Category Archives: COVID-19

Pandemic Travelling

My family took the plunge last month and travelled overseas. I suppose it was technically ‘optional’ travel, but it didn’t feel very optional since we hadn’t seen Q.’s family since 2019 (the kids had not one, but two cousins who hadn’t been born the last time we were there). We wouldn’t have flown just for a vacation. I was very stressed about the decision, but we survived and came home Covid-free. I thought it might be useful to post about a few things that helped us travel without catching Covid.

There are many reports in the news about the chaos in Canada with renewing passports and the chaos at airports, and our personal experience attests that none of these reports is exaggerated. Getting the kids their Canadian passports was very stressful even though we started the application process long before our trip date (I’d like to acknowledge how amazing the Australians were at processing the applications, while also recognizing that we probably got better treatment because we were lodging the applications overseas as I’ve heard reports things are bad there too). When I finally picked up the kids’ passports (24 hours before our flight), I thought the worst was over. I was wrong.

We also fell afoul of the delays at the airports. Every flight we took to get to Australia was late. In two cases, we were late (at least partly) because the plane was waiting for late passengers. On both occasions, that lateness caused us to then miss our connecting flight (which did not wait for us). One of these missed connections led to an unexpected three-day layover in a city where we had not planned to spend more than 90 minutes. I do not think the airline is going to compensate us for any of this.

The total travel time (door-to-door) ended up being 113 hours, for a trip that is normally 24.

Like I said, I wouldn’t have chosen to fly this summer just for a vacation.

But we went, and (eventually) we got there, and we did have a good time. So here’s how we stayed Covid-free:

Luck

Let’s face it, in an era of ‘personal responsibility’ and lack of any government mandates or precautionary measures, you can’t actually be sure that you can protect yourself from catching Covid if you go out into the world. I’m very aware that we engaged in a number of high-risk activities, and the odds could have gone against us. We spent hours upon hours in airplanes or airports. We had to eat indoors on some occasions (including in airports and on airplanes). We didn’t do a lot of things we would have done in a pre-pandemic world, but we were also out in the world a LOT more than we had been at home. The house where we stayed the whole time we were overseas had people in it who didn’t mask and who participated in activities we wouldn’t feel comfortable doing (eating in restaurants, exercising in group settings indoors, etc.), and they continued with these behaviours while we were there. People were invited maskless into that house without rapid tests beforehand. There was an unmasked toddler sitting directly across the aisle from me on our long return flight who spent the entire trip coughing. We were lucky. We could create safer travel, not safe.

Privilege

Everything we did to make our travel safer cost money, or time, or both. We could afford an unexpected three-day layover that the airline will not be compensating us for. Travelling generally requires privilege. Travelling as we did requires even more. I had the time and the knowledge to navigate the system to fix the problem with the passports (including lining up outside one of the offices at 4.30 am to make sure I would be able to speak to an actual person).

The tools we used to keep ourselves safer cost money.

Public health shouldn’t depend on privilege.

Government Measures

Ok, there are almost no government measures left, but Canada still requires masks on airlines and in airports and THANK GOODNESS IT DOES.

Yes the air on the airplanes is heavily filtered, blah blah blah, but it wasn’t as good as I was expecting (more on that below). I saw a study (linked to on Twitter, can’t find it at the moment) which suggests that the filtering on airplanes makes the 18 inch space between your face and the person sitting next to you equivalent to a 2 meter distance. So the filtering does help, a lot, but without masks it’s not going to be enough.

Australia was also in a BA 5 wave while we were there and there was lots of hand-wringing and suggestions that it was strongly recommended to wear masks in indoor spaces, but no mandates, so guess what? Not many other people were wearing masks.

(Effective) Masks

We wore KN-95-equivalent masks everywhere, except in the house where we stayed and in two other relatives’ houses, who were part of our visit bubble (and who also aggressively rapid tested whenever anyone felt even the slightest bit off). Every public transit vehicle. Every shop. Every indoor space, and some outdoor spaces when they were crowded. I was really proud of my kids, who were almost always the only kids wearing a mask (and often no one else around us was masking). They masked up without complaint every time. They slept in their masks on the plane. They asked me whether I had masks whenever we left the house. When one of our relatives had a big family party four days before we left to come home, my kids put their masks on every single time they went into the house, even though they were surrounded by unmasked children.

We get our masks here (no affiliation, I just love them and want them to get all the recognition they deserve). I brought packs of their kid-sized masks for my SIL, who struggles to find good KN-95s for children in Australia.

When we took 113 hours to get there, we went through a crazy amount of masks. I packed way more than I thought we would need, and I’m so glad I did. I’m also glad we didn’t lose our luggage because I underestimated on the way there how many masks we would need to have in our carry on. Lesson learned.

The masks we buy cost $15.90 (plus tax) for 10. They’re good for eight hours continuous wearing (but in theory you can then air them out and reuse them if they’re not dirty/damaged – the kids’ masks have never made it past a full day of wear). We have spent hundreds on them in the past year.

Rapid (and Molecular) Tests

I brought 20 rapid tests on our trip. We used almost all of them. Some of them were free; some of them we bought online.

We used them to confirm none of us caught Covid on our (extended) journey there.

We used them to gather safely with family.

We used them whenever one of us appeared symptomatic. Some relatives we spent a lot of time with nearly always had cold/allergy symptoms (which inevitably transferred to us). So we all spent heaps of time doing rapid tests to be certain that’s all it was.

We also had a couple of the Lucira Check It molecular tests, which are an at-home PCR-level test. These are really expensive – $75 USD per test. One of my relatives has access to a steady supply of them as a work benefit, and they’re able to flick a few extras on to us. Without easy access to PCR testing, these help us determine whether we need to be masking the entire household during those days when a rapid test might produce a false negative.

We used one when E. had a weird rapid test result (a shadow, not a line, and not quite in the right spot for the second line) and one when Q. was sick with the other family’s cold and we had a big family event to attend. Both times the tests were negative. Both times the result was a huge relief.

Again, see privilege above.

CO2 Monitor

I made a somewhat impulse decision to buy a CO2 monitor right before we left on our trip. I’d borrowed one from a friend for a few days earlier in the spring, so I knew how useful they could be, but I’d been hesitating over the cost.

