Pomp & Circumstance & A Lot of Gratitude

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My friends, it’s hard to even know where to begin. I’m not a fan of the ‘days are long but years are short’ philosophy of parenting. The years are long too. I barely remember having infants and preschoolers. Even middle school currently seems like a lifetime ago. And yet, when the band started playing and graduates started processing to their seats, it was damn near impossible to believe the moment had arrived.

Yes, the years have been long. The highs have been high, and the lows have often felt oh so low. Heartbreaks have been plentiful, but so have moments of pride and unspeakable joy. I don’t know how to express how grateful I am for the countless entities that got us to yesterday: extended family, teachers and administrators, school board members who have worked relentlessly on behalf of these kids, our faith community, neighbors, our incredible village of fellow parents, and who knows how many others I am forgetting.

For all who have been with us along any point of the journey, all I can really say is: THANK YOU. What a ride, can’t wait to see what’s next for these kids.

The day after: the suburbs edition

The Minneapolis metro weather has been a bit on the blah side this week. Skies have been gray, temps have been on the chilly side, and occasional snow flurries have reminded us it’s April in Minnesota. Winter’s waning, but she’s not gone yet.

I was watching local news yesterday afternoon when the verdicts were read in the Derek Chauvin trial. When asked by a reporter how he was feeling, one young black man replied that the air was feeling lighter and the sun was breaking through the clouds.

And, the sun indeed did break through the clouds for a bit yesterday evening.

It’s a new day, though. I don’t know what the weather forecast is predicting for today, and maybe it’s just a function of still being early in the day; but the clouds are seemingly back. It seems appropriate: guilty verdicts were read, the sun showed itself for a time; but there are still oh so many clouds.

Much to my chagrin, I cannot control the weather. Nor can a judge and jury. Thus, this moment of climatic symbolism was as fleeting as yesterday’s sunshine. I enjoyed the sun, but it’s time to get back to focusing on the things I can control and recognizing this moment of accountability was simply that. A moment.

The work continues. Stay focused, my friends.

Covid Confession

If I’d have been asked to grade my family’s pandemic era responsibility on March 28th, I’d have given us a solid 80%. Above average with plenty of room for improvement. If you’d have asked me to assess on March 29th, that number would’ve tanked to 10%. Maybe lower. Probably zero, TBH.

Here’s my COVID confession. On March 29th, our family boarded a plane, even though only one of us had been vaccinated. And even he wasn’t fully vaccinated. Despite everything (our better judgement, the advice of professionals, the wishes of our school district, and lord even knows what else) we flew to, of all places, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and spent a week at a beachfront hotel with four other families.

Typing those words, I feel certain I must be talking about some other family. We are not those people. Well, apparently we are those people. But not heeding the advice of experts? Flying when told we shouldn’t? Flying to Florida???!!! Group travel? None of those things are historically our jam.

What can I tell you about why we made this decision? Admittedly nothing that would make it ok.

We were all desperately in need of a change of scenery (who isn’t?). And it surely felt like everyone else was doing it (what better reason than that??!!). But our main reason was our high school senior son; who has had no homecoming, no Sadie’s dance, no sweethearts dance, no Friday night football games, no in person classes with anyone who’s last name doesn’t end in A-L. And, while the kid ain’t perfect, he has rolled with the punches and tempered his disappointments with the knowledge that there’s more to life than high school traditions and an empathetic conscience that the risks were simply not worth it.

But, he wanted one normal senior year thing. A trip with his buddies before they all graduate and go their separate ways. And we wanted it for him. And it clouded our judgement.

Two days after we returned home, he tested positive for COVID. He’s been banished to the second level of our house since and had a couple of days of feeling plenty good and lousy. He’s seemingly over the hump now, even saying he felt great today. The rest of us tested negative.

The good news: we had made the decision to not send our kids to school upon returning home.

The bad news: Jerod is in what I lovingly refer to as COVID jail until the 16th. The rest of us until the 20th. Lost wages, lost sanity, lost opportunities to be in the same room with our kid who will be moving away in four months, lost days of being able to book vaccinations.

To anyone I’ve talked to about this, I’ve said: we deserve this. The positive result, the house arrest, the inevitable stir-craziness. We deserve it all and so much more. We were on the home stretch and took our eyes off the prize.

When I posted this saga on a local moms group facebook page in hopes of encouraging anyone else who traveled to get tested, the response was generous. Thank you for saying this, thank you for heeding the request of the school district to keep kids home for two weeks after break, thank you for being honest. That was all lovely, but unnecessary.

