The Weak Bridge

Said weak bridge

In the past eighteen months, I’ve moved to England and turned forty. Oh, and we have a pandemic going on and we’re currently white- knuckling through election week and starting lockdown 2.0.

At this point, standard 2020.

I’ve had this in my drafts folder for a long time and it seems appropriate for right now.

We’re living in a more rural part of England, both Gingers go to school in a nearby town. Fortunately, school is still happening so I continue to drive the route for school drop off that I have for over a year (not counting the seven month pause) now.

After everyone was dropped off, the way I drove out of town leads me over a bridge – somewhat ominously called a weak bridge. This is not a name you usually want assigned to a piece of infrastructure you use daily, particularly one that was built before the American Revolution.

Last year, once I’d managed the challenge of being on the wrong (to me) side of both car and road, I started to gain a mastery of roundabouts. Fun fact- if you were awful at double Dutch jump rope as a child, roundabouts are probably not going to be your favorite traffic device. With all of that reasonably under control, I found myself with time to think on my daily drive out of town. As I got to thinking I realized the weak bridge was a perfect metaphor for certain seasons of life..

Vehicles over a certain weight aren’t allowed on the weak bridge and there are bollards to ensure that more than what the bridge can handle does not get through.

This seemed like the perfect metaphor for turning forty at the time and feels even more applicable now.

Even before factoring in the upheaval caused by current events it had been an interesting year or so. At times it felt like the universe was trying to hammer home the gravity of the impending milestone birthday by lobbing life events at a rate that was almost darkly comedic at times. In my close circle of friends, most of us were turning forty within the same nine months or so. As a group, we experienced so much change, loss, health issues, and major life events in six months that if we’d submitted it to the writers of This is Us it would have been kicked back for being a bit much.

It was a natural point in my life to take stock, do some evaluating, make necessary changes, and stop allowing anything that is not good for my infrastructure through.

Then the pandemic happened.

Its been a situation without precedent in most of our lifetimes. Quarantine, worry, illness, stress, financial insecurity, have all left us in an emotionally weakened state. Our values have been tested as well as our resilience and many of us have had to inspect our views to make sure we are creating a world that provides equality, safety, and fairness for all. Now, we are anxiously watching election results and hoping that decency and kindness will win over the unrelenting chaos and calculated cruelty of the last four years.

It has been a time of trying to juggle so many responsibilities that cannot be dropped and constantly trying to figure out what would bounce and what would shatter if dropped. Quarantine meant that we were isolated from so many of those we would turn to for support. Many have endured illness and loss without being able to say goodbye or to grieve with and hug those left behind.

Yet, we STILL have so much that still has to happen on a day-to-day basis. That will not change as things start to slowly reopen and hopefully inch towards yet another new normal. Everyone will come out of this with varying degrees of structural damage.

We are all weak bridges right now.

We all need to take more care to insure we can get let through what must get through and we put up our bollards to stop what is trivial and what we cannot bear right now. Our tolerances will vary in what we can handle as we go forward.

Everyone has been shaken, but some were closer to the epicenter than others. Those of us that are in better condition may have to take on some “traffic” for others so they can remain standing.

As for me, I’ll keep thinking of the signs I saw every day for a while -Temporary Road Works. The weak bridge was not weak forever. The crew worked on it to shore up the worn out arches and reinforce the foundation. One day the bollards came out (much to the relief of my poor car, which has more than one scratch due to my misjudging where they are) and the bridge returned to doing it’s job as normal.

The bollards- they look wider in this picture than they actually were.

We won’t have to have our bollards up forever either. Things will improve, we will learn how to navigate around the permanent changes in our landscape. It will become clearer what responsibilities can be set down until restrictions are lifted to the point we can share them with others again. In the meantime, bollards will stay up, we will all still be able to do our most important jobs. We will get where we need to be, it just might take a little longer than before.

Sometimes you have to turn centuries old masonry for a good metaphor about the current state of the world. Who knew?

Before you post that meme…

This is something that has been rattling around in my head since April. I’ve written a bit about this before, and it’s not intended to call out anyone specifically.

Dear Friend,

Before you share that meme about weight gain in the pandemic,  I’m asking you to pause for a second.  Right now, if you open any social media account you are guaranteed to see at least one post, meme, or joke about gaining weight during quarantine.  There are jokes and memes about “gaining the Covid 19”, clothes not fitting, images altered to make the subject appear fatter than they are, and that’s just scratching the surface. At the core, under the seeming lightheartedness, they are all weight-shaming and more than a little fat-phobic.

