Friday, October 16, 2020

Corona Diaries

I am hoping this pandemic is a snapshot of our lives - not a new normal. I'm hoping I will forget about a lot of it, as one of my convenient talents is forgetting negative experiences. Thus, I have a nagging feeling I should blog about our experiences - at least once.

Broad overview: in January we started hearing about this virus that was killing people and shutting down China. Media covered it well, but we definitely got the sense that it was "over there." Discussions in my book club, which includes a pediatric infectious disease doctor and pediatrician, and with others in my life helped me understand that it would come to America, and we would probably have to shut down schools/life for a few weeks at some point in the spring.

First week of March, my parents were here, and it started hitting our world. A person who had the virus attended our childhood's friend's kid's bar mitzvah in Westchester County, NY. The family had been exposed and quarantined. A friend's school in Riverdale had cases and they shut down the school. It was here. I felt nervous about the guys in my house replacing our furnace. I was angry that someone turned around in my driveway, with their window open and coughed (I'm such a germaphobe - seriously). I called the kids' school, because I had learned that even with the virus and flu season, they were STILL not washing hands before eating snack or lunch. I BEGGED the nurse and teachers to make this happen. They got soap and made this plan on Wednesday, March 11th. That day we started hearing rumors that schools were closing and Newton was likely next.

Thursday I picked the kids up from school and decided that Hebrew School was not worth the risk of contracting the virus, so instead we followed a loose dog until we got it reunited with its owner. That was our last experience in the world as we knew it. That night we got a call from the superintendent that school was closing for a few weeks.

We had a few weeks of locking down at home. We played. We puzzled. Matt and I worked and kids played and played and played. The first day we made a list of activities we could do when we needed the. We cut them up and put them in a jar. They are still in the jar - the kids lead themselves and each other from one thing to the next each day. Seven months in, we are still not looking for things to do. In March I had no idea what the kids would be like, how they would play, did we have enough games and toys, would we be on screens everyday, etc. We had NO idea how long the shutdown would last. A few weeks didn't sound realistic, but a year sounded ridiculous. 

I blogged at this point - the experience to me was like bed-rest. I sort of shut down and stopped paying attention on a moment-by-moment or daily basis. I listened to news constantly, but the goal was just to survive. I stupidly took on a HUGE work project and worked really hard while the kids continued to play and play and play. Matt was working insane hours because the markets were a mess and developing countries were starting to get hit by Covid. Thank god our kids are so independent and really did a great job - though I do recognize that I cut out negative things (see paragraph #1...), so perhaps it wasn't so great - who knows.

I was with the kids a lot. Generally, all the time - other than a few afternoons per week and at least one weekend day that Matt took with them so I could focus and write. I was on calls here and there with Matt coming down when possible and me hiding in the extra bedroom when it was a video call or with super VIPs. When I had a morning or afternoon without calls, I took the kids on hikes, bike rides, swimming at the lake or to run on the field. We had fun. We visited friends and cousins from a distance. We stayed out of Newton Centre and Boston and anywhere there would be people and we kept active.

I could not be more relieved that our kids were the ages they were - had this happened between May 2015 and beginning of 2019 I would have broken quickly.

Activities of choice at home: building forts, magnatiles, lego, superhero/character play, dress-up, Monopoly, read-aloud ebooks. Samara read the entire Harry Potter series THREE times so far since March (plus at least 100 other books - she does not stop). I still hated dinner. I HATED (and still really resent) that I have to be with my children for every meal. And that no matter what I make there are still complaints, no one ever eats fast and never a thank you. Matt obviously didn't travel for work - he usually traveled about 8x/year, usually for 7-10 days. I didn't travel for work - I usually did 3-4 week long trips. We were HOME. We cleaned our own house - ok - Matt did most of that, it's not my strength. He did an awesome job. We were with our kids 100% of the time. No childcare. No camp. No school. No babysitters. Nothing. We had groceries delivered - I didn't go to any stores, restaurants or ANYWHERE at all for months.