How many hard things have we dealt with in the past 13 months? Who can even count. There are choices that are hard. Whether or not to cave and let your kid have spring break with his friends– for me that was a hard choice. Maybe it wouldn’t have been for you. If that’s the case, I applaud your fortitude. For me, it was a hard choice, with no good answer.

It’s important to note, though, that many things about this have absolutely not been hard. The decision to test upon returning home? Not hard. The decision to keep our kids home before we even had test results? Absolutely not hard. The decision for me to tell this truthful cautionary tale on a facebook page and encourage travelers to test? Not hard. Yes, I feel shame. I felt it when I booked the tickets, I felt it when I packed my suitcase, I feel it writing these words.

Here’s what I do not need from anyone: sympathetic or understanding words or praise for my honesty. That’s easy when you’re incapable of BS. Here’s what I do need: I don’t know. Vaccinations, I guess. For everyone. Readily available and required for everyone. We’re slated to leave COVID jail on the 20th and I desperately hope to have appointments waiting for us. When you can get yours, please do.

I Don’t Remember How to Shake Hands

In late January I sat down to write about turning 45. Got maybe two or three paragraphs on the page. Even looked up a quote I fondly remembered from Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. In the last half of January (January 20th, to be exact), I sat down and wrote: The world is, for the most part, feeling lighter this week. Read whatever you’d like into that sentence.

In neither instance was I able to string together enough words to publish a post. I’ve had countless *I’m gonna sit down and write about that* moments in these first months of 2021, and zero instances of having enough time and energy to sit down and actually do it. I blame COVID and work and life in general and not having a dishwasher for something like six weeks. And probably some other shiz too.

And do I even need to say I have zero business sitting down to write anything right now? Have we reached the point in this relationship yet where that is a given? Grass is green, Trump is orange, poop stinks and Anne’s house is a disaster. There are piles of laundry waiting to be folded, the kitchen is messy, my bed is not made, the floor of the mudroom is legit muddy. So sitting down to blather on about current events in the life of the Holt family feels gratuitous and indulgent. In what feels like another lifetime, I participated in writing workshops where participants worked together to deal with battling those attitudes of guilt surrounding taking the time to write; but apparently I need a lifetime of those workshops to bolster me. I have no idea why I’m telling you this.

I’d like to tell you about what school has looked like for my kids in terms of in person learning v. distance, but I’ve lost all track of when they physically go to school and when they don’t. They were going in person a couple of days a week, then they weren’t, now they are; and I think maybe they’ll be going four days a week in the near future. Or at the 12th grader will. Or maybe it’s the 10th grader. I don’t know. I haven’t followed the announcements because for so long the details were changing by the minute. And I can’t do anything about it, so why bother paying attention?! I know, I know. Mom of the year here. I can tell you that on their first day back after a long stretch of exclusively distance learning, once they walked out the door, I was damn excited to have 30 minutes of being home without them before I needed to leave for work. I love them, of course I do. But.

My son is something like three months away from graduating from high school. He has done one official campus visit (that I essentially forced him to do last February), one campus visit during his sophomore year that was part of a larger event (that he only participated in because it came with a basketball ticket), and walked around one campus without talking to a single living being because of COVID. He applied to two schools (and as of this past week was accepted to both… holla!). This is not where I envisioned us, my friends. Not at all. I thought we’d make multiple trips to visit schools, apply to maybe a dozen, maybe enjoy some quality family time on road trips to take in the wide array of options. Anybody remember the term Anne-realistic? Like unrealistic but with my own special delusion laced panache. COVID or no, this vision would’ve been a stretch for this kid and our family. And, once we fell behind on the typical schedule of this process and COVID hit? There’s really been nothing to do but accept what we cannot change and move on. He may very well have to decide between the two schools he’s been accepted to without ever having gone on an in-person tour at one of them. I understand this is pretty whiny and a problem of the privileged; so I’ll end this paragraph by saying I fully acknowledge we’re sitting in a pretty good place right now and I am grateful.

My daughter has been ridiculously busy with ski racing, instructing ski lessons, occasionally attending winter training for soccer, and working hard in school. She has also been incredibly difficult to live with. I get it. Her regular life is full throttle. Throw COVID and all it entails on top of things and it stands to reason she’d be tired and cranky. But does she really need to send me snarky texts about being stuck at school without a ride home when I’m at work without a car? Can she really not keep from throwing her underwear on the floor where the dog will undoubtedly destroy it? Could she manage to carry her clean and folded laundry (you’re welcome, by the way, ya ungrateful monster) upstairs to her room? Oh how I love her energy and zest and zeal for life and her dauntless attitudes; but oh how she exhausts me.

