Wits’ End

Hey you!

Yes… you.

How are you doing? I don’t ask that question in a quick greeting-in-passing kind of way. How are you really doing? Are you hanging in there or hanging by a thread? Are things under control or are you so out of sorts that you can’t tell if you are coming or going? Are you questioning anything? Everything? Have you been able to remain organized or do you wish the world would just pause so you can take a breath and pull yourself back together? Are you at your wits’ end?

Wits’ end, as scary and frustrating as it can be, is often a good place to start anew. It is a place where we are forced to take a look around and survey the landscape, size up the current situation, and create a plan for the future. Wits’ end is generally a turning point that can move us in a new direction.

Daily life has become exhausting and fragmented like a jigsaw puzzle that won’t quite fit together the way it’s supposed to, the way it used to, or the way we think it should. Troubles mount and the consequences of coronavirus continue to challenge us, and it is tempting to lash out in frustration. Or dissolve into a puddle of tears. And it just drags on.

These tough times require patience, resilience, and an ability to dig deep and lean in. We are navigating challenges on a scale no one has seen in a very long time, and the ability to dig deep will determine how effectively we move forward.

The challenges, the loss, the grief, the instability… they just keep coming. But you are not alone. You have friends and family and neighbors and community members who care about you. We are all navigating the pandemic—and its consequences—in tandem. We are all trying to envision how the various fragmented pieces of present day life will fit into the big picture of the future as we create a post-pandemic world that will likely look much different than our current and previous life.

Life is uncertain and this year has been a living illustration of that fact. We cannot imagine how things will look in another month or two or ten. However, if we let go of our expectations and recognize that this pandemic is changing us and will continue to change us, we can build a future that is better and brighter than before. If we harness all of our kindness, patience, love, and support and channel it into our work together, we can create an amazing future.

It’s going to take time. We are deep in the throes of what this year has brought us, and there is no magical switch that comes when one year changes to the next. But there is hope.

So when you are feeling weak or lost or hopeless, lean on those around you. Ask for help. Recognize that you are stronger and wiser than you were last November. Give yourself a pat on the back for all you have endured over the last few months. Before you take to social media to lash out at the world, remember… we are all human in an unpredictable world. Be kind. Be patient. Be forgiving. With others and with yourself. We are all—every single one of us—at wits’ end. But we are all doing the best we can to grow and change and become stronger under the circumstances.

{Photo by Erik Eastman on Unsplash}

Disappointment

Today, we are introducing the newest and most prevalent of flavors for 2020: DISAPPOINTMENT. This new flavor will be the one to taint everything in your life this season. It is the flavor of pumpkin, but instead of the normal cinnamon-sweet spices, it’s tinged with a hint of bitter licorice and way more salt than is necessary. After all, 2020 has been nothing if not salty. This new flavor is not the best combination, but it’s not the worst, exactly. That’s what makes it disappointment.

Disappointment is the flavor you will get when you send your child to school on the first day. You spend the morning reveling in your time alone—the first time in six months! You decide you might be able to get used to this again, but when your child walks in the door at the end of the day, he is carrying a mask you don’t recognize because he traded the one you sent with him for one he liked better.

Disappointment is the flavor of the day when you arrive at college (or high school or middle school) only to determine that nothing, and I mean nothing, is the same as it was when you left. The hallways have one-way traffic mimicking the aisles in the grocery store. The furniture in the lounge and common areas has been removed, and meals are now a grab-and-go affair—there is no sitting with your friends at your favorite table. Disappointment is all you can taste.

Disappointment will run through your veins and ooze out your pores when all the plans you made—for fall and the holidays—are cancelled, yet again. These are the plans you made while you sat at home twiddling your thumbs all spring and summer, itching to go out. Cancelled. Because, as it turns out, children can catch COVID; they can spread it faster than runny peanut butter, and in fact, they are itty-bitty super-spreaders.

Disappointment is the flavor that rolls around on your tongue when you need to do something different. As you scroll your social media, you see pictures of your friends at the beach, camping with large groups of “family,” attending parties and weddings and large rallies, and you want to be out there, too. You wonder, did I dream the whole pandemic thing? Because you just don’t feel like all those options are available to your cautious self.

