Free throws in quarantine

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I’ve always called myself unathletic. The word rolls off my tongue, always ready — issued like a warning. The judgment of others means less when you’re judging yourself. Don’t expect too much of me, unathletic says.

Growing up, I was the kid who faked a headache to get out of volleyball. I warmed the bleachers like a full-time job. I jumped rope sometimes, if I had to; I played scooter hockey. I do remember being strangely good at jumping hurdles in middle school, but never attempted it again. Maybe I threw a discus well once, too?

Aside from the awkwardness of changing into school-issued T-shirts and shorts in front of classmates (seriously — does anyone ever escape that shame?), I didn’t dislike gym class. But I had it in my head that I was garbage at anything that required moving my body in a particular way, including dancing, and I’m nothing if not stubborn. I never gave myself a chance to enjoy playing games.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I recently discovered how much I like … basketball. “Basketball,” I mean; we’re not exactly talking regulation sports here. Our hoop is way too low. Most of the backboard is missing, with the last shards recently snapped loose in a windstorm. And up until a month ago, our single basketball had a slow leak.

Quarantine changes things.

How are you doing in self-isolation? I mean, we’re all cleaning. If Instagram is any barometer, lots of folks have also started baking from scratch; others are teaching themselves to knit, draw, or sew masks. Most parents seem too focused on gripping tightly to their sanity to take up a new hobby, because … you know. Kids. Kids all the time. Kids with no distractions. Kids who are just as stir-crazy and confused as we are.

Definitely not learning needlepoint over here.

Basketball? Basketball is different. When Spence and I were house-hunting, the hoop cemented next to our driveway was hard to miss. For a while, avoiding it with my vehicle was the extent of my relationship with it. But after Ollie arrived, someone — my dad? my sister? — decided the kid needed a basketball. We goofed around with it sometimes, but my kids have always been more interested in “playing tornado” and spinning until someone falls or pukes, so.

But getting outside has been a major part of our routine during COVID-19. While I continue physically reporting to work, my husband has handled the brunt of childcare responsibilities while also working full-time. When I get home, he desperately needs a break. The kids need fresh air. I need to clear my head. Feel some sun on my arms. Remember we’re alive and this too shall pass, etc. etc.

Grab the ball and go.

As the daughter of a sportswriter, I’m surprised by how much sports knowledge I actually have pinging around. On the rare occasions when I have a need or desire to dig it out, terms like dribble and lay-up are conjured up from nowhere. I guide our son to our makeshift free throw line in pink chalk. My husband lifts our daughter high, cheering as she dunks.

I’m five-foot-two and winded by a single trot up the steps. But I feel silly, happy and free when I’m outside with the kids, taking shot after shot in the sunshine. I’ve come to look forward to it.

Most of my attempts sail straight through the spot where the backboard should be, rolling toward the woods behind the house. Others hit the rim and come flying back at my face. But every now and then? I make it. Swish. So satisfying.

“You did it, Mommy!” Ollie will yell. “And the world goes wiiiiiiiild!”

The world has gone wild, my friend.

Still, we play on.

 

Life in the time of corona

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What a week.

Has it only been a week?

Sort of. It’s really been longer. But only a week since what was once a distant, abstract concern sharpened into a serious concern that has dwarfed everyday life … making “everyday life” here in Maryland seem quaint.

It’s like a natural disaster is unfolding, only it’s a beautiful spring day. Like prepping for a blizzard, but without radar to monitor … and no obvious way to know when the danger will be over. At least after a hurricane, the sun can be counted on to guide us out of the gloom.

This is love and life in the time of COVID-19. Never have I felt so unsettled about what lies ahead. My human neighbors and I are all in the same boat. And I can’t distract myself or get away from it — not at home, certainly, where the kids are camped out. And not at work, where I’m still reporting to our hospital. The front of my office building has been turned into triage. Marketing, too, is needed on the front lines.

Even in my mid-thirties, I fight the urge in challenging times to run “home.” Back where my dad has a plan and a fridge full of food. Where my mom has crafts, People magazines, and a backlog of Hallmark movies on the DVR. Back where I am not in charge. Where I don’t need to worry about making the wrong decisions.

Despite the mounting concern and media frenzy, I’ve been trying to keep it together. For now, at least, I’m still needed and expected at work, and so is my husband. We have the relief of knowing the kids are taken care of, tucked at home while we wait to see what the rest of this surreal time brings.

When my mother- and father-in-law arrived, I thought I was going to cry.

“I can breathe now,” I told Spencer’s mom. “I feel like the grown-ups are here.”

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At home, I try to stay “normal.” We have been cleaning like crazy, finally cracking into some of the cleaning products we’ve had for ages because I keep dragging in more after forgetting we own them.

Though I don’t want pandemic anxiety seeping into the kids’ lives, there’s no way they aren’t picking up on it. Day care is still open but, with Spencer’s parents in town, we’re keeping them home in the name of social distancing. Hadley and Oliver are both old enough to understand the departure from routine; my son especially struggles with change. Still, with their grandparents visiting (thank god), Hadley and Oliver have company and novelty to distract them.

They have walks in the woods. Coloring books. Easter crafts. They have snacks and “Peppa Pig” and LEGO blocks for days. They have Play-Doh and puzzles. When desperate, they have tablets. And if I were home, too, I’d have my books.

Like parenthood, there’s a great lesson of life in the time of corona: so much is out of our control. Things that would have seemed unimaginable a few weeks ago — closing schools; shutting down restaurants and bars; postponing elections — have already happened. These are strange times, friends. 

I fluctuate between “everything will be fine!” and “wow this is bad,” and I’m learning to be OK with that. One day at a time. We can only stay calm, scrub up, and carry on. Give our phones a break. Pause the newscast.

No one knows what will happen, but we can hold on and help each other through a turbulent ride. So wherever you are and however you’re reading this, I’ve got a light on for you. For all of us.

May we see ourselves swiftly through to the other side.