I suppose all this is to say my kids are somewhat developmentally on track. Yay??!!

No, it’s Yay. No question mark. While all of this is tinged with the COVID realities of the last year, it’s also tinged with a whole lot of normal. A whole lot of the same shiz we dealt with in ‘normal’ times. There are some aspects of life unchanged by the pandemic, and I am grateful for that.

A few weeks ago my son came into the kitchen and shook my hand. I don’t remember why. He was being a goof and probably saying something like ‘Congrats on being an idiot, Boomer.’ Not really, they don’t say boomer anymore, thank you universe. Whatever the impetus was for him shaking my hand, after he did it, I said, “Why did you just shake my hand using left hands?”. He quickly informed me we’d shaken using right hands, as one always does. Of course he was totally polite about it (Anne-realistic). It was a bit of a mind blowing moment because I realized that shaking hands felt so freaking weird that I thought we were using the wrong hands (maybe wrong is not the best word– hands we don’t normally use to shake??). Like my right-handed self was trying to write with my left hand.

The essence of this moment is getting lost in the process of me trying to make it into words on a page, but it was mind-blowing to realize how foreign and wrong it felt to shake someone’s hand. It was a startling reminder of how utterly inane and bizarre the last year has been. How once familiar things now feel foreign.

We are, I think and hope, seeing light at the end of this COVID tunnel. But I try not to think about how many once basic, familiar things like shaking hands will feel jarring in the coming months; because it’s just too overwhelming. Getting on a plane, kids going to school more than two days a week, maybe even going to church and passing the peace, taking my kid to college(??!!??!!). I’m sure the list will be long and I’m certain the moments that take me aback will be plentiful. And I hope I’m not putting the cart before the horse by thinking about it.

May Your Dumpster Fire Burn Bright

Have dumpster fires always been a thing? Prior to 2016, I’d never heard the term. That year’s celebrity deaths, natural disasters, and an election result that made many Americans feel vulnerable simply for existing apparently produced perfect dumpster fire conditions; because it became a vocabulary staple within my social circles. And, four plus years later, it continues to be a term I hear frequently.

I don’t claim to fully understand it. I mean, fire’s generally bad. I get it. But, wouldn’t a fire in a dumpster be a somewhat contained event? Wouldn’t a dumpster fire be preferable to a house fire or a forest fire or an explosion at a refinery? I dunno.

At any rate, back in 2016, we thought things were bad. And they were. Four years after aforementioned election, we can safely say all the tears shed in November of that year were 1000% justified. The answer to the question, “how much damage can one person really do to a country?” has been made quite clear. And, at least in Minnesota, we still mourn Prince. And during the holiday season, I’ve admittedly felt a wee bit melancholy every time George Michael crooned Last Christmas from my spotify account. And seeing Alan Rickman during the annual holiday viewing(s) of Love Actually brought a sad smile to my face. But I remember thinking at the time: we think it’s bad now, but in 2017 we’re going to have a new president who lost the popular vote, and while all these celebrity deaths are sad, they really don’t make a bit of difference in my day to day existence; and I wish people would shut the hell up about how bad this year is.

Since this dialog only took place between me and myself, you’re just going to have to believe me when I tell you it happened. Believe it or not, though, I think we can now safely say that 2016 was the stuff dreams are made of. School was in session-in the actual school buildings. Restaurants were open. We were all living our happy, albeit hyper-scheduled lives and taking like toilet paper and travel for granted.

So, earlier in the year, I attempted to refrain from the oft heard refrain of 2020 is THE WORST. Because I’d heard it before. And vividly remembered the days when I thought George W. Bush was THE WORST. In short, I’ve made enough trips around the sun to be wary of saying we’ve reached rock bottom.

As the year has progressed though, I’ve conceded and taken to declaring things that are shit to be very 2020.

Whatever 2021 is going to bring, it is upon us. I have a lot of feelings. Hope (keep posting those vaccination photos, because I seriously cannot get enough), irritation (how can we possibly be so bad at this), sadness (how many more lasts is my high school senior going to be denied), and longing (to simply be with other people and not worry). I like to think it’s going to be better than 2020, but I know there are no guarantees.

So, Happy New Year? May all your dumpster fires be contained, I guess.