My Little Cage

I’ve spent the day today reading The New York Times’ series on mothers during the pandemic.

The outlook is bleak. I thought reading them would make me feel less alone, but I think I feel worse: sadder, more defeated, more hopeless. I’ve been feeling like this for several days already. Is it hormones? Several people now have told me that they notice in me a tendency to want to “blame” hormones instead of just admitting that I’m a complex human being going through difficult circumstances. Still, though. The hopeless feelings do seem to reach an extra high pitch at predictable intervals.

I also felt, when reading, like a princess crying over a lost golden ball. I make enough money to live (now I make money, anyway…I survived most of the previous year by taking advantage of my previously fantastic, now average credit), my daughter is with her father about half the time, which leaves me with precious free time that I know others would love to have even a taste of, and I live in a place where I can afford for someone to come to my house twice a week to cook and do housework. I’m relatively well-known for what I do. I have a nice boyfriend. I even finally bought health insurance and life insurance, something I’ve been meaning to do for years. Compared to so many, I’m really not doing badly at all.

You’d think I’d be more relaxed about things. Instead, I’m like an anxious lion in a zoo, pacing back and forth endlessly, exhausted, but unable to stop. I spent most of my life believing I was an introvert. It turns out I was just shy, which, I’ve now learned, is not the same thing. I’m an extrovert, and I have just had it with all this isolation. I can’t spend one more day stuck in this pandemic, and yet, I have to. And so does everyone else.

This week especially, I’ve felt so tired that it feels as if I’ve been drugged. I drop things, I run into other things. In order to write, I wake up several hours before my daughter has to get up for her virtual classes. Like every mom all over the world right now, it’s a guilt-ridden juggling act: get my paid work done before the sun comes up, breakfast, dishes, help with class while I edit what I’ve written, too much TV time, a long walk, lunch, more dishes, even more TV time, dinner, dishes, tooth-brushing, story, song, and then fall asleep much too late every night, no matter how hard I try to plan it.

The background noise of this for me, as for everyone, is the pandemic. I separated and moved to a new place just weeks before it began. By the time I’d gotten completely moved into the new place and would have been able to receive guests, schools closed and we were discouraged from going out at all. The pandemic hitting just as I acted on it sure has complicated things.

Sometimes, my brain simply protests. My daughter goes with her father, and the take-charge version of me says, “Okay, time to get to work!” This is typically the point in which my brain simply turns off and refuses to budge. (If anyone figures out how to override this, please do tell).

All this said, things have to get better. Right? My relationship with my kid’s dad will improve at some point (I hope). She’s going to go back to real school at some point. We’re going to get vaccinated at some point. I’m going to have a car again instead of relying on taxi drivers who drive much less safe than I’d like.

But it’s all in the future. For now, I pace back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Consider this a sad wave from my cage to yours. I miss you: you, collectively. Here’s to loneliness and overwhelm not lasting forever.

It’s Christmas Anyway

This year, my daughter asked Santa for gifts for her stuffed rabbit, Fufu (I know this because Mexicans have been more clever than us about finding out what kids ask for: they write him a letter and stick it on the Christmas tree). The request? A “playground” for the rabbit, and a basket of toy carrots, also for him.

This isn’t meant to be a “look how generous and selfless my daughter is” humblebrag destined for the “That Child Didn’t Say That” Facebook group — she’s surely confident that she’ll get her own presents as well — but it does kind of break my heart that Christmas in a pandemic year means asking for things that let her fantasize about being able to enjoy what she used to enjoy, the memories of what it was like to easily strike up games with whatever kids happened to be at the park at the time fading like dreams.

I’ve always been sensitive about gifts, especially for children: the first time my heart truly broke was when I realized, at the age of 5, that there were kids that didn’t get presents for Christmas or birthdays because their parents didn’t have the money to buy them. “They don’t even have crayons and coloring books?” I remember asking my mother as we sat in the car in the Target parking lot. “They might not even know what crayons are,” she replied. I was floored.