On one level, I get it.

Weight may feel like the one thing we should or can control right now. I have to ask, though- is it really the most interesting thing that has happened to you or that you have thought about these last few months? Are scale numbers the most impactful numbers you’ve read?

Doubtful.

Before you hit post, I want you to consider a few things.

Your body holds your wonderful heart, which has ached with disappointments both small and large during this time. It holds your brain which has been swimming with more concerns and worries that would have seemed possible at the start of the year.  Figuring out home schooling and how to keep children entertained has probably consumed a not-insignificant amount of your time.  You’ve held children in your arms who are crushed, anxious, bored, frustrated, and just plain out of sorts.  Do those children care about the number you see on the scale when you’re comforting them or helping them stay busy?

No.

You are working through a time where the way many holidays are celebrated has changed drastically. Not to mention Mother’s Day, an emotional mine field for so many.  Normal rituals and activities that provide a comfort or a distraction from grief aren’t available.  If you have eaten more of your favorite foods than normal, does that make you a bad person, less worthy of love and respect?

Absolutely not.

Maybe you’re an essential worker.  You have worked harder and most likely cried more in the last several months than you ever have in your professional life.  It has been unrelenting. Amongst all of this, groceries still need to be bought, childcare issues need to be sorted, education figured out, and there are family members  you are especially  worried about. You are doing everything in your power to make sure your family isn’t put in harm’s way due to your exposure and hoping as hard as you can you stay healthy.   In short, you have been coping with an unimaginable load on top of worrying about all the things everyone else is worried about.  Is now the time to add feeling ashamed for not tracking every morsel that you put in your mouth?

I can’t believe I have to say this, HELL NO!

Perhaps you are married to essential worker, you probably haven’t seen much of your spouse since March.  You may not have seen them at all. You most likely are juggling all of your children’s needs and the bulk of the household chores on your own.  Maybe you are desperately trying to work as well in the midst of this chaos.  You are definitely constantly worried about your spouse, praying they stay healthy and that the rest of your family does as well. Should you be beating yourself up if you haven’t crushed several workouts this week- especially if working out is something that feels like added pressure on your to-do list, instead of a relief?

No, you shouldn’t

You might be among the countless people who are awake at night trying to figure out how to make finances work while being furloughed.  Or laid off.  You might be a small business owner wondering if you will be able to open your doors again.  You may be wondering if you will still have a place to live and food in the kitchen in the coming months.  Should you be made to feel like you are less than if the number on the scale is more than you are used to seeing?

No, you really shouldn’t.

Or maybe you are someone who is overweight.  You are dealing with all of the stresses everyone else is facing.  But, there is also one stressor not everyone will understand. You’re seeing time and time again, from all sides, that having a body that looks more like yours after lockdown is over is the absolute worst thing that could happen.

During a pandemic. 

When people are under horrible financial strain.  At a time when people are experiencing grief and psychological distress. 

While people are dying.

These memes and jokes imply that even with all of this awfulness going on, the most awful thing is still being or becoming fat.  You are being told your body is worse than all of the horrible things  going on right now, combined.  That is the message you are getting from every post, joke,  and meme about the horror that is pandemic weight gain.  Is it going to make you feel diminished, ashamed, and like your only worth is measured by the size of your body?

Almost definitely.

So, wonderful friend, please think about what you’re saying before you hit post. You probably aren’t aware of how hurtful it is, or you are trying to be in on the joke instead of the butt of the joke. I know you, and I am certain would never tell me these things, and you would be horrified if I told you someone had said something derogatory about my size to me directly.  It isn’t you, it is part of our mindset.  It is a very telling sign of our culture and how much we value thinness over physical and mental health. It is a sad commentary on how we are trained to hate our bodies from a young age.

We can continue this by sharing those jokes, and passing on those memes.  Or we can choose not to post and make steps towards change.