In the end, I took the plunge (because, privilege), and I am SO GLAD I did. I bought an Aranet4 from here (no affiliation but they were fabulous to deal with and so fast!), which was the one my friend (who is a ventilation engineer by profession) told me was the best one to get. Quick summary: the monitor provides readings every five minutes of the level of CO2 in the air. Outside air has around 420 ppm. 1200 ppm means about 2% of the air you’re breathing has already been in someone else’s lungs. Cleaner air = less chance of catching Covid. (The monitors don’t take into account the impact of HEPA filters.)

That monitor paid for itself when our outbound trip took 113 hours instead of 24. It told me how good the air was in the airports (in three of the four, exceptional; in the fourth, very good). It told me how good the air was in the airplanes (disappointingly high, although I know the air is heavily filtered). It told me how good the air was in the hotel we ended up staying in (very very good, including in the restaurant).

When you are flying/travelling continuously for as long as we were, you can’t refuse to eat or drink and just keep your mask on. It’s not possible or safe. The CO2 monitor let us make better choices about when/where to unmask. It’s a lot less stressful to eat indoors for the first time since the pandemic started when you can see that the air is reading 480 ppm.

The kids had a particular public transit route they desperately, desperately wanted to take – it was on their list of things they most wanted to do down under. We rode it, and learned the air quality wasn’t good enough. So on the return trip, we took a different option with better air.

Now that we’re back home, I’m going to use the CO2 monitor to help me figure out which things we can add back into our lives. Indoor spaces can be safe with masks (even without mandates) if the ventilation is good enough. Covid isn’t going away, and our governments don’t seem interested in doing the work to control it. I would like to be able to do more things with my kids, but I would also like to know that we’re choosing safer environments.

I’m also really excited about the potential of the Raven CleanAir Map, which hadn’t launched yet while we were away. This is an attempt to crowdsource CO2 readings of public spaces, to help everyone make better choices. Someone posted a reading for a packed movie theatre in my city. No mask mandate. The air was excellent! We haven’t been to the movies the entire pandemic, and I’m not sure I could cope with a full house, but maybe seeing a movie that’s been out for a while is a possibility for us now.

Governments should be requiring businesses and public spaces to post their CO2 readings, and should have incentive programs to improve the ventilation in buildings that are found to have inadequate airflow.

But they won’t, and they don’t, so citizen activism will have to fill in the gaps.

I hope this was helpful! Does anyone else have good travel tips?

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Filed under COVID-19, Down Under, Soapbox, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

What’s Saving My Life Right Now (Winter 2022, COVID Edition, The Second)

Every year, at the midpoint of winter, Modern Mrs. Darcy publishes her list of what is saving her life right now. Big things, small things, doesn’t matter. I participated (I think for the first time) last year (hahaha, I called it COVID edition because I thought COVID would be done by February 2022).

Last year I came up with seven things. I read my post again before drafting this one. Some of it made me smile. A lot of it made me sad. So much of what I’m feeling right now reflects exactly how I was feeling last year (although now the feelings are even stronger after another full year of the pandemic), right down to the difficulties I’m having reading, one of my most important anxiety-management strategies.*

Coming up with a list this time around was HARD. As I have written here and here, I have been really struggling over the past few months. And I think you see this in the things I’ve chosen because they are all little in the sense that they ask little of me and they take little time.

I don’t have the bandwidth for anything larger.

WORDLE

Mel put me on to Wordle at the start of December. I have played it every day since. It is the first thing I do when I wake up (although I stop until I’m more awake if things are looking dicey). I feel deeply pleased with myself when I get the word (especially if things had been looking dicey). I have a perfect win record and a streak in the mid-high 60s (it took me multiple days to write this post). I love it. I especially love that I can only play once per day as this is exactly the kind of game that I would find addictive (cough Wordscapes in spring 2020 cough). E. has started playing it too. I am sad that the NYT has bought it and may well move it behind a paywall, but I also respect the developer’s decision to take the ‘low-seven figures’ offer for a game that he made to be a bit of fun for his partner.

MARVEL SHOWS ON DISNEY+

I guess it’s hard to argue that these are saving my life right now since there isn’t new Marvel content appearing weekly (and they delayed the release of the Hawkeye Assembled episode by three weeks so it won’t be out until the 9th), but they provided so much joy in 2021 that they still make the list; even thinking about new content or reading about fan theories about new content makes me happy. Today I read that season 2 of Loki is scheduled to film this summer and it seriously boosted my mood. The end credits scene from the season finale of Hawkeye made my entire winter break – it was like Marvel had read my mind. (It did take me weeks to get the earworm out of my head.)

I love these because a) I love the MCU and getting more time with characters overlooked in the films or with new characters in the slower-paced world of the tv shows is great; b) When a show is streaming I get a new episode every week so I always have something to look forward to (and then something to read about online once I’ve seen it); c) The shows take less commitment than a movie. I’ve seen the new movies that have come out on Disney+ too (Black Widow, Shang Chi, Eternals) and enjoyed them, but it is really hard to find enough time to myself to watch a movie these days. One episode, though? I can watch that during lunch on Wednesdays when the kids are at school and Q. is teaching and that makes it a little treat just for me. (There is very little that is just for me in a house where more often than not all four of us are home.)

FUNNY PEOPLE ON TWITTER

I’m not actually on Twitter, but I spend a lot of time (more than I should) (doom)scrolling Twitter, mostly checking COVID stuff from the people I trust or keeping tabs on what’s happening in the province’s schools. I’m not on most other social media, so I’m usually way behind with memes and things, but I do really appreciate a clever take on things. Neoliberal John Snow (‘Addressing preventable disease through deregulation and individualism’) is fabulous. Just recently, Noelle has been dedicating her days to listening to the Zillow channel for the ‘trucker’ ‘protest’ in Ottawa (scare quotes because most of them aren’t truckers because the truckers are vaccinated and doing their jobs, and because it’s not a protest so much as it is a temper tantrum). What those on the channel are saying is not meant by them to be funny, but it really, really is. Again, short time investment, big boost to my mood. (Also, this tweet, also about the ‘protest’, in my opinion, won the internet.)

