Free throws in quarantine

Basketball 2

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.

 

Every tremor, every pulse

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The work truck was parked on the shoulder, door ajar.

I saw it long before I actually reached Allens Fresh — a stretch of marsh off the Wicomico. My commute takes me straight through this lowland daily. I might not have noticed the vehicle on a “normal day,” when fishermen crowd this strip and drop their skiffs. But this wasn’t a normal day. This is life in the time of COVID-19.

The roads haven’t been empty this week, but traffic has certainly been lighter. I’ve continued to report to the county hospital where drive-through COVID testing is now set up, working on communications. I’ve had a low-grade headache since Monday. Adrenaline has temporarily replaced caffeine. Sleep rushes up at me hard every night, thick and dreamless. Everything is surreal.

I noticed the truck because our vehicles were the only ones on this stretch of road. He’d pulled over just by the bridge — the one wiped out in the back-to-back tropical storms of 2011, the floodwaters erasing everything in their path.

I noticed the truck because, these days, I notice everything. Daily life has halted. Routines are totally disrupted. I’m hyper-aware of every sea change, every tremor, every pulse. Like all of us, I am waiting.

The sun was just cresting the horizon, painting Allens Fresh with warm orange light. Everything felt still. I was listening to The Killers — my current COVID coping mechanism — and trying to tune my brain to only white noise.

At first I thought the man was sick. He was so hastily stopped, not bothering with hazard lights. Not bothering to close the driver’s door. His work van was crookedly parked on the shoulder, like he’d skidded to a halt just in time. He couldn’t wait another second.

He was taking a picture.

On that strange morning, he’d hopped out to catch the sunrise. He was still.

I slowed as I passed, looking over to see the clear morning as he saw it. Miles later, I stopped to take a different picture: the tractor, the message … a reminder in strange times. Maybe a hopeful one, too. If everyone sees it, will they listen?

I got back to work.

And yes, I washed my hands.

October weekend

Farm fun

An October weekend is sunny cornfields, mountains of laundry, a crisp morning with the first wisps of visible breath.

Apple-cider donuts. Driving with the windows down. Trying on our costumes weeks in advance, and “practicing” our trick-or-treating.

Dodging the candy aisle in Target. Begrudgingly tucking arms into jackets, all shed by lunchtime. Crunching through a yard full of leaves.

Packing away the shorts and tees, then shopping to cover the kids’ ever-longer limbs. Replacing their whole wardrobe as they grow taller. Listening hard as they grow funnier, and wiser.

Chili on the stovetop, cornbread in the oven. Pies and whipped cream with an extra “shot” right from the can. Watching “Boss Baby” while I wash bedding. Fielding requests for “Peppa Pig” as we dim the lights for bedtime, now earlier and earlier.

It’s the four of us settling down on a Sunday night, with the house smelling of Lysol and (most of) the toys all tucked away.

It’s another donut for good measure. Monday’s on its way.

Ollie apple donut

Bottled-up emotions

Bottles

After four years of faithful service, we have said goodbye to Dr. Brown.

The bottle rack that took up real estate next to our sink has been scrubbed clean, along with the dozens of bottle parts and vents and unused scrub brushes and … well, all the accoutrements. And I do mean all of them.

The kitchen counter looks naked now. We hadn’t even lived in our house a year when Oliver was born. The sudden appearance of baby bottles — bottles on tables; bottles in bags; bottles always, always, always in the sink — was a reminder of how different our lives had become overnight.

When Ollie had been home a month or so, I remember standing bleary-eyed in front of the sink. We have a bank of windows in that sunny corner of the kitchen, and the day looked beautiful. Everything was green. Lush. Early summer. And I could barely absorb any of it, as trapped as I felt indoors.

Is this my life now? I thought.

I was still hand-washing baby bottles then. That seemed like what I “should” be doing. I was so screwed up, so weighed down with exhaustion and anxiety … but for some reason, I was adamant — obsessive, even — about cleaning these bottles by hand, as if that time-consuming process was penance for not feeling all the sparkly-glowy feelings of new motherhood.

It got better, of course. Mostly because I got better. It’s hard to talk about postpartum anxiety, even though I feel like I’ve told a million women before and since that they should never be afraid to ask for help. I was afraid to ask for help. I couldn’t find the words, even with my own husband. Our story had the added complication of preeclampsia and prematurity, and I felt so guilty for feeling anything but grateful that we were both frickin’ alive that it really … just complicated things. Everything.

A stigma remains around mental health — around the raw vulnerability of saying you are struggling, especially as a new parent. It’s supposed to be *~the HaPPieSt time of your LiFe*~ and to admit that taking care of a baby 24/7 can really suck isn’t a popular opinion.

Still, it’s true. I love my children dearly, it goes without saying, but I have struggled. The newborn years have been hard. But in time, sunshine began to filter through the fog … and here we are, almost four years later, and there’s nothing I look forward to more than coming home each day to the pounding of toddler feet running to meet me at the door. (Except maybe a piece of chocolate cake after they go to bed, but that’s another story.)