Disappointment finds its way in the when you venture out to eat a meal at your favorite venue. It’s the first time that you and your friends/family are all available, so you arrange to meet up for dinner. But the clear skies that have prevailed for a month have clouded over and it’s pouring rain. The only available tables are the ones that are outside and not under one of the small tents.

Disappointment leaves its licoricey bitterness when you are driving an hour from home for an event. Halfway there—and too far from home—you realize you forgot your required mask, and you kick yourself because you have been so good about remembering. And now you’ll have to spend hours in a disposable mask that smells vaguely of sweaty socks.

Disappointment leaves the sharpest aftertaste when you travel three hours to check in on your mother. You confine yourself to a small space just inside the door of your childhood home. When, after a few hours of conversation, you turn to leave, you remember you cannot hug your mom good-bye.

If you get sick of the taste of disappointment, think about new and unusual ways you can enjoy the fall, despite the restrictions posed by the coronavirus. Gather school supplies to donate to a local charity. Join some friends for a bonfire and s’more making. Host an apple-picking party or an outdoor crafting/pumpkin carving party. Go on a hike or bike ride. Create something new.

Disappointment may be the overwhelming flavor of fall, but CREATIVITY and OPPORTUNITY are amazing flavors that will wash away the bitterness of disappointment.

{Photo by Pedro da Silva on Unsplash}

Just in case…

Just in case you need to hear this today, you are doing great. As you sit in your home and look in on your friends and connections on social media—the ones who seem to be rocking quarantine—you need to know, we are all struggling in our own way. We all have different coping mechanisms for dealing with this isolation and lock down. Some of us are sitting home binging on Netflix, and others are purging and redecorating their homes, room by room. You are doing what you need to do right now, and you are doing great.

Just in case you need to hear this, you are beautiful. Perhaps you got up this morning and donned jeans and a sweater, put on makeup, ate a good breakfast, and did something productive throughout the day. Or maybe, you rolled out of bed at noon (or later), didn’t comb your hair, had a breakfast pop-tart, and spent the day in your jammies. Regardless, you are beautiful.

Just in case you don’t know, you are awesome. All that you are doing to get through your isolation, this is what you need to be doing. You are making an effort to keep it together day after day in unpredictable circumstances. The people around you might not be joyous every day ago because they, too, are trying their best to handle the circumstances of our current world. Whatever you are doing to deal with your isolation and quarantine, you are doing your best.

Right now, as we work through our situations, each on our own and in our own ways, we are more exposed than ever. We are more real than ever. The beautiful, wonderful mess that is life is on display daily for each of us to deal with and for those on Zoom to see.

No matter what you have on display, no matter if you are having a good day or a bad day, just know you are loved and needed and cared for. Know that people rely on you for a smile, a kind word,

Just in case you have forgotten, you matter.

All of Us

April first. Spring is arriving to my yard with bulbs sprouting into crocuses and hyacinths, dotting the fading winter browns with color. Lying in bed this morning as consciousness began to awaken, I breathed in the depths of April. The difficulties of April. The heaviness and huge expanse of April that stretches out in front of us.

This afternoon, I went out for a walk. My afternoon walks keep me sane and give me time to reflect. There were lots of people outside. Some were walking their dogs. Others, like me, were just walking themselves. In the woods, I saw two teenage girls sitting together on a rock, shoulder to shoulder, bent over the same phone. Up the road a piece, in a cul-de-sac, a group of children played together as if it were any normal nice day. They huddled in groups discussing the game they would play.

It seems that many people are missing the social distancing point. Playing with friends—even outside—is not social distancing. Sitting with your friend on a rock or walking side-by-side with your friend is not social distancing. Hanging out with friends does not create the necessary distance.

The toll this virus is taking is already staggering. If we are going to beat it and “flatten the curve,” we have to be vigilant. We have to take on a new mindset. We have to assume everyone we see has the virus, and when we go out of our houses, we have to act like we have it. We have to stay away from people, and we have to protect ourselves and others. This is our main job right now—to stem the deadly tide of this enemy.

