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Last night was one of those nights that find you awake at 1:30 in the morning feeling like it’s time to wake up, or at least certain that you will not be going back to sleep. Instead, you will lay awake and chew on thoughts that will make you feel like you’re running an emotional marathon even though when you return to the present, you will remember that you have not moved an inch. Perhaps an hour, or two hours, maybe even three, have gone by, and you probably can’t even remember what you were thinking, even though it seemed so urgent while you were thinking it. You are still physically in exactly the same place you were when you woke up all that time ago.
This seems to be a recent theme on the internal hamster wheel. Do you ever feel like you’ve run an emotional marathon even though technically, nothing has happened? I have been trying to ground these dispatches to the anecdotal events of my life—the way in which The First Big Quarantine Fight incited a revelation, how Laura running across the street unattended invited me to map out the kind of parent I’m becoming, but you know what? I have nothing to report today. I had nothing to report yesterday, or the day before, and I might not have anything to report tomorrow.
I have been taking my coffee the same way every morning, and toasting the same kind of bread, and blending the same kind of smoothie, then retreating to my room, which sweeps me up into a haze of self-imposed deadlines and video meetings and all of these conversations that are so difficult because I’m terrible at saying what I mean in a direct way. I didn’t realize this until quarantine. I mean, I must have realized it, but I never paid much attention to it. Look at that sentence, even! “I am terrible at saying what I mean in a direct way.” Wouldn’t the easier, more straightforward sentence read, “I’m not direct”?
Or maybe that’s not it, because it doesn’t sound right. My thinking is direct, but maybe my language is not. Or maybe there is something else. In any case, it’s all the same. I look out the window and when the sun is shining, I feel a wave of pressure consume me because I wish I was among the masked walkers huffing down the West Side Highway. But I’m on self-imposed deadline, so I stay inside and think about whether the muscles in my legs are starting to atrophy.
Then I hear my kids in the other room and think: How is it possible that even from quarantine, I don’t have time for them? Then I look at the time and realize it’s about to be 12:30 p.m., which means that the morning shift—time I set aside to write and think and do “the deep work,” has ended. And thus the flurry of meetings begin until it’s 5 p.m. and the greatest treat—making dinner—meets me on the other side of this door.
I set out crackers and olives and cut up vegetables, which my kids and husband eat while I basically continue to iterate on my newfangled creative pursuit of cooking. It’s no doubt replacing the mental space that getting dressed used to occupy.
And by the way, the reason it’s possible that even from quarantine I don’t have time for my kids is because I have designed it that way. I’m on a self-imposed deadline and prioritizing that. I didn’t realize this before I asked the question out loud, but Abie often has to remind me that “I’m the master of my domain” because I routinely act like someone else is ordering me to live my life this way.
Back to the cooking: It’s different from getting dressed because even though the desire to do it is the same (create something new), it is much more satisfying to create something for the express purpose of giving it to another person. Sure, an outfit can inspire an onlooker, even provoke joy or incline them to take action, but the direct satisfaction of making something that fills another person up… it is a different kind of pleasure. Last night, for example, I fried shallots and capers in olive oil then poured it over a bed of arugula to serve with the fish I was baking, also drenched in capers and olive oil—with pitted kalamata olives and a couple of Meyer lemons, sliced up.
It was tasty as anything— I loved it so much, but even more, I loved that Abie loved it so much and that my kids scarfed it down. At one point, Madeline bit into an olive that had a pit in it and Abie yelled, mostly because he was scared she would choke, but it embarrassed her, it seems, and she started to quivering-lips-blue-in-the-face cry rather hysterically. This isn’t the first time it has happened—this enormous sense of embarrassment that arrives when she thinks she has done something wrong even though she has not. It causes her to cry hysterically which leads me to believe she’s very sensitive. I don’t know what it’s like for her — the way her sensitivity manifests, but Abie does, which I know because every time it happens, he’s triggered. He says, “Oh, Madeline, you’re like your dad.”
So I try to think about how to expel the shame. Is she feeling shame? She did nothing wrong. She is not wrong. Lately, instead of saying, “Don’t cry, it’s okay,” which I admit is a tempting reaction, I explain to her what is happening. I say, “You bit into an olive that had a pit in it and Dad got scared you would choke on it and that scared you. I know.” And I let her cry. I don’t say anything about wrong or right and I don’t tell her to stop, but I hold her hand if she will accept the grasp. I’m not sensitive in the way that she is, so theoretically, I could say I don’t know if this is the right response, but I know that it is because when I do it, it opens up my heart too. It enables me to see that:
-I’m not a terrible communicator. It just takes me more time to get to the point.
-I’m choosing to sit in this room and write. It is not a dungeon. It’s a fortress. My leg muscles are fine.
-If I feel that I’m not spending enough time with my kids, I can change my process. It is as simple as that.
I am the master of my domain and this—approaching a conclusion, feeling the relief of giving myself permission to unleash the process of getting there—is my domain. What is yours?
Graphic by Lorenza Centi.