Every year, on the 1st of February (midway through winter), Modern Mrs Darcy posts about what is saving her life right now. Big, small, doesn’t matter. It’s an opportunity in a difficult season to take a moment to recognize the good things in your life, the things that make getting through each day easier. In a year like this one, these positive things (big or little) are more important than ever.
My list follows (posted, of course, on the 2nd because that’s how I roll right now), but I wouldn’t want to publish it without first acknowledging that what is REALLY saving my life right now is my privilege – my two-income household; my job that I can do entirely from home; my stable, high-speed internet and multiple devices that allow Q. and I to both teach over Zoom while the children are
building with LEGO and playing video games whenever they think we’re not looking learning in online school; my car that lets us pick up the groceries we ordered online so we can avoid the stores; and, of course, my husband who divides up each and every work day evenly with me so that we both get a concentrated block of uninterrupted time in the study without kids (ok, for me it’s mostly uninterrupted time since both kids burst in at least once per session, but it’s a far cry from trying to work at the kitchen table while supervising the four year old’s school day). In this day and age I feel like that last one should be a given, and not a rare feat, but I’ve lost count of how many of my female friends are married to enlightened, modern men, who are wonderful, involved fathers, and more than capable of completing any household task, but who, ever since they started working from home, have disappeared into a room at the start of every work day, shutting the door behind them, and reappearing only for meals, leaving my friends to juggle the school needs of multiple kids, the household chores, and their own jobs, because those jobs are “less important” or “more flexible” or “part-time” or “less financially lucrative” or whatever other bullshit society has offered up to let these men think they get a pass. It’s infuriating.
Anyway, on to the good! In no particular order, here are
five, six, seven things that are truly saving my life right now:
There’s so much screen time in our house these days. SO.MUCH.SCREEN TIME. We get the kids out of the house at least twice a day (usually once to play in the yard and once for a walk), but their lives (and their parents’, let’s be honest) revolve around screens. Skating on the weekends has become a much needed break – a chance to get some fresh air and exercise that isn’t just walking, a chance to do something that feels like “winter” (since we’ve had very little snow and we’ve twice now had to abandon plans to go sliding because the hill felt too crowded), and a rare opportunity to do something all together.
Skating feels safe – masks are mandatory on and off the ice (even when they were just mandatory off the ice earlier in the winter we wore them on the ice too) and the capacity on the rink is capped. You have to book online for a specific 45 minute time slot at a specific location. The system is a bit crazy and reminds me of trying to register the kids for swimming lessons in the before times, since the daily time slots open at 8 a.m. a week before. I’ve now set alarms on my phone for 7:45 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday to make sure I’m logged in and ready to book for the following weekend, since our preferred rink fills almost instantly (and I’ve yet to succeed at booking the skating trails, despite my best efforts).
But once we’re there, the hassle of booking and the chaos of trying to get everyone out the door at precisely the time I think we need to leave to eliminate any possibility that we might be late and lose our spots all melts away, replaced with blue skies, crisp air, and the comforting rhythmic scrape of blades on ice. I think a lot about my Dad when I skate, as he loved to skate and never will again. I try to pay attention to the small miracles of my body as I move and turn and breathe under the sun. I try for those minutes not to take it all for granted, as I usually do.
E. does endless laps of the rink, lost in his own imagination. Q. doggedly works on improving (having learned to skate only after the mad Canadian he married brought him to the frozen north). And I skate with P., who really “got it” this year. She visibly improves week after week and now skates so quickly and with so much confidence that when Q. circles round to trade off, I no longer feel like I need the break to actually get in some skating of my own.
RICK RIORDAN’S The Trials of Apollo
At the end of last year, I was in a reading slump and was struggling to a) finish books and b) enjoy them. I was overwhelmed with work, the aftermath of the US election, the decision to pull the kids from school, and the terrible pandemic numbers in our province. I had this giant pile of library books next to my bed (the quarantine procedures mean my library isn’t charging late fines at the moment, so I can horde them without penalty), but I didn’t want to read any of them. Reading is one of the most important ways that I manage my anxiety, so I knew I couldn’t stay in this funk for long without repercussions echoing through the rest of my life.