One of the reasons this virus spreads so fast is because it hides in people with no symptoms. It spreads through undetected infections and asymptomatic carriers. Look at the choir rehearsal in Washington state back in mid-March. None of the people in attendance had symptoms and yet the virus spread through 45 people in that group. No one knows for sure whether they are infected or not. We can’t take chances unless we are willing to risk our lives and the lives of our loved ones.

All of us, Friends. It’s going to take all of us to get through this virus and to beat it. Don’t hang out with friends. Don’t meet up with a group in a parking lot and stand six feet apart. Don’t drive with a carload of friends to a state park to hike. Don’t go to a store that’s open because it’s an essential business just to get something to keep you busy. Just don’t.

Do your part. Stay home and stay away from others. Do your part for all of us.

Grapes

I have learned to ration grapes.

This lesson was a long time in the learning, but I think I finally have it down. It comes after many months of missing out on the grapes—grapes I bought. I would come home from the grocery store with three pounds of grapes, dump them in a colander and wash them. While they drained in the kitchen sink, they would disappear. All of them. Before the end of the day.

Week after week, month after month, this was happening. Now, you might think I would have caught on before now. You might think I would have devised a solution months ago. Or stopped buying grapes. But I didn’t. I just kept thinking that requesting my kids not eat all the grapes would be enough. Nevertheless, when I arrived home from work. The grapes would be gone.

“You ate all the grapes!” I would say when I discovered the disappearance.

“No. I saved you some,” would come the inevitable reply.

“Three grapes. You saved me three grapes!!”

“Oh. Is that all that’s left?” And there would be a long pause. “Sorry….”

And so, I have learned to ration the grapes. This is just one in a long line of lessons I have learned in my parenting career. I wash a small bunch at a time, and leave the majority in the refrigerator. In the back. Where they might go unnoticed.

It’s the only way I can have my grapes and eat them, too.

Struggle

I am struggling to find something to write about, to find a topic that works, that fits with where my head is. I have been thinking and striving and trying for a while now, but for the life of me, I cannot come up with a topic that works. In fact, I’ve written several blog posts recently, but none is right to post, though I may come back to those someday. Who knows?

I know this is part of the process, this struggle and striving. Writing is not as easy as it seems. Sure, it seems like all I have to do is string a bunch of words together to make some sense of the world. Anyone can do that, right? But there are times—so many times—when there is just nothing. No light shines through the cracks in the walls as it usually does, bringing with it a flood of new ideas on which to focus. No light.

Just a dark silence that reverberates through my brain, voiding my imagination of all… well, imagination. My creativity needs a new igniter.

I know this is a temporary situation; I’ve been here many times before. And I also know that pushing through it to write something—anything—will help me begin to move beyond this creative vacuum more quickly.

And so, press on I do. I have written those several aforementioned blog posts that are too bad to share. I have written letters and freewrites and quotes that might make me think. And still, the struggle continues. Over the weekend, I will work on some writing exercises. Anything to get some ideas flowing. And who knows? One of these days, the floodgates of creativity may just give way to a fast and furious overflow of ideas.

{Photo by DJ Johnson on Unsplash}

Present

At this time of year, I find myself actively avoiding shopping. The crowds, the lines, the traffic, the people… really, these things are exhausting. But every now and then, I put on my big girl pants, wrap up in my thickest skin, and head out into the wild. On a recent shopping experience, I stumbled into a disaster of a store. All of the salespeople were manning the cash registers to keep up with the lines, and I noticed the store shelves looked like they had been ransacked. Clothes were carelessly strewn on piles of others that had been pawed through, held up, and discarded. There was no order and no rhyme or reason. There was just a disastrous mess.

Did I mention that the salespeople were frantically running the cash registers, and every register in the place was open and cashing out customers as efficiently as possible? They were doing a great job of moving the customers and keeping the lines from growing too long.

So honestly, people, do y’all have maids at home who follow you around and pick up after you? How long does it take to refold the items you look at so you might place them neatly back on the shelf? How much care would it take to not throw all of the packages of underwear on the floor while you look for the one package in the size and style you need?