In retrospect, I can’t imagine kids, at least on this side of the world, not knowing what crayons are, but still. Nothing struck me as sadder, and I had to actively push the idea of these other children out of my head in order to enjoy my own abundant Christmases that my parents worked so hard to provide. It seemed that every year, my mom would sit my sister and me down to explain that we wouldn’t be getting “that many” gifts that year, but it never seemed to me that there were any less than the previous year. As a mother myself now, I can appreciate how and why she worried about it so much.

This is going to be my first Christmas as the only grown-up in my home. This means that it will also be my first Christmas without any gifts under the tree for me on Christmas morning. It would be a lie to say that I’m not sad about this at all, but, having given myself the gift of a life more in line with the one I want to live more than makes up for it, as do so many other gifts I’ve received this year: of deep friendship, of love and connection, of continuing health and employment when so many have lost both, of unexpected generosity and good fortune at every turn.

It’s been a rough year for us all. Let’s not forget to be gentle and generous with one another. This year has taken us all for a ride through a creepy and depressing “funhouse,” and many of us haven’t survived it. But it’s Christmas anyway, and being able to let our higher selves shine through even at the roughest times, even if it’s in fits and starts, is what makes me love humans the most.

Pessimistic Optimism

“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

I’ve been thinking about this since the first time I read it a few months ago in a Nicholas Kristof opinion piece, and how it connects so well to my natural tendency (and everyone’s, I suppose), to see history — broad history, as well as our own individual ones — strung up like garland around a Christmas tree, moving in a similar fashion and in a similar not-far-off place that looks like the last but isn’t exactly the same.

What do we have to do to get out of our silly little patterns? Will we ever reach Nirvana? Suddenly the religions that view life cyclically, the ones where we all come back over and over again — as individuals, as groups, as societies — make a lot of sense to me. Why wouldn’t we be like everything else in the world, after all?

Most people think Mark Twain said that quote about history, which is entirely possible because he was brilliant and witty. I sure wish he’d actually written it down if he did so we could know for sure. I’m not too concerned about its source, in any case: wise words are wise words, and I’m an irreverent and unapologetic life-long scavenger of good verse.

We humans are pattern-finding creatures, after all…it’s simply the way our brains are built. The clouds are just clouds with no meaning behind them, but we see a dragon, we see Santa Claus, we see a suspiciously-accurate Last Supper. The French philosopher Voltaire famously said, “If God didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” We’re naturally superstitious in spite of ourselves, wired for belief. I’ve called myself an atheist in the past, but that’s not really true. I never stopped reading my horoscope, or praying. And I’ve mostly lived my life with frequent bouts of cosmically peeping over my shoulder with narrowed eyes, sometimes with a slight smile and nod (bro-style), sometimes with a hurt scowl.

There are so many ways right now that we’re being asked to hold on, to wait and be patient in our suffering (my smile-to-scowl ratio right now is at a rare 50/50). There’s promising vaccine news, but not yet: we need to wait a little more. My dad wants to travel to Mexico over the Christmas holiday, and I want to say “oh yes please come” but I can’t, because there’s actually an end in sight and waiting sucks but we should wait. Biden won the presidential election, but we can’t have him yet: Trump, like the virus, is stubborn in his effort to stick around as long as humanly possible and prevent any fun at all until he’s absolutely forced out.

Pandemics faithfully and predictably throb their way through history, as do leaders of the current Trump-Bolsonaro-Duterte strain.

And not everything will be perfect once we get these lowered levels of intensity. We’ll still need to be careful and cautious with our health, despite the vaccine; those who lost others, those who lost livelihoods, and those who lost both will have to pick up the pieces, which is just completely unfair (I’m scowling at you, pandemic gods). President Biden will still need to deal with $%&/·#@% Mitch McConnell and the ravages wrought by obstruction-as-strategy from a resentful and angry political party that will still hold quite a bit of power. Whether those resentments are justifiable or not isn’t the point; they’ll need to be dealt with and somehow neutralized all the same.

But we can find light where we’d never expect it. Good and beautiful things can happen mid-apocalypse. Your daughter’s eyes can shine with pride. Mind-blowing love can pop up out of the blue. You can bite into the perfect, sweetest strawberry you’ve ever tasted. So hang on, people. Be ready for it. We’re on a rocky part of the spiral, but it won’t always be this way. Even if you don’t survive this part, who’s to say you won’t be washed, transformed, back for another round on the flip-side?