At some point I discovered that Rick Riordan had published a third series set in the world of Percy Jackson. I’d read his first two series and enjoyed them both; I’d particularly liked how receptive he’d been to criticism about the lack of diversity in the first series and about the (likely unintentional) connections he’d made between classical mythology and white supremacy (certainly not the first to do so). I put The Trials of Apollo on hold and absolutely devoured the books when they became available.
They are a HOOT. I know a lot about classical mythology but (no spoilers) the context for this series is even more in my field of expertise. I’m sure these are great books without a background in the field but when you can pick up on and appreciate every single nuance, they’re truly fabulous. Q. would regularly find me snickering away on the couch or shrieking with outright glee as something I’d predicted many chapters before finally came to fruition.
They were a fantastic romp and once I’d burned through all five books I found myself eagerly reaching for books that had been languishing in my bedside pile for months. Reading mojo restored, I read ten books in January, still below what I would consider to be my “normal” reading rate in the before times, but more than I’d managed in any month since July 2020. The number of books I’ve had out from the library for an embarrassingly long time is dwindling (labmonkey’s story about having to pay for a library book that was three months overdue because the library had assumed it was lost might have also helped in this regard).
SOMERSBY’S BLACKBERRY CIDER
Not gonna lie, Q.’s and my alcohol consumption has skyrocketed this past year. Had I put together the equivalent post for this past spring/summer, alcohol would have featured heavily on that list as well (especially fancy drinks made by Q. with herbs from our garden that we then sipped while sitting on our patio). We’re not drinking as much as we were during that first lockdown since the kids are more
pacified occupied with online school and we feel not quite as strung out (although I suppose we’re only at the equivalent of May, so there’s still time). But we’re certainly drinking more than we usually would in the before times.
While in the grand scheme of things, we are totally fine, as we have been this entire pandemic (there’s that privilege again), Q. and I are SO VERY TIRED. The kids were back in school for long enough for us to get our massive two-book project off to the press, which is wonderful, obviously, but we’d just started to talk about taking a couple of days off to decompress and spend some time together when the in-person learning came to an abrupt end and we were thrown back into the chaos and juggling act of lockdown, only this time with exponentially more synchronous meetings for the kids and a much heavier teaching load for Q. and I.
This semester, this winter, is a grind. So a drink on a Friday night, while the kids are eating dinner and Q. is squeezing in a bit more work time before he cooks our traditional ‘date night dinner’, is always appreciated. I like many ciders, but Somersby’s Blackberry Cider just makes me happy every time I drink it. At one point in the spring it wasn’t in stock anywhere when we did an alcohol order, and I started drinking other flavoured ciders to see if I could find an acceptable substitute because I felt guilty about its massive carbon footprint (drinking cider imported from Denmark when my province has dozens of small-batch options was hard to rationalize). I found a decent peach one, but nothing was quite as good. And then, this fall, when we were making another online order, I discovered that a) it was back in stock and b) now IT WAS MADE IN CANADA.
I ordered every can the store had.
I’ve been savoring one (or two) every week. Q. and I always share a bottle of wine over the weekend, but I don’t share blackberry cider with anyone.
MY BOSE 700 NOISE-CANCELLING HEADPHONES
Let me say from the outset that this is another example of my privilege speaking, because I was able to use my professional expenses fund to get my employer to pay for these ludicrously expensive headphones. Would I have bought them myself if I had to spend my own money? Probably not. Am I unbelievably happy that these were considered eligible expenses in these unprecedented times? YOU HAVE NO IDEA.
They’re not perfect – the app that you’re meant to use to control them is incompatible with my computer; they’re a bit fussy to charge using the laptop’s usb port; they’re heavier than I was expecting – but when I have them on, with the noise cancelling cranked up, I don’t hear ANYTHING, even if E. is shouting with enthusiasm at his class on the other side of the wall. They’ve got great sound quality, my students say I come through clearly on their end, they’ve got a solid battery life, and they look good (I went for the triple midnight).
The ability to work without hearing P. having a meltdown when I’m not the one on with the kids?
We have an elderly and much beloved cat, who, as she has aged, has developed a habit of roaming around the house in the wee hours of the morning, yowling at the top of her lungs. Is she lost? Is she lonely? Is she bored? Is she deaf? We have no idea, but when she’s asleep on the bed, gets up, wanders down the hall and then starts yowling, only to sound SURPRISED when she finally comes back to the bedroom and discovers that WE’RE STILL IN THE BED WHERE SHE LEFT US, we feel like we’re losing our minds.