HAWKS IN THE CITY

We have a pair of red-tailed hawks who live in our area plus some smaller raptors. It makes me happy to see them circling overhead. It reminds me to look up. It reminds me to slow down. It reminds me how blue the sky is, how lucky I am that my legs work, that my lungs work, that my body does all the things my father’s body no longer can. Hawks help get me out of my head and into the present.

The best blue skies come on the coldest days when the snow squeaks as you walk on it.

APRIL

Our semester ends in April. Neither of us is teaching in the summer. If we can just get to April, we will have some time to try to put ourselves back together, or so I tell myself about fifty times a day. I know it is bad practice to put goalposts on uncontrollable things because when those goalposts are met and things don’t change it makes it harder to keep on keeping on (the appearance of Omicron really hurt. I hadn’t realized how much I had been counting on my kids’ second vaccination as an ‘end’ point.) So many things could still prevent the summer months from being restorative (school closures for all of May and June, as an example). I am maybe setting myself up for crushing disappointment. But right now, the thought of April is the only thing that keeps me from curling up under my desk, covering myself in a blanket, and crying pretty much every day, so I am going to hang on to it.

And that, I think, is it. Everything I said last year about privilege and what’s actually saving my life still holds true. In the grand scheme of things, we remain immensely fortunate. But even with all our privilege, Q. and I are shadows of our former selves. So when I find a moment of lightness, I try to really acknowledge it.

*Taking suggestions for a fairly light, well-written series, bonus if fantasy/sci-fi, MG or YA target audience welcome – something like Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers, or Rick Riordan’s Trials of Apollo [which brought me so much joy last year] or Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache. Ooh I just learned Guy Gavriel Kay has a new book coming in May so that’s something to look forward to.

If you read all the way to the end, please tell me, dear reader, what’s saving your life right now?

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, COVID-19, Daily Life

The Postscript

Like I said in my last post, we sent the kids to school on Monday morning.

They both had a great day.

Late Monday afternoon we got the email that a parent had reported a positive case in P’s class to the school. (There had been no such emails in the previous two weeks when we’d been keeping them home while they built immunity from their second dose.)

We debated but ultimately decided to send her back and take her out if any more cases arose.

We pulled P. back out at lunch on Tuesday because we learned of a second case. I heard about it from parents at drop off and I would have turned around and taken her home with me right then except she was already in the classroom.

A third case was announced via email by Tuesday afternoon. The parents of that child haven’t self-identified on our group chat thread but I suspect it might be the kid who had a play date on the weekend with the second case (and whose mother was the one announcing the other kid was positive and that her child had had a play date with said child as she was sending her kid into the classroom where they, I only later learned from P., sit AT HER TABLE).

So E. is still going to school and P. is at home until at least Monday and Q. is grumpy because, for the first time in the entire pandemic, our assessments of the risks do not align.

Q. is of the view that we’ve done everything we can to make ourselves safe, that Omicron is so widespread and so transmissible that it is inevitable that we are going to get it, and that the disruption from having the kids home (especially P. – not her fault, she’s just younger) is unsustainable and has to end.

I am of the view that we should refuse to accept infection as inevitable and that we should continue to remove ourselves from high-risk situations, especially during times of peak infection when the health care system is overloaded and dangerously close to collapse. I get that my kids are extremely unlikely to end up in the hospital and the evidence is looking better on long COVID if you’re vaccinated, but if COVID turns out to cause problems after infection years or decades down the road, I don’t want to be part of the group that learns that the hard way. It’s becoming increasingly clear that ‘one and done’ doesn’t apply with COVID infections; the idea of ‘let’s get it and then we’ll have gotten it over with’ just isn’t true.

Q. is right that at some point we are going to have to reenter our lives.

He is also right that we are losing our minds after two years of teaching online while juggling the kids (who have been home far more than they have been in school).

But I can’t rationalize keeping her in a situation that would have shut down the classroom in December. The only thing that has changed is the public health guidance, which is based on our government’s decision to give up on the pandemic and just pretend everything is fine, especially in the schools full of un/undervaccinated children.

Our public health protocols are bad protocols.

So she stays home until the situation looks better, even if that means I get up at 5 am to do the marking I thought I could do during school hours. P.’s schooling right now is low stakes. She’s not even legally obligated to be there. She misses her friends and she’s concerned that the class is learning French letter sounds without her but a few more days, even a few more weeks over the course of this year will not have grave long-term consequences for her.

What keeps me up at night is that it might already be too late. The day and a half she was in school might have already given her COVID.

I keep saying to people if she does get it, we really are all screwed. She’s at peak immunity, wears a CA-N95 mask (and wears it properly, all the time), is in a classroom with a HEPA filter, and we pulled her out at lunch.

So maybe I’m fighting a futile battle, thinking I can avoid this. Personal responsibility can only take you so far if there’s no systemic government/societal support.

I guess we’ll know in a few days.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Brave New (School) World, COVID-19

I don’t wanna fight Cerberus

Getting out of bed right now is hard.

Doing the bare minimum of what is required to keep work/house/kids functioning is hard.

I am really struggling.

I ran into a school parent who’s also an academic (not quite a solid friend but better than an acquaintance) while picking up take-home PCR tests before the winter break. She told me she was on stress leave for depression.

I am not proud of this but my first, gut, reaction was jealousy.

I wished I could be depressed and go on leave too.

I have another good friend who’s a high-school teacher who is on leave for burnout. The mother of E’s best friend is trying to find a locum to cover her practice so she can take a few months off (she’s a palliative care doctor).

The number of people falling apart around me – strong, focused, driven people with good support networks and masses of privilege – is staggering.

We’re all hitting our breaking points.

I went so far as to look up my collective agreement and I could get six weeks of medical leave with the right documentation but it would be incredibly challenging to find someone to cover my four classes (and the responsibility for finding said replacement would land on Q’s shoulders and he is also hanging on by a thread) and I feel a sense of obligation to my students, so I think I am just going to try to push through until April and then sleep for all of May.

I last posted in late November, right before my kids got their first vaccine. I thought that there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

That was pre-Omicron, of course.

E. had one week out of self-isolation before another case in his class sent him home again. P. followed very shortly afterwards as an outbreak at the school emerged (caused by, according to the parental grapevine, an ill-advised birthday party). Neither of them caught COVID.