We got a puppy. I have always wanted a dog, but we traveled a LOT. In addition to work travel, we went to Michigan usually 5-7 times per year plus went on other vacations and weekends away. Well...that was not happening for a while, and the family was finally convinced. We applied for a few dogs, but the shelter said they were getting TONS of applications. I emailed one of the adoption coordinators at Great Dog Rescue New England to have a conversation to learn more about the process and try to get her to know us, so perhaps she would put us forward when another dog came up. On Saturday morning at 6:30am I saw the CUTEST puppies listed. I quickly submitted an application and got a response. They got hundreds of applications for these puppies and took the posting down within a couple of hours. We were interviewed, etc., and finally, four days before we were supposed to get her, we were approved. More on Rainey and her history in another post. But we all love her and love having her.

Elie had surgery. He was born with webbed fingers (and webbed toes! But those you don't have to do anything about...we think he's part duck), and we had decided he would have the surgery sometime around 5-7 years old. We went to the hand surgeon in Feb or March, right before the world shut down. They called in June and said the doc had an opening, and they could schedule Elie. He finally went in on 9 July. This was the first time we really did anything out of the house, and Boston Children's Hospital seemed to do a great job with Covid. The surgery went really well. Elie was in a LOT of pain for a couple of days, but he was a super champ and did a great job. After the first two weeks, where he had a soft cast, I dressed his wound for two weeks and even was trained to cauterize the wound myself - GROSS - I mean, I was so happy to help. It's so cool that he now has separated fingers. 

Planned around Elie's surgery and follow up visit, we went to Michigan. We took two weeks and did absolutely nothing. We took Covid tests. So did our parents. We drove 12.5 hours with two quick stops to pee on the side of the road and also got gas at one of the stops. I drove the whole way there. I had dreaded it so much and assumed it would take 15 hours - we/I could not believe how easy it was. Kids played games, colorforms, character fighting, audio harry potter, stickers and who knows what else until the last 3 or so hours. Then they deviced. Rainey stayed in her crate in the back the whole time. She took up half the car, but she was a non-issue and amazing. We got to Bubbie and Zaydie's, I was brain-dead. Kids swam. Rainey ate too fast and puked, but other than the puke, it was all really great.

We ended up staying with Bubbie and Zaydie about 10 days and visited with my parents outside. We then stayed at my parents for about five days and visited with Bubbie and Zaydie outside. Lots of tennis. Lots of swimming. Playing. Relaxing. Well - I wouldn't say I was relaxed, but everyone else seemed to be happy. I decided that next time we go we should get an air bnb, but then everyone else decided that really I was the only one who needed my own place to stay, so I could just get one for me and everyone else is happy to stay with grandparents. Though everyone made quite an effort to isolate and had tested negative for covid, it still felt so stressful to visit with 4 people in the over-70 category. We visited lots of family (Grandma, Judy, Mare, Mark and Paula, Mike and Jess) outside and at a distance too, and that was super nice. We had missed Thanksgiving 2019 because we had the stomach bug and obviously passover 20 didn't happen, so we hadn't been with most family since Rosh Hashana 19 and the whole family since Passover 19. That's a LONG TIME.

We then rented a cottage on Elk Lake up north. It was five minutes from my brother's rental, and it was absolutely lovely. We hiked or biked everyday. We swam. We played on the play structure at the cottage. We made a fire. We ate food I didn't cook. We just really enjoyed the outdoors. We also got to spend a day with Mark and Paula on Walloon, which was extra nice.

I finally started sleeping a little bit. I almost relaxed. Our trip was just about over with no incidence. The last night of our time up north, we were on the porch eating dinner and drinking beer when I got a text message that my cousin had tested positive for Covid. And he had been with my grandma a few days before. And my aunt and uncle, whom we had been with shortly after. I don't feel that nervous about us getting Covid, but I do feel nervous about Grandma or any other relatives in my parents' generation. I also feel extremely stressed about us being vectors. We decided to cut our trip short and just go back to Boston. We had planned on visiting our parents at a distance for the last two days and then heading back, but we weren't 100% confident that everyone would actually stay distant, and since we had POTENTIALLY maybe been exposed to someone who had been exposed, plus my parents had been at a distance also with the cousins, we went to SE Michigan and slept one night in an air bnb and left a day early and drove back - again - SUPER easy. (Cousins got better, no one else got it, all is fine. I'm still a nut).

