I sat at the window desk—Emma’s virtual-work desk—at my family’s Seattle home Friday as my bi-monthly Zoom gathering with the writerly Queens began. A large urban squirrel with a fat fluffy tail scampered around the yard with a nut in its mouth. It started digging under the trampoline, abandoned the spot and moved to the garden, digging again. I lost track of it then, if it found a good spot to bury the winter stash or kept looking.
I spent the past week at my father’s desk—my adopted desk—trying to get excited about a new writing project, a new reason to be up in the dark, wrapped in a blanket in front of the electric fireplace with my coffee and computer. I changed the date on my father’s wood block desk calendar—picked up at some forestry conference, that I found in a drawer—lit a candle, did all the morning ritual. Then sat there. “What now?”
I have several projects on the back burner, but haven’t lit a fire under any of them. I’m like the squirrel come spring. All these nuts have been buried while I finished my memoir about mother care, my tome of letters from World War II, and a memory book for my high school classmates “celebrating” our 50+1 year high school reunion, and I don’t know which one to dig up.
I miss my ancestors on the page. There are dozens of stories they wrote of their childhood on the farm, at my suggestion. Long ago they were typed on my first computer and compiled in three-hole binders for distribution at a family reunion in the early 90s. Stories were added over the years, but I don’t know who got them, who didn’t. I lost track of the project, and the floppy disk they were saved on. I found other family histories in my father’s files when, in retirement, he developed a genealogy interest. Copies of my uncle’s files came my way when he died at 106, with more stories.
I decided on this project: to get them all in one place, between covers, so they can line up on a bookshelf rather than in multiple file drawers. Something to pass on easily; maybe even marketable—growing up on a farm early in the twentieth century. But I can’t get my head and heart around an angle, a way to organize it, how to make it compelling. Starting a new project is hard. And then there is the fact that I should be focusing on a marketing plan for the memoir that will be published in a year.
I took a break from my grappling and drove to Seattle. I’m on Gigi duty for Friday’s teacher workday. This time a year ago, they were all at my house and we were beginning to live into the Great Pandemic Experiment: working and schooling from home—my home—with me on kickass grandparenting duty. After seven months, they went back home and back to the classroom. I’ve rarely seen them since then, and hardly spent a full day alone with the Littles. Even Camp Gigi didn’t happen, other than two partial days with Adrian back in June.
Last year was hard. We got through it. We all did better than our worst. But what a difference a few months of age, ADHD meds, and a life somewhat impersonating normal—or that has become normal—makes. We had a great day! Meltdowns: 2-2-0. I was zero, theirs were brief.
At six-thirty in the morning, Adrian demonstrated his ability to count to one hundred without missing a single number. A few months ago, he was consistently skipping thirteen through sixteen to get to twenty. He can write his name too, though he refused to try last year. It’s evidence to me that he did not suffer from missing a year of formal preschool, or from having me as guide. He is on a learning track. Maybe not the same one he would be on had last year been “normal,” but a perfectly good one. And, who’s to say, maybe a better one.
He and I did pretend stories while Elliot gathered ingredients for chocolate chip cookies—checking off ingredients on the recipe I had chosen—then read recipe reviews and watched the instructional video! We walked to Trader Joe’s, donned masks, and bought the butter and oatmeal not found in the kitchen. Adrian easily talked me into buying them the chocolate gingerbread haunted house kit. Another activity.
We made the cookies, Elliot on wet ingredients duty and Adrian on dry. I suggested a twenty-minute screen-time break because I needed to take a breath.
After lunch we tackled house construction. They had fun, worked together, and didn’t collapse when the house did. (Maybe we’ll super glue it together.)
We played trampoline ball, a game made up last time I spent a few hours alone with them. They did their chores and worked diligently to put the living room back together, with the dangling carrot of a monetary reward from Mommy. I showed them how to make fortune tellers. All while successfully keeping the bearded dragon rock at a consistent 88º.
“This is like Camp Gigi, except at our house!” Elliot declared. The moms came home from work to happy people. Score.
We all did the best we could last year, but the boys are thriving back in the classroom with 3-dimensional peers and teachers. They wear masks and (theoretically, at least) stay distanced from their classmates. Children are adaptable. And these two are young and don’t really know school much differently. Teachers are adaptable too. I’m beyond thankful they school in a district that is respectful of the power of this virus, and are learning to teach, learn, and stay safe while living with the fact of it.
After Elliot’s soccer game, I’ll return home to resume grappling with my next project. My writing circle gave me additional ideas and I’m more muddled than ever. And I have a garden to rehabilitate before the weather shifts. And that marketing plan. Unlike last year, days with the Seattle family are one-offs, not my regular life, which is back to normal: me, my projects, keeping up the family home, and solitary living.