They were home doing online learning (with varying degrees of success) until the winter break. Then they were home for two weeks because of the break. Then they were home for another two weeks of online learning (with even less success) because Omicron had exploded and our hospitals were overloaded. And then they were home for another two weeks even though the schools resumed because we didn’t want them to go back into the school until they were two weeks past their second vaccine. They’ve been home now for almost two full months.

The NACI has recommended an eight-week spacing for 5-11s for their vaccine based on research showing this interval produces a longer lasting immune response. But parents can opt for an earlier interval if they provide informed consent. We moved their second appointment four times trying to keep up with what the province was doing. In the end, we gambled that there was no way they would send the kids back into the schools two weeks ago since the hospitals were still overloaded and they’d done basically nothing to make the schools safer.

Instead, our provincial government sent the kids back at the same time as they:

  • removed schools and daycares from their list of high-risk settings
  • restricted access to PCR testing to high-risk settings (making all kids and educators and their families ineligible for PCR testing)
  • stopped tracking and reporting cases of COVID in the schools
  • stopped dismissing cohorts if a case was reported in a class

They made the schools LESS SAFE and said they were empowering parents. (Counting the days until the provincial election in June.)

E. called the premier’s office to explain to them that stopping testing was ‘just like if you told everyone not to call the fire department. It wouldn’t keep any houses from being on fire, it would just mean that no one would know which ones were burning’. The (long-suffering) woman who took our call said he had made a very good point and that he had a been a bright spot in her day. (Many people are very angry.)

The thing that E. couldn’t get over was that we all made fun of Trump when he said he wanted to cut back on testing and now here we were doing the exact same stupid thing. (Yes my kid is more qualified to be premier than our premier.)

In the end the kids got to seven weeks from their first dose, so almost the full recommended spacing. They are now a full two weeks past their second appointment. We are sending them back tomorrow because we can’t keep them home any longer and continue to do our jobs. They have CA-N95 masks (not an affiliate link, I just love them – they are always sold out but you can sign up for email notifications when they’re back in stock and then drop everything when you get the email and rush to the site to order them). We are taking them home for lunch for at least the entire month of February. We are keeping P. out of her aftercare program.

The logistics surrounding FOUR separate trips to the school per day are horrific but as I said to Q., it can’t be worse than having them at home (especially P. who desperately needs the socialization and the French exposure. E. would be fine to keep home for longer).

In the fall, I felt they were safe.

I don’t feel like they’re safe anymore.

Our board has decided to continue to inform parents if there is a confirmed case in the class, but this requires:

  • The parents to have access to RATs to know that their kid is positive (since no PCR eligibility)
  • The parents to notify the school (since they are not required to do so; even if they, by some miracle, get a PCR test public health will not automatically tell the school)
  • And even then the class won’t be dismissed so we’ll have to decide for ourselves whether we pull our kid for the rest of the week
  • Oh, and did I mention that we’ve decided positive cases only need to isolate for five days and then can merrily rejoin society without needing to use a RAT to confirm that they’re no longer contagious? Fun times.

The public health guidelines are a joke. The only way they make sense is if you take the view that the government’s plan is for everyone to get Omicron so the wave can be over by the spring and it can look like they beat the pandemic in time for the election. And while I 100% believe this is their plan (and I do think it’s a plan and not just extreme incompetence), I’m still not sure how it’s all meant to work out if we’re crashing the hospitals. Or if a whole bunch more kids end up in hospital (because our vaccination rates for 5-11s are ridiculously low and 0-4s have no vaccine coverage at all).

The cognitive load of trying to decide what to do with the kids, of trying to manage my work with the kids at home, of trying to rationalize sending them back knowing that the government has made them less safe, has been really hard. I know that they are now extremely unlikely to need to be hospitalized. I also know that recent studies are suggesting that they are now very unlikely to get long COVID. But I refuse to take the view that ‘we’re all going to get it’ and we should just accept the inevitable. I don’t want them to get COVID. We have no idea what the long-term effects of infection are going to be.

So they are going back and I hope I can sleep at night and I hope the next time I post on here it isn’t to tell you that my kids caught COVID at school.

(Post title from Surface Pressure which I like to watch on days when I feel I haven’t done enough crying already.)

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, COVID-19, Soapbox

Fractured

A couple of months ago, E. broke a glass while emptying the dishwasher. He didn’t drop it – he was putting it into the cupboard and he went to stack it with another glass (like we always do) and it…just broke.

For months now, I have felt like that glass. Outwardly whole, but inwardly one wrong knock away from breaking into little pieces.

I had started to seriously consider whether my languishing had tipped over into becoming a true depression.

I was tired all the time.

I couldn’t concentrate when I needed to read challenging texts or do precise work.

The things I enjoyed in the early pandemic – taking photographs, tending my garden, raising butterflies – all now seemed like too much work.

Then Andrew Morris posted about burnout in one of his biweekly emails (he’s great, highly recommend), and a light bulb went off in my brain. And then the Atlantic produced an article on why the pandemic is still making us feel terrible and another light bulb went off. And then there was this article in Macleans, where someone put into words exactly how I was feeling and why I was struggling. It made me ugly cry, especially the line (emphasis mine):

Children have sacrificed so much with no say in how all of this would go down: two entire school years, a sense of careless normalcy, any semblance of routine or stability, countless birthday parties, hockey games, recitals and playdates, even the version of their parents that they would have gotten if all of this were not hanging over our heads, still.

I am burned out.

More burned out than I have ever been in my life before.

Despite all the privilege that Q. and I enjoy (and we enjoy a great deal), I am hanging on by a thread.

My burnout cannot be fixed with cheery exhortations from my institution on Wellness Wednesday to “go for a walk!” or “make time for self care!”.

How I feel cannot be fixed with a massage or a cup of tea.

I have taught for ten semesters in a row, every semester since Fall 2018, including every semester of the pandemic thus far. I have a four-course load this year, two of which are brand new preps outside my field of expertise.

The only reason I am keeping afloat is that the kids have had a blessedly disruption-free fall (although E. is currently in our basement, in the final days of a two-week self-isolation period caused by a positive case in his class). And there is finally, finally some light at the end of the tunnel for my household, as both of my kids have vaccine appointments this weekend. Our provincial vaccine portal was supposed to open yesterday at 8 am, but experience had taught me it’s always available earlier, so I logged in and booked both kids at 6.30 am, before anyone else in my house was awake. And then I put my head down on my kitchen table and cried. I cried because at some point in early February (assuming an eight-week spacing between shots like the NACI is recommending) my kids will be as safe as I can make them, and I can stop carrying the continuous weight of what-if worry that has been my constant companion since the pandemic started.

