Staying Separate and Apart – Together

To write this story or not – but I’m a writer and it’s what I have to offer. I’m isolated with part of my big family…

Since I was a kid in grade four I’ve found joy and solace by putting words to paper (screen). As we all hunker down in our homes I feel the need to write. I want to share the family humour, the lightness of humanity and the very tough bits too.

To catch you up – here’s a brief tale of our situation at our ‘camp’ away from the world, though at the same time as we’re away we are deeply engrossed in events unfolding everywhere. I was out of the country with my adult daughters for a special short trip. We knew to be cautious in our travels – handiwipes in our purses, hand washing everywhere, hanging together. Even on our return we weren’t worried. Social distancing wasn’t a thing that first day. It was more than 24 hours after that when our world started to be dumped upside down with the disturbing frightful realization of how Coronavirus had insidiously crept into our province.

It was recommended that my husband work away from home because of my having come from away. We decided he would head to our cottage and prepare it in case any of our adult kids wanted to isolate. (It was the beginning of the odd toilet paper hoarding – though honestly folks we legitimately needed some). He packed the truck up with supplies as if it was a family retreat over a summery long weekend but this time he had cleaning products instead of blow up beach toys and canned goods, not marshmallows.

Our youngest daughter was studying for an important graduate entrance exam and followed him. Her big sister is the mom of our two young granddaughters and her husband was out of the country not aware yet that he’d have to head home. So there I was with my husband telling me to follow him to the cottage on the lake to finish this isolation time, but I felt like a big mother hen and needed to take care of my eldest daughter and my granddaughters, at least until her husband was homeward bound. So we were hanging together at bit over meals, the girls doing art at my kitchen table, their mom and I trying to sort out what everyone everywhere was sorting.

It was March 12th and snowing, not that usual spring snow which is heavy and wet and perfect for snowmen, but instead light flakes blowing and drifting through the night and day. Normally another flipping snow storm would be enough to fill social media with chatter but I remember the weather wasn’t mentioned as we all caught up with the threat of the virus and were deep in social media attention mode.

Waiting for my son-in-laws return and the snow to stop making the roads treacherous – I started to pack. But hold on – what was I packing for? … the now recommended fourteen days after travel to be over? Or some long otherworldly escape for how long …? Would I want outfits to maybe go out locally in the early spring sunshine in another week? Or comfy clothes to be sick with some version of the virus? Was I taking a stack of books to read near the calm lake til it was all clear – or bleach, disposable gloves and lotion for hands we’d be scrubbing for who-knows- how long?

We have four ‘kids’ – two sons in another city, sharing a home with one of their girlfriends. More mother hen – I had to know what they were doing as the numbers of people being tested for the damn virus was slowly growing. I was worried about our boys and the girlfriend – all in the entertainment business whose jobs had closed up – but the boys were more concerned for us in this world of the Coronavirus where at our age we were annoyed at being counted among the older folks and in that broad demographic that was most at risk of serious trouble. The mind spins . Damn it I’m not near ‘elderly’. The guys worried that if they’d unknowingly been exposed they could pose a risk to us. I wanted them to leave the threat of the big city and be exactly where we were. We talked a lot. None of us had any knowledge that we’d been directly exposed. Had we in our travels? Had they in contact with a wide swath of folks at work? We changed our minds and changed them again and decided to come together and practise being apart together – however that would look.

Normally in my life I’m pulled tight into my own city by my dad whose in a senior’s residence and wants our company desperately. But I couldn’t visit him. I was ‘free’ to go. (That’s a whole other story to be gently told).

My mom passed last year – oh Mommy, you never ever could have imagined all this. The whole world is so far off kilter, nervous and stunned, watching numbers go up, and now our government is calling Canadians home. When does that happen?

I drove down the highway alone, trying not to stop – so aware that I was isolating from others but feeling the separation of people from me. There were some cars but mostly it was the truckers and me . It took me so long to pack extra who- knows- what for a trip of indeterminate length and purpose that I was amused at my own indecision. Tucked in with a box of chocolates I couldn’t resist in the car were weights for exercising, and my sewing machine ??? I had high boots for deep snow and sandals for hot weather. Should I bring the hair dye from the back of the cupboard though it’s not my current fav colour’? Those young women can go falsely grey but I’m still fighting the good fight.