Any direction I looked in this store on this day (this past Sunday), I saw signs of people moving through life without being present. These people are shopping and buying, searching for a present (not the right present, but any present) so they can cross one more thing off their lists. They are moving through the season like robots, checking in on their phones and posting their finds on social media. They are not paying attention to their surroundings; they don’t care about the people who work in the stores; and they have no regard for the other shoppers who will come to this same shelf and look for a gift in these same piles.

Is this what Christmas has come to? We have so lost touch with the reasons for giving that we destroy everything in our paths like mini tornadoes in order to get things done and get through the holiday. Then we can cross the holiday season off our list and move on into the new year.

We can do better, people. I know we can.

On this day in this store, I looked over my shoulder at all the salespeople working hard to accommodate the shoppers. I pocketed my car keys, and I set about folding and organizing the sweaters on one side of one display. It wasn’t much. And when I turned from my work, I could see so many other messes that I knew I barely made a dent in the clean up of this store. But my gesture might have given an atom of peace to one salesperson. Or my work might have been destroyed by the very next customer who couldn’t find the exact right sweater in the exact right size. Either way, I knew I had taken a few minutes out of my day to attempt to make things better for someone.

As we move through life in the coming days, perhaps we might all take a little time to think about what it means to be truly present in life—especially in this season of love and light and peace. What would your life look like if you paid attention to the things around you? Perhaps we might commit to taking one small step toward being more present—both for ourselves and for those around us. The world needs each and every one of us. But we can only be useful to the world if we are willing to be fully present.

Unexpected Duties

Last evening, my son walked in the door from work as I was walking through the kitchen with a basket of dirty laundry. “If you want to give me your sweatshirt, I’ll toss it in with this load,” I told him. He unzipped his jacket and slipped it off. He started to throw it on the chair, but then changed his mind. He brought it to his nose and sniffed. But right now, he has a pretty bad cold. “I can’t smell anything.” He held it out to me. “Can you smell this and tell me if it needs to be washed?”

You know that parenting manual that we are all supposed to receive before we leave the hospital with our newly hatched babies? The manual that the hospital always forgets to give new parents? This particular task is in there. It’s in the chapter titled, “Unexpected Duties of Parenting.” This chapter contains all the things parents must do, but don’t know about. These are the Surprise! duties, some of which could be perceived as dangerous.

“Uck! This smells horrible! Smell it!” This exclamation is usually followed by some item or other being held out at arm’s length toward the unsuspecting (and thoroughly disgusted) parent.

“It’s really dark in there, Mom. Can you go first?” Yes, that’s definitely a good idea. I’ll go first and when whatever is in there eats me, you’ll be left here to fend for yourself. Good plan.

“Mom, I think the milk is sour. Taste it.” Ooo! That seems like such a great offer, but … no thank you, I’ll pass.

“I dropped my boat [fish net, stick, jacket… insert item here] in the pond, and now I can’t reach it. Come help me get it!” All “emergencies” like this one are delivered frantic and breathless. They often take all spur-of-the-moment creative resources a parent can muster to devise some plan, gather all of the possibly necessary items (stick, rope, rain boots, etc.), and run to retrieve the stray item.

Then there are the SCREAMS that emanate from the far reaches of the house at top vocal volume. With heart pounding, the parent will call out, “What’s happening?” The child who screamed replies, “MOM! There’s a bug in my room!” The parent, with pounding heart calming and eyes rolling, will say (as calmly as possible), “Well, kill it,” because that would be the logical thing to do, right? The panicked reply is always, “It’s HUGE, Mom! Please come, NOW!!”

Over the years, there are myriad forgotten items that have to be delivered to school after the morning’s frantic rush to get out the door and make the bus—lunches, schoolbooks, papers, projects, you name it.

All of this—from crazy requests to chaotic moments—is contained in that single chapter of the great, unseen parenting manual. It might be nice to know these duties are coming and expected. Then again, no one can predict when a child/teen/young adult might say, “Yuck, smell this!” So maybe these unexpected parenting duties have a purpose for us, as parents. Maybe these are simply tiny lessons in thinking on one’s feet and creative problem solving that, when strung together, make us stronger and more prepared for the bigger issues and the truly important parenting duties.

