Saturday, May 30, 2020

Another Loss

The Minneapolis Institute of Art cancelled its summer programs; Max no longer has a summer job. 

Friday, May 29, 2020

The Twin Cities on Fire: Two Kinds of Despair


Lloyds Pharmacy, burned down and bulldozed
Yesterday, looters attacked the Target store four blocks from our home.  This is where I do most of my shopping.  They smashed windows at the GameStop where my son buys and sells his favorite video games.  They smashed windows at the Birchwood CafĂ©, where we go for vegetarian food; Gandhi Mahal, our favorite Indian restaurant; and Bole, the Ethiopian restaurant down the street.  They burned down the AutoZone store, and looted up and down University Avenue: the CVS, the liquor stores, pawn shops, banks, etc. etc.  The neighborhood pharmacy I’ve used for the past 30 years has been burned to the ground.  

The 3rd precinct Mpls. Police Department building was stormed and set ablaze last night.  Hundreds of people, mostly young, celebrated in front of it with dancing, drinking, and fireworks.  Dark vans cruised up Grand Ave in St. Paul, stopping now and then to dump their passengers, who would break into stores, take whatever they could carry, hop back in the car, and travel to the next site.  Cars full of teenagers were speeding through our neighborhood, honking in jubilation.

This is my beautiful city.  I feel as if some part of myself has been attacked.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Depressed in America

The Washington Post reported today that 1/3 of all Americans are experiencing depression and/or anxiety.  I'm right there with them.  I'm weepy and tired.  Too tired to do the "self-care" that is supposed to prevent plunging into despair.

Max refuses to participate in the virtual graduation ceremony that so falls so grievously short of what he needs: to spend time with his beloved friends in person.  He says he hates covid-19 and will not give in to it by accepting second best.  

I tell him he's cutting off his nose to spite his face.  "It's just the way I feel," he answers.

I hate covid too. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

A Graduation of Sorts

It’s Max’s birthday today.  He turns 19.  It shocks me.  This is way past “young teen” to “on the verge of adulthood.” The next birthday is 20, no longer a teenager at all.

It hurts me to think of him leaving, but I’m more or less resigned.  No, not really.  I’m relieved that Covid will keep him here a little longer, at least a year, maybe two.  Johnson and Wales is out of the question for fall.  Denver is still a hotspot, as are we here in the Twin Cities.  The culinary arts program at St. Paul Community College will have to do for now.  We try to make him feel better: “You don’t have to live at home: you can live with Wesley or Henry or Jack!”  But none of them have jobs.  How will this work?

Saturday, May 23, 2020

ISO: In Search Of ...

In the panicked early days of Covid, I posted an ISO (“in search of”) on the neighborhood app Nextdoor for sanitizing wipes.  I got a list of suggestions for places to get them, but all the stores and pharmacies were out.  There were none to be found on Amazon, or anywhere online.  Finally a man named Jason offered some of his own. I was grateful.  But when I picked them up from his front stoop, there was a single container, already open, only a quarter full.

Then someone posted an offer to make face masks.  The masks were not cheap--$20 each—because she was donating one for each one paid for.  When I got them, the elastic loops were too big for my ears.  I had to pinch a segment of the elastic and staple it together to make the mask fit more snugly. The staples kept rubbing against the back of my ears.
Now, I’m engaged in a what my husband and I call a “cleaning frenzy,” a mad purging of clutter and grime.  We call it a “frenzy” because the impulse is both intense and rare, and motivated by despair.  This impulse flies against my life-long hatred of vacuuming and dusting.  When I was 12, I informed my mother that I would not be helping her and my sister clean on Saturday mornings.  In fact, when I was older, I’d be hiring a maid.  I was planning to be a doctor, so I’d have plenty of money.  For some reason my mother let me get away with this; I guess we both figured I’d be wealthy enough to take care of the whole family.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

No Easy Answers


Max seems angrier lately.  We all do.  But yesterday, late at night, he sat down on the couch across from me and asked me a question: “Do you think this will be over by August so I can hang out with my friends for my birthday?” For us, that involves waking up to eight giant teenage boys slumped across our living room.  That is his all-time favorite thing to do.

He tends to boast, present as cheerful and fearless even when he’s worried or upset. This time he sounded small.  His head was bent so he looked up at me through his eyelashes, as if he were pleading for something.

I was tired for to manufacture false optimism.  I sighed. “I don’t’ know.  We can hope for a vaccine, but I don’t think we’ll have one till next year.”

His eyes looked shiny, but crying is not an option for 18-year-old boys.

I couldn’t sleep that night.  Too hot, I thought, even with the windows open.  I finally gave up, gathered a few extra sheets, and went downstairs, grabbing another melatonin on the way to the den.  I picked up Mark’s latest novel, a Kate Atkinson mystery, hoping to read until I got sleepy.  But instead I found myself crying into a pillow. 

It was Joe’s death, I thought, flipping back and forth between two pictures:  Joe in bed, sick but alive, and Joe’s waxen body, suddenly emptied of him.  But then I thought of Max’s crushing disappointment.  And then the pandemic, the fact that Minnesota has not even reached its peak of cases.  And then all three.

Other parents are sending their kids off to college, off to work in summer camps, off to states halfway across the country.  I’m keeping Max here, at least for the fall.  I don’t believe the pandemic will be over by August.  I’m angry that colleges are acting as if everything is fine, as if they can force a dorm full of teens to stay away from each other.