Hadley is sassy and wild and hilarious, learning so much every day. Oliver is opinionated and observant and incredibly smart, and I love our morning chats and bedtime stories and the way he tucks his head onto my shoulder at the end of a busy day.

With Hadley now fully transitioned to a cup, the “babas” had to go. Spencer was the one to make that executive decision. I was very wistful as I packed up the last of her 24-month bodysuits, neatly sorting our daughter’s new 2T shirts into piles in the top drawer of her dresser, but I could do it.

The bottles were another story, though. They have literally been with us from day one. I felt very tender toward Dr. Brown and his special bottles as we prepped everything to pass along. For as much as my husband and I have dreaded washing all the individual parts, they have served us well. Seen us through hard times. Been entrenched in the very origin story of the Johnson family of three, then four.

It’s the end of an era. But that “naked” corner of the kitchen is already filling with hair ties used to wrangle Hadley’s wild curls, boxes of cookies, Ollie’s PJ Masks toothbrush. New treasures seem to filter in every day.

Hadley’s Minnie Mouse cup is the new mainstay, and I have zero qualms about putting that baby in the dishwasher.

The relentless march of time does have its advantages.

The hush of a snowy Sunday

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Winter is my least favorite season, but even I will admit there is something magical about watching children as they watch snow.

We got about eight inches last week — unusual for Maryland. Generally the weather is mild here, and we’ve gotten spoiled by some exceptionally warm winters. It’s almost like we get to skip that season entirely.

Every now and then, though, Mother Nature rears up and reminds us who is really in charge here. Our snowfall came last Saturday into Sunday and, though we had lingering closures and commuting chaos into Monday, it wasn’t too stressful.

I welcomed the reminder to slow down. The holidays were so stressful this year. Much of that was self-imposed, I know, but I have struggled terribly with the sickness that is trying to make holidays “perfect” since my first child was born.

I have a hard time just letting things . . . be what they are. To accept that I don’t have to do All the Things, and my children would be just as happy with cardboard boxes as toys. We’re trying to raise them to be kind, empathetic, generous people, and mountains of presents aren’t in keeping with that goal. They’re not in keeping with anything I want to be about these days, actually.

Still: the pressure. Commercial. Societal. I work in marketing; it’s not like I’m unaware of advertising and messaging. I know how important it is to surround ourselves with positive energy that keeps us feeling strong and confident in our choices.

But when I looked at the small-ish pile of gifts under the tree — gifts my husband and I had carefully chosen for our son and daughter; ones we thought they would really enjoy, not just “stuff” to check the box of “Lots of Stuff for Christmas” — I had this pang of . . . not-doing-enough-ness. A sense that somehow I hadn’t delivered.

That is ridiculous, of course. I do know that. I spent hours planning for, decorating, baking and organizing for Christmas, because everyone knows mothers make the magic happen. And I have very acutely felt the sense of needing to measure up. And that, somehow, I’m not.

I’ve been sitting with these feelings lately, wondering where they come from. What I can do about them. Basically I’m a giant stress ball, and that doesn’t make me a good . . . anything. Partner, parent, employee. So many roles and responsibilities.

My anxiety is usually the root cause, but I actually feel like I have a decent handle on that lately. This is less the panicky fight-or-flight feeling I’m used to, and more just a general unease that I’m not keeping all the plates spinning. That a few are about to fall.

I’ve been reading Breathe, Mama, Breathe by Shonda Moralis — one of approximately 2,000 parenting self-help books I own, but have never made the time to crack open. It’s quick and helpful. I actually meditated for the first time this morning, sitting in our bedroom closet — the only place I can guarantee I will have five minutes to myself — and sat on the floor, emptying my mind until I was just a breathing person. A real living, breathing person.

What a miraculous thing that is.

It felt a little silly at first, but it wasn’t as hard to clear my thoughts as I expected. I’ve been needing a way to take a broom to the ol’ cobwebs in my mind, clearing away much of the useless clutter and trying to focus more on living in the moment.

Oliver will be four this spring, and Hadley almost two. They change so much every day and seem to grow overnight.

I need to be present. Present so I can enjoy it.

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Spence and I took them out into the snow last Sunday, tying on boots and knotting scarves and stuffing hats over curls. It was cold and wet and I hate both of those things, but I pulled on my long coat and joined them.

Hadley was delighted, sticking out her little paws to feel the cold flakes on her fingers and blinking as they dusted her face. Oliver tromped around in his Columbia boots, looking for all the world like an explorer who had recently discovered a new land.

And it occurred to me then, as it occurs to me now, that I have spent so much time standing behind them — arms outstretched in case they fall. But both my son and daughter walk more confidently now. I was amazed at how quickly they took off on uneven ground.

I was grateful for that simple, quiet moment: one that involved nothing but happy kids and heavy coats, a hushed afternoon and warm home to reenter when we were ready.

I haven’t felt sad that a soft January has followed sparkly, edgy, frenetic December.