{Photo by Ben Wicks on Unsplash}

Boredom

When I was a kid, summers were long and slow, and by mid-August, boredom had fully settled in. The long summer days had been filled with play and bike rides and make believe. We had spent time with friends and siblings and cousins—perhaps to the point of annoying each other. We had filled long nights with neighborhood hide-and-seek games that stretched well past dark. We had caught fireflies then set them free. We had grown Monarch butterflies from tiny caterpillars. We went to camp, and we read piles of books. We had spent long, lazy days in the pool until our lips turned blue. Picnics and bike rides, baseball games and kite-flying, watermelon and popsicles—we had done it all. We were bored. And we were ready to go back to school.

But in Massachusetts, where we started school after Labor Day, we still had many long days stretching out in front of us. And we had to fill them.

Being bored was never really a bad thing. Boredom instilled me with creativity. I thought up fun things to keep myself busy. I worked to create useful things from the items we had around our home. I learned to make craft items that people would use, giving me an eye for how shapes, colors, and textures worked together.

I became a deep thinker. In my boredom, I had grand daydreams in which I traveled the world and beyond, taking imaginative detours and side roads. I tried on different identities, playing pretend and dress-up, shedding my quiet personality and donning the cloak of someone more adventurous. I thought about the way the elements of my life fit together.

Boredom pushed me outside where I learned about nature. I watched caterpillars hatch from miniscule eggs and butterflies emerge from chrysalises. We rescued baby bunnies from the neighborhood cats, and nursed an oriole with a broken wing. I explored trails and woods and followed streams. Occasionally, I came to the end of the road and had to figure out where to go next.

Boredom gave me focus. It gave me time to reflect on who I was, what I wanted to do, and how I planned to get there. It forced me to think about which career options would be the best for me, my future plans, and how to deal with my thoughts about myself.

Boredom forced me to realize that life is not all that bad.

And now, as I watch kids focus on their phones, compulsively check messages, and interact with the people sitting next to them via text, I can’t help but think we’ve gotten pretty far off track. Maybe what we need is a little more boredom.

{Photo by Charlein Gracia on Unsplash}

The Adventure Continues

I recently took my kids to Canada for a few days of exploring in Montreal. When we hit the northernmost Vermont border, we had to cross into Canada for our second driving adventure of the trip.

Crossing between the U.S. and Canada is always a bit strange. Like… the road keeps going, but you have to stop to get permission to keep driving. So you pull up to a very secure looking toll-booth-type structure, talk to the border patrol, and drive on in, even though the road looks the same. (Well, other than the speed limit signs, which are now in kilometers per hour, making it appear that the speed limit has increased substantially…). And talking to the border patrol officers is a bit unnerving because they are trained to be intimidating. Or maybe they just see too much in their jobs, and they quickly learn “intimidating” is the best approach. Who knows?

I am not (usually) intimidating. In fact, I like to talk to people and engage them in conversation. So as we pulled up to the window, my daughter warned me not to banter with the agent. Because apparently, I don’t know any better.

“Where are you from?” the man asked harshly in his French-Canadian accent. His directness caught me by surprise, and I momentarily forgot where we were from. But as he took the pile of passports from my hand, I quickly recovered and responded to his question. “Where are you going?”

“Montreal,” I informed him, and when asked, I told him how long we would be there.

“Do you have family in Montreal?”

“No, sir,” I responded.

“Do you have friends in Montreal?” he pressed.

“No, sir,” I answered. He studied the passports. “We’re on an adventure,” I offered, deviating from the expected script.

He snapped right back to the script. “Do you have any weapons in the car?”

“No, sir.”

“That would be an adventure,” he stated. It took me a split second to realize that he had ventured from the script, as well.

“What?” I asked. “If we had weapons?” He nodded. “Yes, it would,” I agreed

“The adventure would stop here,” he smiled and chuckled a bit to himself.

“I’m sure it would,” I smiled back.

“Go. Have fun.” He handed me our passports and waved us through. We thanked him and drove away. We were a bit giddy that the interchange had turned to an unexpected bit of fun.

And, of course, we were thrilled that our adventure would continue.