim.  I’ve read Elizabeth and Her German Garden before, but it’s time for a re-read and then I need to finally get to The Solitary Summer and The Adventures of Elizabeth in Rugen.
  • Watch Nugget play Little League – maybe.  The season was postponed until May, because of COVID-19.  But I’m still hopeful – I’ve been dreaming of being a baseball mom since the moment I found out he was a boy, when I was eleven weeks pregnant.  It’s been a long time coming.
  • Read some Beverly Nichols.  (Lots of books on this list – at least I know there is nothing to prevent those happening, unless it’s my lack of self-control at the library.)

Well, there it is.  Some things are possible – the books, especially.  Some things are going to happen whether I like the idea or not – the move.  (I like the idea.  It’s time.  But I will be sad to leave my favorite neighborhood and this little townhouse, which I’ve grown to love, even if the schools are terrible and our landlords are antisocial weirdos with no boundaries.)  And some things, I am just crossing my fingers extra hard and hoping against hope for, like the trip to NYS and time with family.  It’s precious.

What’s on your spring agenda?