Love,

Your friend who doesn’t think her body is the worst possible outcome

 

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It’s Chaos…

“We’d have these huge philosophical arguments where I was like- I don’t believe in an intelligent creator, per se, but I think there might be a latticework of logic and meaning to the universe that maybe we’re too small to see. And she was like, Sweetie, it’s all random, it’s all chaos. It’s chaos. Be kind. It’s chaos. Be kind.” -Patton Oswalt, Annihilation

I was invited by the wonderful Smelly Socks and Garden Peas to write a post about what we will do the first weekend after the end of quarantine/ lockdown.  It has been a challenge, with all the togetherness of late it’s a miracle when I can construct a complete thought without interruption, let alone an entire blog post.

As I thought about what I might want to write about I turned over several ideas, perhaps returning to simple pleasures like parks and pubs, maybe those historical sites I have been dying to get to (once a Tudor history nerd, always a Tudor history nerd) or maybe something about the overnight trips we want to plan?

But.

The above quote from Patton Oswalt’s Annihilation special on Netflix keeps running through my head and blocking out all of those other thoughts of a post-lockdown existence.  Father of Gingers and I have been big fans of Patton Oswalt’s stand up for years.  His slightly curmudgeon-y and misanthropic, sharp, nerdy, occasionally quirky take on the world speaks to us and our sense of humor.

However, Annihilation was hard for both of us to get through.  It was the first special after the death of Oswalt’s wife, Michelle McNamara.  A not-insignificant portion of the set is him talking about losing his wife, and worse, telling their elementary school- age daughter that her mother is gone and how they both dealt with it and are dealing with it.  It is the only comedy set I’ve ever watched where I had to repeatedly try to swallow around a huge lump in my throat and needed several breaks to wipe my eyes.  Through it all, he comes back to McNamara’s philosophy on life, “It’s chaos, be kind.”   She was speaking in a more metaphysical sense, but it has very practical applications right now.

The current situation in the world is best described as Chaos with chaos sauce, chaos sprinkles, and an angst cherry on top.

There’s not much left for us to do, but be kind.

There is so much information bombarding us from every corner.  Everyone has a slightly different priority order, the vast majority of which carry absolutely no malicious intent towards others.  The majority of people are making decisions using the best information they can to make best decisions they can in a time of best worst choices.

It’s chaos

Some of us are going to have to make decisions based on medical information. They may be too much at risk and they have to stay inside until this storm is further past.

It’s chaos

Some feel the lockdown has gone on too long, some feel it’s ending too early.

It’s chaos

Finances may be the driving factor in some family’s decisions on how they’re going to proceed. Mental health is a not-insignificant factor in the balance as well.

It’s chaos

Everyone is on on edge- these are life and death choices, not just for the threat of COVID-19, but also in terms of mental health and financial stability. There isn’t a one size fits all answer.

Be Kind.

The bottom line is there is no way around this chaos, the only option is to just get through it. It doesn’t have to be pretty- but how much better will it be if we are kind?

This is a very long winded way to say I don’t know yet what my first choice is for when our first weekend out of lockdown comes. We will be taking a slow approach for several reasons that make it the best fit for our family. I do know I’ll try my hardest to be kind.

There’s a very real chance I totally misunderstood the assignment… but at least this is off my chest.

Remember- Teachers are dealing with the alligator closest to the boat right now.

*This was originally slated to run on another site and I was just notified it was dropped from their schedule today. When I wrote it on Monday, very few teachers had been able to reach out to their students, and as we all know the week has been rapidly changing.

When my husband and I are working through a crisis, we usually remind each other to focus on the alligators closest to the boat. That is- worry about and address the most immediate/ threatening problem first before trying to move on to the next. It has served us well over the years and I keep coming back to this maxim when I think about the teachers trying to navigate this current crisis.

Full disclosure- I am a teacher who is currently a SAHM and working to realize some writing aspirations. That is why I have time to write this, if I were teaching right now, I would be focused on more pressing needs. If I’m being honest, seeing some of the comments about school closures and how work will be provided to students makes me hesitant to ever return to the classroom. I’ve been greatly disheartened by how many complaints I’ve seen from parents feeling like their children aren’t getting digital assignments fast enough, that teachers are probably just taking this time as a vacation, and so on.

To that- I say please realize teachers are trying to get two families through this crisis, the one in their home and the family they spend at minimum every Monday through Friday with. I say at minimum because do the countless out of contract hours they spend with this second family and preparing to teach. When I was in the classroom, there were always students who kept me up nights as I worried about circumstances in their lives that were completely outside of my control. That was in the course of a normal school year- and this school year is no longer normal.