It was getting really bad. We’d have nights where she wandered in and out repeatedly, yowling, jumping on and off the bed, climbing on and off of us until Q. and I both felt like we’d barely slept. When she started waking up one or both kids most nights, we knew we’d hit our breaking point.
We felt awful, but we banished her to the basement. She has everything she needs down there – food, water, litter box, cozy blanket – but it didn’t assuage our guilt.
But – she doesn’t seem to have noticed the change. She’s happy to see us in the mornings and doesn’t appear to be stressed. She sleeps in all her usual places during the day (she’s on my lap as I type this). We’re worried that she’ll get cold and drop weight (she’s a slim cat who’s never put weight on easily), so we’ve ordered her a heated bed, which seems only fair, since the difference her banishment has made to our quality of life has been nothing short of astounding. The kids are both sleeping in until 8 or later, and Q. and I are so much more rested. Q., who has for years joked that the next cat will be called “Sleeps In The Basement” and who has been advocating for this move for a long time, has resisted looking smug.
THE PELOTON APP
I know this is a pandemic cliché, but it’s so worth it. In November Q. and I signed up for the one month free trial of the Peloton app. We already had an exercise bike sitting unloved in the basement (Q. occasionally used it, I hadn’t ridden it in years) and we were trying to find ways around our new sedentary lifestyles. In the before times I’d regularly walk 4-7 km in a day without even trying – all the school runs, walking to transit to go to work, errands in the neighbourhood, etc., really added up. When the first lockdown happened, that all abruptly ceased. I’d go for a walk with the kids every day, but that was it. I tried to start a C25K program partway through the spring but my weak ankle gave out after three weeks. I need physio if I’m ever going to run again, but I wasn’t willing to see a physio in the pandemic for something that didn’t feel like an emergency.
When the kids went back to school in September, Q. and I tried to restore some of what we’d lost. We went for walks after lunch a couple of days a week, but we knew it wasn’t enough. We also knew that it would be months, probably closer to a year, before we could return to ‘normal’. This lifestyle couldn’t be brushed off as a holding pattern. We had to figure something out.
For the month the kids were in school and we had the app, it was brilliant. We both had enough time and space to work that we didn’t feel guilty or stressed about setting aside time for the bike. I really dislike exercise bikes, but I’ve found a style of class (80s music all the way) and a few instructors who work for me, and I can see the improvements in my stamina and strength.
January was hard. Q. used the bike a handful of times at most. I got on three times each week, but every time I chose to ride I knew I was leaving work unfinished. I feel like I have to prioritize it, even though I’m overwhelmed trying to squeeze all of my work this semester into the kid-free hours I have each day – most of my time with the kids is in the morning, which is when their schedules don’t align to allow them to go outside at the same time. That means Q. is usually the one who takes them for a walk, and I often go days without leaving the yard. I went for a walk by myself a couple of weeks ago (which was glorious), but I could only rationalize it because I needed to get bloodwork done, so I walked to the lab. I spend most of every day sitting, staring at a screen. The Peloton classes help to counteract this. They’re not enough, not on their own, not for how often I log in, but they’re much better than nothing. I might even keep riding a few times per week when the pandemic is over and my regular walking patterns have been restored (which is high praise indeed!).
This one was so simple and has provided so much joy I wish I’d done it much sooner. Q. and I had been saying for months that we needed to get a proper stash of cloth napkins since our kids are past the “need a wet cloth near them at all times” phase but not yet out of the “will wipe dirty hands on chair if necessary” phase. What kept us from making a decision? Inertia? Mental overwhelm at the thought of yet another decision? Fretting over what felt like an unnecessary expenditure? Probably all of the above. One night in January I sat down, did some googling, ended up on Amazon (I know, I know – we are trying really hard to stop buying from there) and bought these and these (not affiliate links). They came, I washed them, and we’ve been using them ever since.
As I have precisely zero interest in ironing them, they wrinkle and crease at the edges and don’t lie perfectly flat when I fold them. But who cares! They are a lovely generous size, they feel nice, they have a great weight when you open them up, and they make me smile every time I put one on my lap.
If you have made it all the way to the end, please tell me, dear readers, what’s saving your life right now?