In early October, I asked my Chair not to run the course in SU2022 that I usually teach for them every summer. It’s an entirely online course that I’ve taught several times before. Under normal circumstances, I quite like teaching it. Under normal circumstances, it’s not that much extra work (other than the marking).

But I need the rest so much more than we need the income.

My Chair has school-age children who, like mine, have spent the majority of their past two academic years at home (from mid-March 2020, when the schools shut for the first time, my kids were in school from mid-September to the first week of December 2020, and then again from mid-February until the first week of April. Until September 2021, that was it. Five months out of eighteen.). “T.,” he said, “I’ve never been so tired in my entire life. I get it.”

He approved my scheduling request.

I’ve read so many stories of women leaving the work force because of the pandemic, unable to balance their job and their caregiving responsibilities.

I’m not leaving.

But I am taking a step back.

So I don’t shatter.

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Filed under A (Good) Day's Work, Anxiety Overload, COVID-19

Chasing Endorphins

I linked that NYT article on languishing on this blog already, but it was in my (spoiler-filled) post on TFATWS, so I’m linking it again here just in case you haven’t seen it.

When I posted it on my FB feed, saying that I was definitely languishing and asking who was right there with me, a friend commented that she had for sure been languishing but that getting vaccinated produced a huge rush of endorphins.

At the time, I thought that was a really interesting reaction, but didn’t think I would feel the same way. I wanted to get vaccinated, but I doubted it could have that big an impact on my mood.

Call me corrected.

Q. and I got the AstraZeneca vaccine the very next day, the day after my province opened it up to the 40-55 age group.* I had tears in my eyes as I drove to the pharmacy. I wanted to cheer when the pharmacist jabbed me. When my waiting period was up and I was allowed to leave, I bought a big bag of chips and drove home and then Q. and I drank cider and ate chips with the kids and we picked up takeaway for dinner and we turned it into a big celebration. We took a vaccine selfie and posted it on social media (they really do help counteract vaccine hesitancy) and it turned out that some of my best friends (some in other provinces) all got vaccinated that day too.

It finally, FINALLY felt like we were getting somewhere.

I felt AMAZING.

And I completely understood how my friend had felt.

The vaccine high lasted until about 9 p.m., when the vaccine side effects kicked in. I spent the night shaking and running a fever and hallucinating about rescuing people from Nazi prison camps and getting the shield back to Sam Wilson (I think they were related). I barely slept. Q. barely slept either, although he felt fine – it was just my tossing and turning.

The next day I still had a fever and shakes and just generally felt like I’d been hit by a truck (Q. had a sore arm). By the afternoon I could just about manage lying on the couch ‘supervising’ the kids. I slept fine that night though and by the following day I was mostly back to normal, both physically and mentally.

It made me realize how rarely in the past year I’ve felt that excited about something, how rare it’s been to have that flood of endorphins.

We’re languishing.

We’re in a holding pattern.

I was emailing with an academic out in Atlantic Canada about a book review and when she asked how things were going I told her it was like Groundhog Day, as we started corresponding about said review back in March/April 2020.

Really, though, that’s not correct. The situation’s much worse.

Our kids are back online (as predicted) and are likely to stay that way until September. Q. and I have finished the winter semester and are about to start the summer term, still teaching from our basement. We’re still staying at home, as much as we can, while the entire province implodes and the ‘government’ blames individuals while refusing to take responsibility for the situation they’ve created where the health care system is on the brink of collapse and they’re building field hospitals and training doctors how to tell families that their loved ones don’t qualify for life-saving care.

I was hesitant to get the AZ vaccine because in the (extremely unlikely) possibility I developed the blood clotting issue, I didn’t want to be going into the hospital system when it was so overloaded.**

So the endorphins have been few and far between.

And then last Sunday, my family did a virtual escape room to celebrate my Mum’s birthday and THAT WAS THE MOST FUN any of us had had in MONTHS. It was so much fun several of us had trouble getting to sleep afterwards! As a team we absolutely killed it. We got through the main storyline so quickly we got to do a bonus puzzle and then we blasted through the bonus puzzle in under ten minutes. It was so deeply satisfying (and labmonkey was for sure our MVP). We used Looking Glass Adventures which I am linking to here because it was so so so good and you can do a virtual escape room no matter where you are in the world and I am serious – get some friends or family together and chase the endorphins!

So that’s where my endorphins have come from recently: getting vaccinated, beating the escape room, and chasing fan theories about Disney+ Marvel shows down rabbit holes.

Where are your endorphins coming from these days? Have you been able to break out of the holding pattern, or are you still mostly languishing?

*Our story, like that of so many other people in this ridiculous Hunger-Games-inspired vaccine rollout, was about how privilege gives you all of the advantages. We got vaccinated because:

  • Q. and I had used our stable internet connection and web literacy to register online with one of the major pharmacy chains and had received confirmation codes via our mobile phones
  • I had read online that some locations of that same chain had been given permission to vaccinate 24/7.
  • I had the time to call one of those pharmacies to ask how the appointments would work (because we thought maybe we could go at 5 a.m.)
  • When the pharmacist said, “If you want a vaccine today, you should come right now because right now we have doses and no line ups but I think we’ll have run out by tomorrow”, Q. was able to drop everything and walk out the door, get into the car, and drive to the pharmacy.
  • When he got back home again, two hours later, I could drop everything and go up myself.
  • We had the time and flexibility to chase the vaccine, a co-parent to look after the kids, and jobs where no one would notice (or care) if we didn’t work at full capacity (or at all) the next day.
  • While Q. was waiting in line, a guy turned up who was obviously working on a construction site and had come over on his break. Even though there was almost no line, he had to leave to go back to work before he could get vaccinated. An elderly man with little English turned up too but was turned away because he hadn’t registered online to get a confirmation code (even though he said repeatedly he didn’t know how to do that). Q. was so mad – if he had had a smartphone he would have registered the man himself. The people who most need the vaccines have the most trouble getting them. It’s infuriating. It’s discriminatory. And it’s going to kill people.