Honestly, if you are able to complain about not having digital resources yet for your child, the good news is your child is nowhere near being the alligator closest to your teachers boat. Teachers everywhere are trying to figure out a completely different style of teaching on the fly (especially those who teach the younger grades). While they’re doing this they’re also worried about some of their children being safe at home, having enough to eat, and if those students are going to even have a home while this crisis lasts.

Rest assured your child(ren)’s teacher(s) care about them, they have invested a lot of time into every student in their care. They want to see “their kids” succeed and are likely crushed that they will not be spending time with their classes in the coming weeks. Events like class plays, field trips, proms, and graduations are all cancelled or potentially cancelled. There are children who were just having concepts click, finally making gains in essential skills and now they are in a holding pattern. All of these examples represent countless work hours by both teachers and their students. Please know teachers everywhere are losing sleep worrying about children in their class and trying to figure out how to make sure their students get the best possible education in a completely unprecedented situation. Please give them time to deal with these alligators. They are dealing with all of these worries in addition to the ones we all currently share. I promise they will get to you. These are trying times and while you are worried about your children, understandably, just remember that the teacher you’re frustrated with is worrying about dozens.

Find Your Tasmanian Tiger Cub…

So, Little Ginger had swim lessons today. In toddler algebra that means the lesson will take no more than half the time it took to prepare for it and you will consume at least twice as many calories in chocolate (or junk food of your choice) as you burned recovering from said lesson.  One of us started shrieking as soon as we got in the water… I don’t think she’ll ever go to a swim lesson with me again.

It got me thinking though, about Big Ginger, who also did swimming at the same pool when he was a bit older than LG is now.  Bear with me, I promise this will all make sense in a minute or two.

Big Ginger has been known to go by the nickname Ginger Fury, if that give you an idea of what we’re working with over here.  But no one pays a compliment like that kid.  I love how little kids give compliments, they’re so sincere and usually more humbling than the most passive-aggressive statement any adult can make. Some recent favorites of mine include:

A morning conversation:
(Getting lunch packed and ready for breakfast)
Big Ginger to me: I like your outfit Mommy!
Me: Oh, thank you buddy!
BG: I really like the pants
Me: (always happy to hear a positive camo pants review) You do? Why’s that?
BG: You look like you could go fight a war if you had to

6 year old fashion sense: where fashion and functionality REALLY intersect.  It’s like he understands my day on a level I don’t even get.

My current favorite compliment:

(On a recent car ride to school)
BG to me: Mom, did you know my afternoon teacher is really pretty???
Me: Oh really?
BG: Yeah, she’s beautiful like a Tasmanian Tiger Cub!
Me: That’s nice, buddy

I mean, who doesn’t want to be a Tasmanian Tiger Cub?

Just so we all know what we’re talking about, this is a Tasmanian Tiger Cub…

His compliment game has always been strong, even if it is occasionally mortifying. Back to where I was before, he took swim lessons at the same pool LG is taking her lessons at.  His class happened to get out at the same time as the senior citizen’s aqua aerobics class.  This lead to three-year old curiosity about canes, hearing aides, and such.  He was very concerned about one lady who walked with two canes. We had a (I thought at the time) good talk about how people move differently and that the canes were nothing to be afraid of.  I really felt like I’d knocked this one out of the park.  Then, the next time we were in the dressing room, he we crossed paths with the same lady and had the following exchange.

BG (to the lady walking with canes):  I’m so sorry you have a hard time walking, but did you know you have some beautifully chubby thighs?

The lady gave me a confused look, I realized she had not heard him clearly and took a second to be extremely grateful for the fact hearing aides are not waterproof (not for the first time, thanks to my time working at the retirement community) and said:

“He said swimming is his favorite exercise!”

Crisis averted. We had a chat about why even though it’s nice to tell people kind things, it’s probably best not to comment on other people’s bodies.  Once again, I left the conversation feeling like I’d stuck the landing and had a meaningful parenting moment.  You’d think I would have learned my lesson by now…

The next week we were back in the dressing rooms and the aqua aerobics class was done and the dressing room was hopping (figuratively, not literally, given the groups we were working with).  Up to this point all of the mothers used the women’s dressing room with their kids boy or girl.  That day however several of the ladies from aqua aerobics were embracing the alfresco approach to the locker room.  Which lead to the following compliment from BG:

“Wow! Your baby pockets are so cool and floppy!”