I passed the biggest herd of elk I’d ever seen standing in a tight group beside the road in the moonlight. No social isolating for them. When I arrived at our cottage my husband was asleep and my daughter headed to bed. It was calm. The lake was still. A slip of moon shone over it. But beyond the mountains I’d driven over, the world was changing, changing, changing.

Can I Say It Again -‘Look Up’

mom-and-dad-anniversaryIt’s February today – the month of love. We need more love – not just now, always. During a previous late winter I wrote about wanting to start a campaign. Let me say it all again: It doesn’t have to be on every bus bench or t-shirt or go viral on the internet.  It is made up of two simple words, ‘Look Up’.  Look Up.  Look Up.  Look Up. Though, my campaign has a subtitle – ‘Love the One You’re With’.  So, right now, stop staring at your screen for a minute and smile at a stranger.  Smile at your partner.  Smile at the person at the next table.  The one right beside you at the transit station.IMG_0865

Didn’t you go out to a coffee shop to escape the loneliness of working at home?    So let your eyes and your humanity drift away from focusing on your Ipad.  Take a break from texting on your cell phone. Look Up from the work, or play, that is keeping your attention on your laptop.  Engage a stranger, if only with just a smile.

I am guilty, too.  I have to wait to meet a friend at a restaurant table, and I immediately reach for my phone – the phone that connects me with all the people I love.  I hear that twinkly sound of ‘you’ve got a text’ and I’m immediately eager to see who is reaching out to me.  “No, just Look Up”, I tell myself. The greeting will be waiting for me, if I just resist the urge to look down – away from the world unfolding around me, the toddler impressing his parents at the next booth, the waitress who might linger at my table, or I could gaze out the big window – see the lovely setting sun, the small birds on the horizon, the row of frosty trees.  best-rainbow

Or I’m alone having a pick-me-up in a favourite coffee shop – so what do I do? Voila, I reach for the comfort of my phone, to check my text messages, my email messages and maybe even google the weather.  Instead, I could resist the temptation to touch my cool perfectly weighted phone (thanks Steve) and smile at a stranger, or pause to connect with a silly comment about the weather, the way people used to – in the old days – sharing a thought with someone new.  Worse is when we can’t resist the sneak a peak at the iphone when we’re not alone, but are with friends or family that we’ve sought out, or who have sought us out, to spend a few low tech minutes of actual straight up human connection.  That’s where the subtitle comes in – the ‘Love the one (s) your with’.  mike-and-i-on-patio-summer

On a recent wet and windy day I stepped into that warm coffee spot to view the customers in the line-up, and those hunkered down at the tables with their half-sweet-non-fat-extra- hot-vanilla-whatever’s all looking down, hiding with their many sized screens.  “Look Up,” was what I wanted to bravely call out.  “Look Up. Look Up. Look Up.”phone-booth I have a new idea on this first day of February – go out without your phone. I know it’s scary. But try it. Just try it. Just think your thoughts. XO

Hey! Stop Spying On Me!

What I wanted for my birthday was an Itbit , you know – that sleek looking device you wear on your wrist that tells you if you’d walked like 10,000 steps in a single day.  Ten thousand is a lot of steps.   But that’s not the aspect of Itbit that is freaking me out right now. It also monitors my sleep. Cool, I thought, I’ll wear it 24/7 and let it tell me about my dreams (almost).  The first time after a so-so night’s slumber, when I looked at my iPhone screen where Itbit gives its report, I got all feisty and argumentative. There’s no way, I haven’t slept nine hours in years. Oh, but I was restless twenty-two times and one of those lasted for two hours and seventeen minutes.  I took it up with my still sleeping husband, “This stupid gadget thought I went to bed when I had that two hour nap on the couch during our rewatching of The Sopranos for five hours last night.”

steps

 

“So don’t wear it,” he said, all gruff and practical and Tony Soprano like.  “It doesn’t just track your breathing and heart rate, does it? Some of those restless recordings could be me moving, all the more reason we should get a king size bed.” He is all over the king bed idea these days. Tony and Carmella have a king size bed.