**I underestimated how much my anxiety would affect how I felt about the AZ vaccine. I knew (and believed wholeheartedly) it made sense to get it, but I’ve been struggling a lot with irrational thoughts over the past two weeks. Now that I’ve made it to day 14, I feel a lot better, but I won’t be completely free from anxiety until it’s been four weeks, and I’m not going to complain if they start recommending mixing vaccines and I can get one of the mRNA ones for my second dose.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Choose Happiness, COVID-19, Family, Medical issues

(Super) Fan

There’s probably a lot of things I should write about it on here – it’s been six weeks since I last posted. But since my brain has been nothing but a Sam Wilson & Bucky Barnes stan account ever since the finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier dropped on Friday, I thought I’d put up a post with my thoughts in the hope that I then might be able to think about something else.

Lots of spoilers, don’t read if you haven’t finished watching TFATWS (or if you don’t want to go down this rabbit hole with me)

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I have never cared about Bucky Barnes. Pre-2021 me was bored senseless by pretty much every scene he was in. Why did Steve Rogers (my least favourite Avenger) care so much? Blah blah, end of the line, blah blah, Hydra, blah.

Sam Wilson, I liked a lot. And the only times I found Bucky even moderately amusing were in his scenes with Sam (e.g., the car scene in TWS and the banter with Spiderman in Civil War).

So I wouldn’t have described myself as excited about TFATWS, in the same way I was excited about WandaVision, but I’d always been planning to watch it because, duh, new Marvel content.

Six weeks later, I’m a ride-or-die Bucky fan, so well played, Marvel and Disney+. Well played.

It didn’t hurt, at all, that Sebastian Stan looked really really good in this series, with the short hair, and the stubble, and the eyes, and the ‘Bucky goes to war’ outfit.

But really, what happened, was that, just like WandaVision, there was finally time for these secondary characters to shine.

And Bucky just lit up the world.

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I think WandaVision was a braver show, a more interesting show. Possibly a better show, although they’re so different and it’s tiresome reading social media posts comparing the two and criticizing one because of the other.

TFATWS needed eight episodes (at least). At times it felt way rushed. The Flag Smashers storyline was a mess (almost certainly because of the pandemic arc that they had to cut and reshoot because, COVID). There were too many villains who weren’t villains. Too many shades of grey. Walker gets rehabilitated in the final episode but Karli becomes irredeemable? I’m not opposed to Sharon Carter, Power Broker, but I feel like her history in the MCU meant we needed more backstory to believe her 180 degree turn. Zemo, I will broke no criticism of (except maybe having his guy blow up the Flag Smashers in that frantic rush to the finish). He was a (Turkish) delight.

The heart of the show, of course, was Sam and Bucky, and the writers rarely set a foot wrong with them. It’s so obvious from press tours in the before times (and virtual ones for this show) how much Sebastian Stan and Anthony Mackie like each other, and that came through in spades (please, please, release the thirty-minute therapy scene that Mackie has said is out there. If you can give us the #Zemocut, you can do this). Watching the growth, as Sam wrestled with and ultimately chose to embrace the complicated legacy that Steve had just foisted upon him in Endgame, as Bucky shed the Winter Soldier like an old skin, as their relationship shifted and deepened and shifted again, was marvellous. I think episode five is the best in the series (I would watch an entire show of Sam and Bucky fixing the boat and training with the shield and staring at each other and making smart ass remarks), and I am beyond excited that its writer (along with the show’s main writer) is tapped to pen the just-announced Captain America 4.

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Some random thoughts (mostly about the finale) to try to get them out of my head:

  • When Bucky gets knocked over the edge in the battle with the Flag Smashers – he lands in the stereotypical ‘hero’ pose (one knee, one fist to the ground). Pair that with Karli’s “give him someone to rescue” and the stunned look on his face when he does do the rescuing and people thank him for saving their lives, and we see what the MCU might hold for him. There was a lot of nervous chatter on social media during the show about the possibility that Bucky might be killed off – that the character development was being shown because his arc was ending. I’m so glad it didn’t – I think it’s so much more interesting to show Bucky determined to find a way in this new world than to give up and suggest that he’s an empty shell with no meaning once he’s been deprogrammed. (On that note, one of my few complaints about Bucky was handled was how short his final scene with Yori was – we should have been allowed to see more of what Bucky said.)
  • I kinda wish Sam and Bucky had been allowed to be mad at Steve. I’m not a “I’ll hate Marvel forever because Endgame ruined Steve’s arc” fan, but even I (with my limited interest in Steve and Bucky) recognized that Steve’s decision in Endgame was really weird [don’t get me started on the time travel/ alternate timeline issues]. And I get that Steve had five years of dealing with shit that Sam and Bucky missed because they were both blipped and maybe he was tired of all of it, but it never sat right with me that he finally got his friends back and then he just handed the shield to Sam and left. (I did feel very smug when Bucky confirmed in episode five that Steve told him in advance what he was going to do, because I’d always believed that had happened after Bucky said “I’m going to miss you” in Endgame.) The bit in the therapy session when Bucky says “and if he was wrong about you, then maybe he was wrong about me” and his voice breaks, was fabulous, and I wish there had been more of that. At the same time, I’m really glad we didn’t see old man Steve (or young flashback Steve) in the show. He was an imposing presence and both characters needed room to discover who they were without him. I loved that Bucky left the book with his (terrible, let’s face it) therapist – showed he truly was letting go of the past.
  • What do we all think Bucky said when he looked up at Sam and saw him in the Captain America suit (that, let’s all remember, Bucky ASKED the Wakandans to make)? My best guess (after much time spent studying the many, many GIFs of that moment) is “Oh, man!” (like whistling through teeth admiration). Many people want him to be saying “Sam” but I think the lip movement is wrong.
  • Did anyone else have a literal “Awwwwww” moment when you realized that Bucky asked the Wakandans to make another Redwing with Sam’s new suit? Even though he always complained about Redwing?
  • I love that the composer for TWS and Civil War (Henry Jackman) scored TFATWS. I loved hearing the echoes of the previously established themes. I love that Zemo’s theme came back, and the Winter Soldier’s, and the Falcon’s (which, as Jackman himself has said, was able to be expanded out to a full theme). But I think my absolute favourite musical moment was when Sam first came through the window as Captain America and the music did the two big beats that normally lead into the Captain America theme, and then the Falcon (extended) theme played instead. I thought it was so clever. I’d been waiting to see if Jackman was going to pull out the Cap theme, and then he teased it, and then he didn’t use music that would have made Sam into Steve Rogers’ shadow, but reminded us all that he is his own person. So I guess mentally I need to start thinking about the original theme as the Steve Rogers (Captain America) theme and the new one as the Sam Wilson (Captain America).
    • The ‘not my Cap’ brigade (aka the ‘shoulda been Bucky’) on social media are just gross. So gross. The Captain America twitter account changed its image on Monday to be the new poster just released by Disney+ and I can only assume this has provoked howls of outrage. But I LOVE IT. I love Anthony Mackie and I am so excited for him. And Sam Wilson proved over and over again in this series why he should be Cap.
  • I will admit I thought Sam’s speech was a bit much, and it was pushing the willing suspension of disbelief to accept that the US, after covering up what they did to Isaiah Bradley, would just turn around and make a museum exhibit telling his story for all to see, but I also want to recognize that I have NEVER seen a Marvel movie even try to engage with the issues that TFATWS repeatedly raised (the profiling scene with the cops in episode two where the cops ask Bucky if Sam’s bothering him was so important). So yes, the work isn’t done and it could have been done better, but there was (I think) a sincere effort here, and Carl Lumbly was spectacular.