I should note here that he called breasts baby pockets.  It’s a long story.  I’d also like to confirm that it is impossible to sink through a locker room floor, I speak from experience.  I just had to hope he had not been heard and hustle us out to swim class.  I couldn’t think of anything that could remotely sound like “floppy baby pockets” that was swimming related. We switched class times shortly thereafter.

So, our time at the pool made me think back to this and be grateful that LG isn’t able to share what’s on her mind clearly yet, as we are back on the same schedule as the senior citizen’s aqua aerobics class.  I might use that as what I’m thankful for on Thursday…

Seriously though, it is a holiday week, take the time to tell the Tasmanian Tiger cubs in your life how you feel about them. Maybe avoid bringing up chubby thighs unless you’re talking about the turkey, though…

The niceness of it all…

So, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being a nice person and good person. I think it’s a combination of what’s going on in my life and the world at large. I definitely don’t have any answers, and think this is one of those questions that has a slightly different answer for everyone.

How should these two traits be weighted? Is one more important than the other? Are they one in the same? What kind of person do I want to be when forty answers the door? Most importantly, what do I want The Gingers to take away from this as they grow, make more and their own decisions, and form relationships? Somewhere along the way niceness and goodness definitely got conflated for me.  It’s definitely something I need to untangle.

I do not like conflict and will go to great lengths to avoid it.  I consistently do what will make things run smoothly and studiously avoid upsetting others. I do this even if someone might deserve to be upset and/or they are clearly not terribly concerned with making waves in my direction.  Consequently, I’m often described as nice.   However, now that I’ve logged some serious years at this adulting thing, I’m realizing more and more niceness is a surface trait and not necessarily a quality that says much about me as a person as it it about others getting what they want/need. Which, in turn, can lead to passive-aggressive behavior (and playing Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do on repeat) on my part to avoid direct conflict to maintain the title of “nice.” Think about it, when a person is called nice, it usually means they are being super accommodating to someone else’s agenda, not making waves, and generally easy to be around.  I know when I refer to someone as nice its usually based on a rather superficial interaction that was a pleasant experience.  That person may be kicking puppies when I’m not looking, but they sure are nice.

Being a good person is another thing all together.  To be a good person, you have to do what is right. And what is right isn’t always the way of least conflict.  Sometimes the good thing and the nice thing can be in direct conflict with each other.  I think it’s easier to live with this delineation as a parent; it would be nice of me to not make Big Ginger clean his room, but it is not good of me if I want him to be a self-sufficient member of society.  He might not like cleaning his room, it might be faster to just do it myself but my goals for and responsibility to him has always been clear. It is a given that sometimes our children will not be our biggest fans.  We just have to hope down the road they understand our reasons for what we did.

With other adults, it is much harder. It can be challenging when you want to be liked and there isn’t the same assurance of a positive outcome of conflict that there is with your children (I mean, they’re dependent on you for dinner). The good thing isn’t always what’s going to perceived as nice.  So many times, it would be easier to do the nice thing; to not confront the person who is making my life difficult on a personal level, or call out the person saying things that are hurtful or unkind.  The good thing to do is confront the person in these situations, it’s not fun, and it’s certainly not nice, but it is absolutely necessary.  It is not easy to confront someone who’s toxic behavior is having a negative effect on you and/or your family. It certainly isn’t nice to cut them out of your life if you aren’t left with any other choice, but it is the good choice.

The people I admire most in my personal life make decisions based on what they know is right for them and their families.  They don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what others think.  The people I admire in the public eye are very much the same.   The women at the helm of the #MeToo movement aren’t nice, and that is an excellent thing.  They are good people trying to stop an awful thing.  If they were nice about it, nothing would get accomplished. For change, there often has to be conflict.  It isn’t nice, but it is good.  This is what gives voices to those who haven’t had them, it’s what allows and inspires people to stand up for themselves.

All of this to say, I’m approaching forty and think these two traits have to be balanced.  There are times where niceness is called for in basic daily interactions. However, the trick is going to be to not let being nice outweigh being good. I’m fairly sure when I’m knocking on eighty’s door I won’t look back fondly on all of the times I was nice. I am certain, however,  I will regret any time I chose to be nice at the expense of being good either on a personal level or a more global level.

As I watch my kids play, I’m thinking maybe the time has come to stop being nice… Good is good enough for me and what I want for them.