Back in MA, we quarantined until our negative covid test results showed up. We were meant to start school 8 September, and sometime in MI we learned we were starting 16 Sept. It turns out we didn't actually start until 21 (though we had 1 hr in person the 16th, 45 mins online the 17th and 1 hr online the 18th - somehow those counted as THREE FULL DAYS OF SCHOOL??). We selected hybrid for our kids - so they would be in school two mornings per week, online two afternoons, one morning and 2 full days. Our experience in March was a joke - the kids had 1.5 hrs of live instruction/connecting per week. Most of Elie's class time was spent saying good morning to each other and then they hung up. Samara's teacher was unbelievable and above and beyond. Koby's school tried online things, but he was 100% not interested. I had VERY low expectations for the online part and I was hoping they would be in person for a month before they shut down due to spiking cases. Lots online was saying "in-person school isn't at all what school is meant to be..." and I hear all of that, but seeing friends and teachers in person and also having the routine of going to school, having real expectations away from mom and dad, and building the relationship with the teacher and class was all SUPER important for my kids. Once they went in person they were ALL engaged in the online stuff. 

Samara is really completely independent - and I hope she's doing what she needs to do. I asked the teacher to please reach out if she's not, as I'm not checking up on her. She seems happy and confident. (She had a teacher in 2nd grade who labeled her lots of negative things that it took all of last year to undo all of that - and she's now doing great). Her keyboard tricks, online skills and reading is out of control amazing.

Elie's teacher is a superstar at tech and this online stuff. She's organized them on SeeSaw so they are really completely independent. Elie also feels really good about his work, and he went from never typing a word on a keyboard to creating lots of fun things. 

I was sure Koby would be completely unengaged in school online and was worried that he would not be able to sit still IN school. His teacher seems amazing, and in school he's LOVING it (I have no idea if he's sitting still and doing what he needs - but again - I assume she would tell me if I needed to know). He's also completely engaged online. They have made it so he is mostly independent too - though there are CAPITAL LETTERS IN ZOOM PASSWORDS, and that is the bane of my existence. He also does a LOT of independent work on SeeSaw. Some of his independent work may include drawing all over his face, but whatever. He's loving school and feels so good that it's HIS turn to be in kindergarten and go to Bowen.

Rainey is adjusting well. She's getting more loving, but mostly she's interested in dogs and food. She's pretty scared of life, but she's a lovely addition to our family. I met with a dog behaviorist last week, and she helped me understand that 1) Rainey was not bred from the best of the mom and the best of the dad. She was a random dog from two dogs living on the street. Her mom didn't have good nutrition during pregnancy and no prenatal care. Rainey did stay with her mom until she was weened, but she was not properly socialized, so even though we got her at 12 weeks (ish?) and did the absolute best we could with socializing her, she was still at a genetic and experiential disposition for not being the calmest and best dog ever. 2) She is scared of things, and we can't make her not be scared, but we can help her deal with that fear. 3) We have the absolute responsibility to keep our kids safe by keeping Rainey safe from them. She is an animal. She has every right to not want kids climbing all over her. She has bitten while playing (which is normal puppy behavior) and she has growled at the kids many times. I learned that if she gets what she wants with that growl - that the kids go away - she will not step it up a level to snap. We are working with the kids on appropriate puppy interactions, and they're doing a bit better. I'm working with Rainey on building her confidence and learning how to make her the most successful - put her in situations where she will do well and remove elements of others. We have met with a trainer a few times. We have done obedience 1 and are signed up for level 2 starting shortly. We met with the behaviorist. I have read books. Done research - we are absolutely trying our best. So far so good enough, and we love having her.