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We have to talk about the ending (or, as I like to call it, the scene that launched a thousand fanfics). I don’t care WHAT Marvel and Disney thought they were filming, the sight of #sambucky walking off into an ACTUAL SUNSET with Sam’s thumb brushing against Bucky’s neck as he pulls him in closer will live rent-free in my mind until the end of time.

  • #sambuckysupremacy
  • #isawwhatisaw
  • #lovewins

Not gonna lie, all I want now is for Captain America 4 to have a very early scene where Sam’s at home, on the phone to someone, lots of ‘yep’ and ‘uh-huh’, ending with ‘right, we’ll be there soon as we can’ and then Sam hangs up and yells ‘Buck? We gotta go!’ and Bucky comes in with his shirt off or toweling his hair. Like they don’t need to make it a THING. They laid all the groundwork they needed to. Just move forward.

  • I know, I know, they’re not going to do this. This is Disney and Marvel, after all. This is “we’ve made 23 movies so far but the only LGBTQ+ representation you get is Joe Russo’s nameless cameo”. This is promising representation, hinting at representation, but chickening out at the last minute, again and again and again. So I shouldn’t expect anything but disappointment.
    • I recognize that even if my interpretation is completely off, it’s still a good result to have two men onscreen as friends who are that comfortable with each other. We need more of this.
      • But we need LGBTQ+ representation more.
      • And I just love the idea of them SO MUCH.
      • Did you SEE how Bucky looked at Sam in that final scene? And when Sam was giving his big speech? And when Bucky saw Sam in the Captain America suit for the first time? And even back in episode 5, when they said goodbye after training with the shield and Bucky was BITING HIS LIP while giving Sam heart eyes?
        • Ok, maybe this is just how Sebastian Stan looks at everyone?
          • But let me tell you, if Bucky looked at me like that??!!
      • You could do worse than finding somebody who looks at you like Bucky looks at Sam, is all I’m saying.

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The New York Times published an article last week that really spoke to me (and to many of my friends when I posted it). We’re all languishing.

These Disney+ shows have been one of the brightest spots in my week. They’ve been one of the few things I’ve been genuinely excited about. I haven’t had as much fun as I did going down the #sambucky rabbit hole this past weekend (because let me tell you A LOT of people read that last scene the same way I did) in months.

So yes, they’re silly shows about superheroes, but in a very real sense they’re saving me.

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Filed under Choose Happiness, COVID-19, Daily Life

The End of Normal

Thursday 12 March 2020 is what I think of as my last ‘normal’ day.

It was the last day I taught in person.

The last day I took transit.

On the way home from (what would turn out to be) my last in-person class, I got a text from my sister with the news that the premier was shutting the schools after March Break ‘for two weeks’ (hahaha, sigh).

By noon on Friday my university had announced it was pivoting to online instruction, effective Monday. When P. and I went to go do the groceries that afternoon (as we usually did on Fridays), we couldn’t get into our usual grocery store because the panic buying was in full swing.

We knew it was coming, and yet, when it did, it seemed to happen all of a sudden.

On the 1st of March, Q. and I ran a big public forum connected to our research, with hundreds of people in attendance (in retrospect, we only JUST snuck that in). I remember chatting with other faculty members who were supposed to go to Italy in April for a lecture and research tour. At that point, they still thought they’d be able to go, although they were concerned that the libraries might be shut. No one at that point seemed concerned about Canada at all.

By the 6th of March, Q. went out to do our “what if we have to quarantine for two weeks” shop.

The WHO declared it officially a pandemic on the 11th.

And the 12th was the end.

It’s been a weird year.

A year without restaurants, without movie theatres or plays or musicals, without museums and zoos, without playdates (except virtual ones). A year without setting foot in someone else’s house (except for the brief point in the summer when we could bubble with my mum). A year without swimming lessons, without trips to the bakery for treats after school, without adventures on transit, without all the little things that add up to the rhythm of our days.

A year without friends.

A year of mask-wearing, of online grocery orders, of extreme hand washing, of waving hello at a neighbour and then taking a nervous step backwards when they approach.

A year of crossing the street when you see someone else coming.

A year of both too much family togetherness and too little.

It’s been a hard year.

The most difficult part was mid-March to early August, when the kids were at home with us 24/7 and we were trying to keep all the balls in the air (work! school! food! book project! mental health! more food! exercise! house! still more food!) without any room to breathe. My mum was able to take the kids for a few days in August, and again in early September, and that helped so so so much. Then the kids had two and a half months back in school, which was amazing (but then two more months at home). Currently we’re at almost a month back in school, long may it continue (probably not past mid-April).

I’ve been so focused on the kids and on how much of the past year has been spent with them at home with us that I only just realized the other day that it’s also been a year since Q. and I spent any significant time apart. We’ve had months of trading off responsibility for the kids while one of us hides works in the basement, and sometimes one of us goes out for a walk without the other, and there’s been the occasional medical appointment, but we haven’t had a single day that resembles what (in the before times) was our normal: only one of us at a time in the house between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. There’s probably only a handful of meals we’ve eaten over the past year that we haven’t eaten together.

