Coffee. Hot.

I am not entirely surprised that this dress smells like pee since I pulled it from the actual bottom of the hamper, and I’m not entirely inclined to change my clothes since nothing else fits right now. This feels like an appropriate stage of toddler and pandemic parenting, so here we are.

My daughter, just over two-years-old, has apparently been taking the details of our life in and is now beginning to show us what she’s observed. She can climb out of her crib and open the baby gates, and we’re operating on a whole new level of terror. Recently I let her pad out in the morning, smiling at the actual pitter-patter of her chubby, little feet, and hung behind to see what she would do if she didn’t think I was watching. I heard her open the next gate into the kitchen, and the scratch of a kitchen chair as she pulled it up to the sink. I thought she was going for the faucet (“wash our hands” is a favorite game now, in stark contrast to the kicking and screaming to NOT wash her hands from December-March). I peeked in and watched her poke the button in the center of the coffee maker. The green light appeared as the machine began to drip and hiss. I get the coffee ready every evening before we start bedtime prep, so everything was ready to roll. She beamed at me in the doorway and said, “Coffee, Hot!”

All day long I wondered about what else she has been observing. She hands me my book every time we sit down, and I feel like this is pretty solid. But what else has she been watching? What else has she been learning?

This summer is already off to a vastly different start than last.

Last summer most of the early pandemic terror had subsided for me because she and I were home, alone, indefinitely. Daycare was closed, so I could not take classes or work. We got our groceries and shopping through curbside pick-up, and our social time consisted of City Forest, beach trips, and the library summer reading program through curbside pick up and YouTube. I volunteered to write a book review for Nursing Clio, hired a babysitter for a few hours a week, and set up shop in my barn where the wifi reached. I packed a bag with chargers and snacks and drinks, closed the big doors behind me, and peed out back so that I wouldn’t be spotted. It was not my best writing, and I made a couple of moves there that I instantly regretted, but 12/10 would do again. I put words on a page when I could barely articulate an entire sentence. We were so much less isolated than earlier in the spring, and I thought in July that I had never been so . . . happy. I felt guilty that this peace was inextricably linked to so much suffering, but I couldn’t see the sense in ignoring it either. There was no timeline for an end, so I no longer worried about my career trajectory or my age or retirement. I was still getting paid, though my teaching job had ended. I read outside with my coffee while my daughter took TWO NAPS A DAY, we walked, we visited, I stole a couple hours to myself when I could. Mostly, I rested in a way that had never been available to me. We had food, a home, and time together. I hope my daughter remembers this ease, and that I am able to hold on to some of that as we move forward.

We returned to school and daycare last fall with the caveat that it could all fall apart at any minute. I remained dedicated to my program and work, but my focus stayed (mostly, this was a challenge) on the knowledge that no one was going to look out for us, so that was my primary job. Keep us happy, keep us healthy. My earlier parenting and working days had been so focused on the hustle – always multiple jobs, always trying to the best mom and the hardest worker, but never enough money – and I do not ever want to return to that spirit. I know what I can make do with now; I know what I can do now. When things got hairy it was always because I was trying too hard and not feeling recognized. So I backed off. I knew my name was on the Dean’s list. I knew I ended that semester with a 4.0. So this spring I gave up three hours of studying each week to go back to yoga. Always forward, always back, always myself.

I’ve welcomed some of my old self back in the reading that fills me, yoga that stretches me, and running that pounds enough of the anxiety out to make me a little more pleasant. I do not forget for one single second the privilege that allows me to do this: another adult human who helps pay the bills, enriching and safe daycare, a community that values safety, vaccines, health, time. Part of me thinks that I have earned this, but – hasn’t everyone? Why are we expected to expected to do so much, with so little, for so long?

My son, so much older than my daughter, was there for the hustle, and he spent his formative years watching me work every opportunity that came my way to move us forward. Each year I coached made Christmas happen. Every summer camp I worked paid for his summer programs. The breaks were sweet, but so sparse. We talk about this, the ways in which that frenzy felt necessary but maybe wasn’t, and he just finished a feat of his own by completing his degree while working full-time, both remotely and during a pandemic.

It may not look like it from the outside with all the new career movement, but all of that downtime let identify a way to keep that peace while participating in a varied life that sustains me. I was able to sift through some of my habits and mindsets to see what I could Marie Kondo out of my psyche. It let me take off scarcity and try on a lens of abundance instead. Some things still fit, and some are out just like my old jeans. I know that we cannot will what our children pick up. I can fill our days with intention and still, I will be there. But this feels like an okay place to start.

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