Matt has spent much of the pandemic working like a crazy person. Two people left his team, so he is covering a LOT of countries, and many global developing countries are issuing bonds as their economies are suffering, so he has a ton to do. He never complains - he's just upstairs working and working and working. He has mostly been able to take off weekends, and we have watched a few shows together - we watched the Spy, Schitt's Creek and loved it, and now we started This is Us. We haven't really watched shows together in a while or often, so it's a treat. He made a CRAZY garden including corn, jack-o-lantern pumpkins, butternut squash, GIGANTIC sunflowers, regular sunflowers, cauliflower, broccoli, potatoes, beets, LOTS of different types of tomatoes, cucumbers, SO MUCH KALE, basil, rosemary, mint, peppers...and probably more things. He set up a whole watering system, so it all grew like crazy while we were away. Neighbors and strangers who were on the field were impressed. Go Matt! Beyond work, the garden and fantasy baseball, Matt has not had a lot of time for anything else. 

I have generally enjoyed the time with the kids. We spent a lot of time doing fun things - hikes, bike rides, swimming, free time in the field, LOTS of playing in the house, games, reading. I have baked a ton, cooked a ton, knitted. I also took on a HUGE work project the first week of April. I wrote a how-to guide for financial institutions on developing and implementing a gender D&I strategy. It was so much work. It was REALLY hard to find time to work, which is always my biggest challenge - TIME. I realized that as school was starting, and we have two children who do not read - we need someone to support their online learning. And they're in school a total of 8 hours per week. The kids get kicked out of a zoom. They are unable to type "Music" (though they could totally type "music" - again those CAPITAL LETTERS...WHY???). They don't know how to spell something. They walk away from a zoom and get distracted with a shiny object. They can't tell time. They are LITTLE! Either we get a nanny and I continue to work, or I support them. I decided that it's really not fair for me to do most of my work on the weekends, at night or before 7am. Joining calls during the day was really stressful for me, as Matt's job is BIG. He really has set time to be with the kids while I was on calls and set a few afternoons where he worked downstairs so I could sit in the office for a few hours of quiet - but it is really stressful and didn't feel sustainable. Hiring not full-time help meant introducing additional risk into our house. Someone who is not full time likely would have employment elsewhere. And though our kids are going to school, we are definitely on the insane side in terms of risk management. We are barely going into stores, haven't been in anyone else's house, at a close distance at all or really done anything with others. We are SUPER cautious. Inviting someone and their individual choices into our house felt like it would be really stressful for me. We are super fortunate that we can financially make it work, and my work is (hopefully) the kind that can take a break and get back in when I have time again. So as of the publication of the guide last week, I am unemployed. I have joined the school's PTO and am excited to put some energy there. We have an amazing school community - a lot due to the PTO - and I can't wait to be a part. I had felt too stretched, with a pre-schooler, work and everything else on my plate, to be a formal member before. I will take my involvement in "Safe Routes to School" and Understanding our Differences into the committee and hope to do more as well.

It's hard to ignore the political situation. It's been so incredibly stressful and sad to watch our democracy be challenged by current politics and our president. I don't even know what to say, other than I am completely obsessed. Other than donating money and writing a hundred letters to voters in MI and OH, I don't even know what else to do - but it's insane. I can't believe we have such terrible leadership. IN A PANDEMIC. It's truly awful and costing lives for no reason other than incompetency and Trump's ego. 

As a general update so I don't forget later what our life is like now - I think this will do. I'll try to update more now that I have so much time!

Added photos to show our life - but they didn't come in order, and I don't have patience to re-order. So RANDOM photos below!

Fire on Elk Lake with Jer. Favorite part of Koby's summer.

Car ride to Michigan. SO. MUCH. STUFF. in the car. Samara is in the back.

Red sun when the smoke from the wildfires out West showed up all the way in Boston.

Elie's sleeping position after his surgery, to keep his arm up.

Kids on a hike in Newton - we discovered Webster Woods for the first time ever.

Bike riding and walking around Lake Michigan with Jer.

Matt's tall sunflower - not even at the top of its game! It bloomed and was AMAZING, but we missed it, as we were in MI.

Swimming, boating, messing around in the water at Savta and Papa's.