I guess it’s a sign of the strength of our marriage that it took me that long to realize how little space from each other we’ve had over the past year (and how little it’s bothered me).

Throughout the pandemic, my little family has been fine. We’ve been safe. No one we know well has died from (or even contracted) COVID (and please may it stay that way).

But fine doesn’t mean it’s been easy.

I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired. Trying to use my brain is like swimming through treacle. It feels like when E. and P. were tiny and I was up multiple times per night, every night, for months…but I am sleeping fine. It feels like when I was depressed during graduate school…but I am not depressed.

I am functioning, but only just.

I am so burnt out.

I stare at a screen all day long for work and then at night I stare at a screen some more because the thought of reading makes my brain physically ache.

I don’t know where I would start the process of recovering.

I don’t know what I would need to feel like I can start the process of recovering.

Teaching online is like playing whack-a-mole: I get one thing organized, one module finished, and something else pops up. On my non-teaching days, there’s always marking to finish, or quiz questions to prep, or translations to post. I am counting the weeks until the end of the semester, hoping that in the summer, when I am teaching only one course, a course that I always teach online, a course that is fully prepped (because I need would like to revamp it but nope, not this year), things will get easier.

But I suspect I won’t feel like things are truly getting easier until we can say that it’s over. Because, the truth is, it’s not the teaching that’s taking up such an enormous cognitive load that my brain feels like an old computer being asked to run a program for which it doesn’t have enough RAM.

It’s the pandemic.

We’re safe, we’re fine, but we’re tired.

Get up, get through the day, go to sleep.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

I know it will be over eventually.

But we’re not clear yet.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, COVID-19, Family

The Pandemic You’re Having

When the pandemic started, there was a brief point when it felt like we were all in it together. We weren’t, of course – even from the beginning privilege (or lack thereof) was shaping our experiences. But all those shots of empty city streets made it feel like we were presenting a unified front against the virus.

Very quickly it became obvious that we were living through different pandemics, our experiences shaped by our geographical location, employment responsibilities, and, perhaps most of all, the composition of our households and the stage of life in which we found ourselves. I was reminded of that this week when I briefly popped into a virtual research seminar for my department (while also cleaning up after lunch and supervising P’s online school – camera off and bluetooth headphones ftw!). One of the more senior professors was presenting and it was clear that they’d spent much of the pandemic sitting and thinking and reading and writing – all the things that academics are meant to be doing when we’re not teaching. They’d had all the time in the world to do this, while most days I barely feel like I have time to string two thoughts together. It was hard to sit there and listen to them debate the finer points of one of their ideas (and then I couldn’t even listen any longer as P’s class ended and she needed me).

I know everyone’s pandemic is different, and that all the things I most long for – empty space, hours of quiet, no one who needs me – are exactly the things that other people have far too much of. In the fall, back when such things were allowed, we had my mum over to visit in our yard. She was struggling with the monotony of her days, their emptiness, their lack of purpose. We both keep the same five-year journal and she said that often she didn’t even bother to fill it in because every day was the same and nothing happened. “I’ll write in it today!” she said. “You’ll make the journal!” She looked like she might cry, and I couldn’t hug her.

I am SO VERY TIRED of people who don’t seem to be having a pandemic at all, or, at least, not one that requires any changes to their behaviour. loribeth* had a great post about this recently, about what we’re willing to do (or not) and how that compares with the actions of others. There is so little my family does. We go for walks. We pick up groceries that we’ve ordered online, so we don’t have to go into the grocery store. We go skating (reserving a time slot on a rink with restricted capacity, wearing masks). We pick up takeaway maybe once every two months. We go to our butcher’s to pick up the order we placed online once a month. We pick up holds from the library occasionally. Anything we do which requires us to step inside a building we organize online beforehand so that we only have to step inside for a minute or two each month.

We don’t go shopping in person.

We don’t go to coffee shops. When they were open, we didn’t go to restaurants.

We don’t go to playgrounds.

We don’t see friends.

We don’t see family.

We are doing everything we possibly can to stop the spread and we are following all the rules, as much as it hurts (since right now it probably would be safe to see my Mum and as soon as the kids are allowed back into school it won’t be).

And then, on our walks around the neighbourhood, we see the rink that isn’t controlled by the city, the one that community-minded neighbours worked together to build, overcrowded with games of shinny where no one’s wearing a mask.

Or we see kids we recognize from school playing touch football together in the park, wearing masks at least, but very much not in compliance with the rules of this lockdown because there’s far more than 10 of them.

Or we go skating and the kids on the rink are all wearing masks but their parents are having what looks to be a tailgate party in the parking lot, complete with shared snacks and hot chocolate and lots of laughing and not enough social distancing.

And it becomes SO HARD to remind myself that I don’t know what pandemic anyone else is having, that I don’t know their circumstances or their struggles, because all I see is selfish behaviour that means we’re further away from bringing our numbers down.

The Guardian had an article with the headline “Everyday Covid mistakes we are all still making” and I raced to read it, because I wanted to know what we could do better.

There was nothing.

Their examples were people who let their kids play with friends and then keep the kids away from the grandparents, but the parents go see the grandparents, or standing around chatting with someone outside, because you assume outside = safe.

It was an important article and I’m sure many people would have read it and made some changes, but all it showed me was that there’s nothing else my family can do.

We can’t beat Covid on our own.

We’re dependent on everyone else doing the right thing.

But too many of them aren’t.

*loribeth – if you read this, I have tried to comment on at least four of your posts in the last couple of weeks, but they never go through, and I’m at a loss to explain why.

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What’s Saving My Life Right Now (Winter 2021, COVID Edition)

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:

SKATING

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.

P’s going to be a real hoon before long.

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.

Perfection in a can (and an open bottle of wine in the background because, lockdown + online school).

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?

PRICELESS.

SLEEP

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!).

CLOTH NAPKINS

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.

Happiness in a basket!

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.

Money.well.spent.

If you have made it all the way to the end, please tell me, dear readers, what’s saving your life right now?

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, COVID-19, Daily Life