But I had to wear it that morning.  I had my going to the gym clothes on – the outfit that makes people think that I’m the kinda woman that eats granola and yogurt and goes to the gym. And now on the mornings that I do drag my sorry ass to the gym what would be the point if I wasn’t wearing this damn exercise tracker. The first time I wore it and checked my iPhone to see what my Itbit and tattled about my ‘workout’ I decided that the damn thing had a broken chip.  But it turns out that you have to do more than a fifteen minute whirlwind of ‘I came in, I lifted some things, I left for Starbucks’ for the gadget to care.

sopranos

Speaking of which, my Itbit wants me to tell it how much water I drink each day and what I eat. I’m not telling it everything.  Somethings are going to stay my business.  I want to ask it “Who wants to know?”, because the other night I was sitting in the kitchen at my old-school PC tower computer exploring hotel options for a mother/daughter get away to taste wine in Napa Valley. I was drawn away from my hotel sleuthing by the Soprano soundtrack and joined my hubby downstairs to watch Tony checking out colleges with Meadow and then murder a guy. Itbit interrupted with a beep to show me a text from my daughter, but my arm isn’t long enough for how puny its font is so I took up my phone.  The text said she thought one of her brothers had posted a photo on Facebook that showed his possible new girlfriend in the background. (It wasn’t WikiLeaks but it was intriguing espionage.) So there I was sitting on the couch on Facebook on my cell – onto something else completely different than I had been upstairs at the ancient computer, and up pops ads on my phone encouraging me to consider a whole whack of alternate  Napa Valley hotels and adjacent wineries.

bit-in-drawer

Okay kids – I can figure out how that happened in your freaking new world.  I get it. But stop spying on me everyone.  It’s too much.  I’ll sleep when I sleep and eat what I want and go to the gym for fifteen minutes if I feel like it. Itbit is going to take a long nap in a drawer. Except for tomorrow….when I keep a date for a long walk with my girlfriend, because what’s the point of a long walk if this dumb gadget doesn’t congratulate me for it.

Was There More Daydreaming?

real letters

Do you remember that time?  The time before ‘this time’ when we were somehow more free to be alone?  If you are a young reader here – you won’t recall it, as it never really existed for you.  Let’s see – do you recall calmly sitting at a bus stop after school waiting for your ride, and just staring out, maybe thinking about needing to call a friend from home so the two of you could pick a spot to meet at the mall, say the frozen yogurt stand at the food court or the bench beside the phone booths in the middle?  And if your friend wasn’t there when you arrived you would take out that letter to your cousin that you started in math class, and finish telling her about the new guy you liked, but you couldn’t tell her to look up his grinning mug on facebook,  or send her a selfie of you waiting for your bus home – still glowing with your crush on.

I’m not being holier than thou.  I love, love, love my phone and all the way it connects me to the world. I tell myself to leave it behind on occasion, but then I quickly think– “Oh no Self, what if I need to take a photo, something that I immediately have to post to my friends or tweet to strangers?  Come on. Really?  I could send them one of the 628 photos currently in my magical phone?   I wrote my book, Text Me, Love Mom; Two Girls, Two Boys, One Empty Nest when I realized with my kids going off into the wide, wide world I was feeling more than a little jittery.  And then ca-pow, I managed, as parents do now, to be connected  to them in a way that I was never connected to my mom. When I flew away to university and was terribly homesick for my big family, she splurged on pricey long distance encouraging phone calls, and we wrote letters that involved pen, and paper and stamps – and hey, if we could have texted each other (for free), I know we would have. So it isn’t that desire for connection that I am being slightly forlorn about today.

No, I’m reading a  captivating book called – The End of Absence – Reclaiming What We’ve Lost In A World Of Constant Connection, by Michael Harris, a writer from Vancouver, Canada.  Harris says, that “the difference that future generations will find hardest to grasp is the end of absence – the loss of lack. The daydreaming silences in our lives are filled; the burning solitudes are extinguished.”

rope swing

He makes me aware that I am part of the last few generations who will remember that other time, a time when it was easier to hang out with yourself, to be alone and okay.  Do you remember those days when if you walked to the corner store or the library it was just you, without a phone in your hand – or maybe you might have run ahead to catch up to a neighbor you spotted to talk to, because that’s how you ‘shared’, not by posting share?  (Though of course, the irony is that I’ll soon finish this post and share it.) Will my four kids, who launched themselves in the world and at times ignored the tether of my cell phone – probably because I was bugging them like crazy, or they were up to deeds I wouldn’t approve of – will they recall the time when there was no little beep, beep and ding, ding in their purse or pocket, and how if they were out with a person, say me or their dad or each other, they were really just with them.  Was there more daydreaming back then?  Do they daydream between texting, and checking facebook posts and watching YouTube videos?  Do I?

To read Text Me, Love Mom – the book – go to http://www.amazon.com/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712 or http://www.amazon.ca/Text-Me-Love-Mom-Girls/dp/1771800712