Getting creative with outside activities. Bubbie and Zaydie bring video games outside in the week we were visiting with them only outside.

Masks became a part of our lives - learning how to do it properly...Our friend Jen made us our first masks - this one included.

This was the only thing Koby did with his pre-school class on zoom. He made shields - highlight for him.

All of Elie's animals lined up on his bed.

So many pile ups on Weeks field.

And long chats on Weeks field.

Play dates at a distance. 

Elie has been wrapped in this blanket (from Uncle Dan!) since March.

More pile-ups on Weeks.

Lots of fighting and wrestling. Even in the hammock. 

And at Nancy and David's.

Field day/Color Day organized with a few families/friends on Weeks Field, since Color Day at school was cancelled this year.

We made a lot of Harry Potter wands.

Koby turned 5!!!

LOTS of tree climbing.

The earliest photo we have of Rainey - in Tennessee.

We didn't have Barbara come clean our house for many months, but then sometime in July, I think, she came back, and the kids and I went on an adventure. Matt holed up in the extra bedroom where he works. This is at Stage Fort Park in Gloucester.

One of Rainey's first days.

Matt was convinced, finally, to get a dog.

So. Much. Kale.

Many many trips to Crystal Lake. Rainey did not like to swim, though she reluctantly came for the walk and slept ON our bag while the kids swam.

She, like Kitty, loves sleeping in my legs. And when I am in the hammock, she comes RUNNING and jumps in.

For months, it seems, I played Catan, many nights a week, with my brother Matt and Eric, cousins. 

She is so patient with Koby.

Rainbow over Weeks!

We did this one hike - Mt Misery - VERY often during the last few months. It's perfect - 20 mins drive, can make it as short or long as you want, a bit of elevation, a tree to climb, beauty and once we saw SIX snakes on the hike - three different kinds.

We also did Cold Spring Park's loop very often. Rainey loves to climb too, and she's great at the balance beam.

One of our weirdest hikes was Dogtown in Gloucester. It was super creepy but interesting.

Elie's webbed fingers before they were separated.

And the other side.

We have cut our own and each other's hair since March.

Playdates at a distance with friends.

Elie had the best attitude and was such a champ for his surgery.

Post surgery and super drugged out.

We got weekly veggies from a CSA, and rather than figure out how to cook everything, for all greens and random items, I decided to make a quiche each week. Matt and I were the only consumers, but they were delicious.

So much reading and cuddling in the hammock.

One day, during the week we were supposed to be at Michigania, we were super sad. We went to go over to our friends', Susie and Matt's. At exactly 3pm, which is Cookie Man time at Michigania, Matt came out with freshly baked cookies to share with us. He, of course, had no idea that 3pm was Cookie Man time, but boy did it make our day. And the cookies were delicious.

One of our favorite hikes we found this year was Purgatory Chasm. The first time we did it, it was sort of scary, because it was a lot of rock scrambling at the beginning, and we weren't sure when it would end, but the kids LOVED it, and so did Rainey.

There was so much Rainbow Loom this summer. Elie couldn't use his hand, so he learned to do it on his TOES!

Susie brought me fresh, arranged flowers from her garden on a regular basis. Boy did that make me happy.

We found a few new hikes at Blue Hills - but we had to go at 7am to stay away from crowds.

Coronavirus testing. Ugh


Rainey checking out the view at Savta and Papa's.

Our car had never met my parents' car! or been in Michigan. It felt like a big deal, and we decided our minivan is kinda a part of our family in a weird way.

So much swimming in Bubbie and Zaydie's pool, for those two weeks. They were like fish.

Ketchup is so. good.

Visiting at a distance with Mare and Grandma.

My parents also got creative with outdoor set ups - tetherball!

Visiting Matt's Grandma.

And Mike and Jess - and introducing Rainey to her pup cousins, Alpha and Omega.

Elie turned 7!

Rainey felt at home at Papa and Savta's.

We figured out the bike rack!

We visited with Matt's friend from undergrad, up north.

Kids on paddle boards on Elk Lake, at the cottage we stayed at.