I was a quick learner.  I still am.  I do things at speed: focus, don’t mess around, get things done.  But Max is languid and loves to chat.  It takes him 10 minutes to chop a carrot.  Plus, he has problems processing language.  He has trouble tracking the steps of a recipe, distinguishing a teaspoon from a tablespoon.  How will this work in the tense, frenetic pace of a restaurant kitchen?  (I’ve waitressed. I know how it goes.)

Everything in me wants to keep him here at home, to keep him safe from disappointment and failure and humiliation.

In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard, tells a story from her childhood. Her teacher places a small branch dangling a cocoon in a mason jar, eager for children to witness the magical transition from pupa to adult moth, with a  typical wingspan of up to 6 inches.  When the moth emerges, it tries to flex its crumpled wet wings--but the jar is too small.  The wings dry, now permanently deformed.  When the teacher sets it free, it limps down the driveway, to its certain doom.
I don’t want to cripple my son.  But I also don’t want him to get violently sick or—honestly—to bring Covid home to us.  The bottom line is that I fear for his life, and for ours.  And there’s no magic reassurance to offer, no miracle cure.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Mom Puts Her Foot Down

At the last minute, the answer is clear: Sam has deferred his acceptance to JWU for at least a semester, and probably for a year. It is really my decision.  No way in hell am I going to send him off to a school I've never seen--a school that would cost us $33,000 a year--to pursue his improbable fantasy: becoming Chef Ramsey.  No way am I going to risk getting covid on the long drive to Denver, or from my own son when they send him home.

As Max puts it, "Mom put her foot down."  

For me, it's a relief.  


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Sunday, May 17, 2020

Up in the Air: Who Am I Now?


Yesterday, Max presented his senior project, his last task before graduating from high school.  He had to do it over Zoom, to an audience of two teachers, three friends, my husband, and me.  He had switched topics late, from chiropractic to cooking—and his “deliverable” was a slide show of dishes he’d made for us, plus a 14-minute video demonstration of how to make pannacotta.  Zoom was glitchy.  The whole thing felt haphazard, rushed, uninspiring.  At some point Max started flinging his hands up over his head and leaning back out of the frame.  Then he would grab his head to crack his neck.  I wanted to burst out laughing, but his teachers’ faces were serious.

Max is trying on identities.  He’s poured through season after season of Master Chefs from around the world, memorizing the names of the winner and their favorite cuisines, the mannerisms of Gordon Ramsey and Joe and Graham Elliott.  He’s soaked up the lingo; consistency, plating, palate, flavor profile.  Adores flicking the knife blade back and forth (incorrectly) across the rasp to sharpen it.

It’s all surface, an experiment.  Yet he insists he want to go culinary school, become a three-Michelin-Star chef and open a restaurant—seemingly profound passions he’s never mentioned before.  But he expects us to foot the bill for Johnson and Wales—tuition $33 000 per year.  We had to lay down the law: we could only pay for two years.  After that he’d be on his own.


I’ve been goading him to consider cheaper, and closer, options.  He’s been digging in his heels.  The tension came to a head a few days ago, just around the time Joe died.  I found myself sobbing on the bedroom floor, exhausted.  Finally, I gave up.   Some tough sour husk I’d been clinging to fell away. The wish to control and protect.  To continue as Max’s manager, counselor, motivator, protector, fierce advocate—the role that’s consumed my mental and emotional energy for 18 years. 


In less than a year, I’ve lost my identity as a teacher. Watched my easy intimacy with Max grow strained.  Lost my familiar habits to Covid.  Lost a beloved family member to cancer.  Lost my most fundamental and fulfilling identity: mom.


After retiring, I felt unmoored: Who would I be now?  Now I feel pinned to the air, unable to reach the earth.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Grrr: Too Much Togetherness

The bathroom sink is scummy; the floors are dirty.  We can’t risk bringing in the woman who’s cleaned for us every month or so for several years.   I don’t know how to keep a home clean and don’t care to learn.  And no one wants to help me anyway.

Also, the wall we’d been planning to add upstairs remains unbuilt.  Our upstairs bedroom therefore doesn’t have a door.  I’m used to having days at home to myself: my husband at work, Max at school.  Now we’re all home 24/7.  At first it was sweet to have my two boys nearby; now I my anger flares easily.

Friday, May 15, 2020

My Lost Beloveds

Joe died Tuesday night.  For two days I was crushed with grief.

Because of Covid, I can’t travel to Pennsylvania.  There won’t be a funeral anyway.  I’m left with questions it seems too early to ask: What were the exact circumstances of his death?  Was my sister by his side?  Did she discover him gone in the morning?  Was he conscious shortly before he died, or had he slipped into a coma hours or days before? Did he know he was going to die, or did he avoid knowing up to the end?

I want to ask my sister: how do you feel?  Overwhelmed with grief? Numb? Disoriented? 

I’m ashamed to admit it: I keep wondering if she feels relieved.  It wasn’t an easy marriage.  Yet they stayed together for over 40 years.  “She depends on me,” Joe told me just this past Christmas.  It was a kind of answer to a question he’d been asking himself.  It seemed to satisfy him.

I keep trying to imagine that infinitesimal moment between a room filled with Joe’s presence—then empty.  Where did he go?  Is he still himself?
It hurts be alone with my grief, 1300 miles away.  My side of the family isn’t good with virtual communication.  How do I connect with them?  I was gone for a decade here and there, but I want to belong. I want them to know that I, too, feel this loss profoundly.

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Forging the Second Self: A memoir in progress.

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