I know how to appreciate quiet these days.

Five things on Friday

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1. As a belated Mother’s Day gift, my sister, Mom and I recently enjoyed tea and a tour at National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Despite living just 40-ish minutes outside the city, I don’t get downtown much these days — let alone on a Tuesday. It was such a cool, fun experience, and the food was delicious! We all I know was likely British in a past life, so the tea tradition speaks to my scone-loving soul. Highly recommend to anyone looking for a unique opportunity in the city.

2. I can’t help but feel like August is the only thing standing between me and fall. Glorious, beautiful, crisp and cozy fall. Last year I totally lost my marbles and started decorating before Labor Day, which I realize was . . . a little premature. This year? I’m trying to reign in my enthusiasm, but it’s pointless. Oliver was only 6 months old last Halloween, but this year I feel like he’ll be closer to “getting it” — and I’ll be able to better position him for pumpkin photo shoots! This is the No. 1 reason to have a child, by the way: photo shoots. (Just kidding. Er, sort of.)

3. I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I think I’ve earned a trophy for adulting for finally resolving a medical bill for testing during my pregnancy (!!) that has been haunting us since January 2015. It’s a long and boring story involving many phone calls, emails, stapled statements and blah blah blah, but as of yesterday, I fought the good fight and won. Just so happy to have that resolved. Insurance issues are the worst. Also, now I don’t have to worry about bankruptcy, so. Sweet relief!

4. Oliver has been saying “Mama” like crazy lately, along with “Dada” and “Baby” (bayyy-beee). He’s also beginning to wave, smoosh up his lips for a “kiss” and is definitely grasping the concept of “no” (whether he follows it is, of course, another story). So excited to be hitting these milestones!

5. I may or may not have started my Christmas shopping spreadsheet — along with said holiday shopping. As a list-loving American, this is the only way I can keep myself organized. Despite my good intentions, I was one of those people scrambling last-minute to finish shopping last year . . . and I wound up bulk-ordering on Amazon to just officially say I was done. Let me shout it loud and proud: I AM NOT doing that this year! Like, seriously. I want to enjoy the heck out of the holidays and not feel the rampant anxiety that consumed me last year, ’cause we all know that is not what it’s about. So I’ve already purchased a few things and scribbled down ideas for others. I feel better already.

Happy weekend, friends! And thanks for staying with me during the long write meg! drought. I find my creative juices stymied by exhaustion so much lately that it’s hard to put fingers to keyboard. But I’m not going anywhere. ❤


Five things on Friday

24 weeks

1. I’m officially in maternity wear 24/7, which probably should have happened a while ago . . . but I was milking the last little bit out of stretchy cardigans and generously-cut tops. But NO MORE. At 25 weeks along (today!), this baby is majorly gaining on me. I have an anterior placenta (eek, sorry to talk about placentas . . .), basically a “mattress” cushioning me from his blows, so movements have been subtle. But in the last week or so, Baby J has apparently gotten big enough for me to feel his frequent cartwheels — and my husband has even felt a jab or two. Very exciting!

2. The cold here in Maryland has gotten ridiculous. I know it’s so cliche to complain about the weather, but seriously. It was 5 degrees this morning, and I think I felt every sting of that. My 11-year-old car has been hating every second of it, and I’ve had frequent, panicky PLEASESTARTPLEASESTART moments with my engine. Also, our driveway still has long icy patches, and ice and clumsy pregnancies don’t mix.

3. I’m back to doing the random-book-shuffle. I start a book; I put it down. I reach for another one; I put it down. I get about 30 pages in before I snuffle and abandon it for something else, hoping the new read will better capture my attention. And . . . then it doesn’t. In the past few days, I’ve started What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn; To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han; and Opposites Attack by Jo Maeder. There’s nothing wrong with any of them; my mood is just weird, apparently? I don’t know. I am, however, still enjoying the audio of The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball. It’s intriguing, but definitely makes me glad I’m not a farmer (or a farmer’s wife).

4. Early plans for my baby shower are underway, and I’m getting quite excited about it! We’re actually having it at my house because, logistically, it makes the most sense — but my mom and sister are spearheading the effort. Because I’m obsessed with all things paper, I just designed and ordered the invitations. My new fixation revolves around finding the “right” thank-you cards, so I’ve been stalking Etsy and Amazon for options. I love these, these and these.


pink room

Shelf from Zulily5. And speaking of plans, we’re slowly getting the house decorated. The advice to “finish everything now!” before the baby comes has gotten into our heads, so we’re working on polishing up the office, downstairs bathroom and guest room before Baby J’s arrival. And that’s to say nothing of everything we need to do in the nursery, which is . . . yeah. Pepto Bismol pink. I stalk Zulily (affiliate link) for inspiration daily and finally made a purchase: this cool shelf! I don’t know; it spoke to me. Spencer painted the bathroom a beautiful green, so I’m going with a woodland theme? I’m whacky. And buying weird tchotchkes to put on it is part of the fun.

Happy weekend, friends!