Jer and I biked at Maplehurst at least twice - it was such a treat (even with one break on my bike...). I went to the summer camp there in 1987 and Jer went for years. He's archiving the camp's interesting history and has been a great resource for those making the camp land a conservation area.

Kids at Lake Maplehurst.

Lake Michigan. At this beach Rainey ate a toad and started foaming at the mouth, and I freaked out. In retrospect it was hilarious. 

Matt and the boys hiking Maplehurst's trails.

yes. That's Michigania in the distance. So so sad.

We got to spend a day with Mark and Paula at their house on Walloon. It was sooo nice to see them and so fun and beautiful.

Walks with Jer and talking IN PERSON after so many (daily) phone conversations. It was lovely. I wish we lived in the same city - why don't we?

We had way more ice cream this summer. We took the Minuteman bike trail to Lexington and got ice cream there. Ice cream is always a motivator for my kids. We even got toppings. Because why not. Everything else sucks.

Rainey found great sunny spots.

Tree at Mt Misery.

We took a day to go to Crane Beach - the water was cold, but we loved looking for shells and just being on the beach. Super distanced and masks required when walking around.

And more ice cream - this one near Purgatory Chasm. Rainey thought that if she sat nicely maybe someone would share with her. No chance.

Walking to school for their ONE hour intro - Sept 17th, after six months of no school.


Rosh Hashana. By ourselves. :( but we facetimed or zoomed with both families, which was nice/r.

Rosh Hashana s'mores with friends. Why not.

Patient puppy.

this is sideways, and I can't figure out how to change that - but this year, the backpacks are differently packed. They have extra masks. Mask cases - and the boys have an extra set of clothes that stay at school.

first day of kindergarten! walking home across the field.

I have a hard time when she doesn't look comfortable - but she sleeps in the weirdest of positions.

Koby has drawn all over his face on school zooms. Am I in charge? Is his teacher? I heard a "this is a reminder that markers are for drawing on paper not on faces" this week...then he came out with whiskers. 

Every night after dinner we walk around the block. This is on Oxford. We have loved the routine, seeing friends and moving our bodies. Often it's the only time Matt goes outside or moves all day. Poor dude.

Rainey loves my lap. So do the kids. It's a busy place. Photo by cousin, Tessa.

"Who wants to do my hair?" Elie loves brushing her hair (???), and she just reads.

Rainey during Kol Nidre.


Our sad sukkah. No decorations and no friends, but we ate in it nearly every night and many lunches. I suppose that was somewhat nice. 

Samara turned 10!

Samara's birthday party - 3 friends (two are siblings), a horse craft, Cabot's takeaway including icecream. It was lovely.

Purgatory chasm hike with Matt.

Shadows on the sukkah

our washing behaviors have changed. Now we wash masks.

Samara sent me this when I was out on the field with the dog one morning. She got Lucky Charms for her birthday. This just made me realize that we are in a new parenting age, and also that perhaps I could parent a bit better.

We let Rainey on the beds a bit - the trainer suggested she stay off furniture completely, but we all really want to cuddle with her. She first went to the end of the bed and curled up. Then she looked up and saw me and came closer to my legs. Then she looked at me and came right in my belly for a cuddle. 

Kindergarten is still kindergarten. And yup - my kid made a gun out of math cubes. at school. oy.

Waiting for curbside food at Whole Foods. They caused a lot of smiles with this position.

Apple picking with friends. The kids LOVED it.

Can you spot 5 kids in this picture?

One of these things is alive.

We got this pic right before we picked up Rainey

In place of our annual Michigania photo. Minus Jer. Plus Rainey.

Virtual piano recital

Strawberry picking - it was one of our first times out in the world.

So many forts and so much reading. Samara has read the entire Harry Potter series three times - plus tons of other books.

Our route.

We ate OUT! The shorts brewery brewing facility had a food truck and beer. It was SUPER distanced, and self-serve, and it was lovely.

Koby's working space.

Samara's working space.

Elie's working space

Mom gets distanced play dates too! (Photo by Sarah)

Break fast - clearly not after sundown - with two chavurah family friends.