family fun · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Kids · mental health · The COVID files

Day 300: Getting Ready

I spent most of today getting ready for K’s Bat Mitzvah, which is this weekend. It won’t be the grand affair we imagined last year, but there’s plenty to do: tidy up the part of our living room that will be on camera (anybody who Zooms knows how that goes); arrange to pick up the Sefer Torah (Torah scroll) from our synagogue office; compile a booklet of the abridged service we’re doing on Saturday and format it so people can download the PDF; figure out what K wants to have for brunch after the service and order it.

Oh, and I’m leading the whole service, so I should probably rehearse a bit and make sure I know what I’m doing when. And practice the Torah reading. That’s all.

I got thrown for a bit of a loop this afternoon by the announcement of tighter COVID restrictions. For a tense few hours I was worried that we had lost the ability to have ten people, physically distanced, for a religious ceremony or rite. Thankfully that rule remains unchanged with this latest announcement. In fact, I’m having a hard time seeing what did change, really. We’re now being told not to leave the house except for medical care, groceries, and outdoor exercise (physically distanced, of course.)

After the announcement I had a sudden sense of being hemmed in, and a mild panicky feeling. I don’t know why—absolutely nothing has changed for us from last week, and we haven’t gone anywhere in ages—but suddenly this announcement made me feel like we’ll be stuck here forever, in an endless cycle of opening up and then locking down. As of now, the emergency order is for 28 days. After that… who knows?

But this weekend we have a simcha (happy event,) virtual though it is, and I’m determined to make it feel special for K. Tomorrow (while we’re still allowed to leave the house) we’ll be dropping off packages (that contain a copy of the booklet and some candies to throw at K) at the homes of our nearby family and friends. K is coming with me: putting a package on the doorstep, knocking, and then stepping away is as close as she’s going to get to actually seeing anyone in person.

Mr. December has taken on the task of schooling the kids tomorrow while I do whatever needs to be done for Saturday. I’m hoping he’ll be just as agreeable when I tell him that one of the tasks on my to-do list is a nap.

family fun · Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · mental health · waxing philosophical

Day 299: Avoidance Hobbies

I took up the viola again when E was eight months old. It became my default activity anytime I wasn’t motivated to do anything else. If it was a bad depression day, I’d just play the songs that I knew so well they were automatic. On other days I would work on newer pieces. That process was automatic too, actually: play each phrase on its own, identify the trouble spots, play one slowly at first and increase the tempo gradually, repeat again for muscle memory, next phrase. Practicing viola was easy for me, even when the pieces I was learning were hard.

It sounds like I was using my time productively, and in some ways I was. But to my mind it was just like taking a nap to shut out the world, except that it sounds productive. Day after day I would practice viola until my hands hurt, while my responsibilities—mail, bills, correspondence, scheduling—went undone.

I injured my left arm on Friday, which means that I can’t play viola right now; but I just happened to get some new calligraphy pens this weekend, and it’s turning into my next “avoidance hobby” (for lack of a better term.)

I bought the pens for a specific homeschool project: illuminated manuscripts of the kids’ chosen quotations from Pirkei Avot. I took the pens out to try them before introducing them to the kids; an hour later I was still practicing my Hebrew calligraphy and marveling at how perfect some of the letters looked. One by one the kids joined me and practiced writing Hebrew letters (much more willingly than they would have otherwise.)

Today we were doing some preparation for Passover (this will be the year that my kids can actually read some of the text fluently in Hebrew) which involved copywork. The kids are usually reluctant to do it, but they jumped at the chance to use the calligraphy markers again. I did it alongside them, enjoying the focus and flow that comes to me when I’m creating one letter at a time.

Now I can’t decide whether the calligraphy is meditative enough to call it a mindfulness practice, or just another avoidance strategy? I certainly have plenty to do—mail, cellphone contract re-negotiation, finishing up things for K’s bat mitzvah, adding a sketch to the email I drafted for the landscape designer—but I can’t bring myself to do them right now, whereas I’d happily sit down with the markers and some lined paper for another hour of calligraphy practice.

family fun · Fibro Flares · Keepin' it real · Kids · mental health · The COVID files · what's cookin'

Day 298: A Mixed Bag

This morning I announced that there would be no computer use after 12:30 p.m.

There were moans and complaints, but we stood firm. They got off the computers, went upstairs, and started playing. It was the kind of play I love to see from kids: there was an imaginative storyline, there were props, there were roles and rules. Every so often I heard snippets of conversation, but for the most part it was the four of them in the attic.

That’s right, four. For reasons unknown to me, K joined their game today. They were all laughing and having fun and there were no major fights or calls of “Mo-om! He hit me!” They played like that for hours.

Mr. December and I spent an hour going over our financials from 2020. We concluded that, among other things, ordering in pizza was too frequent and too expensive last year. Mr. December suggested that we go back to making homemade pizza.

The kids cheered when they heard we were having pizza for dinner. Then I revealed that we were going to make it ourselves, and they booed. The complaints started:

“I hate pizza!”

“I can’t eat it. Every time I eat pizza that isn’t from Pizzaiolo, I throw up a little.”

“I don’t like cheese! You know I don’t like cheese!”

And so on.

I quickly scrapped my make-two-large-pizzas plan and announced our first “family make-your-own-pizza” night. I divided the dough into sixths, distributed them, and told everyone to do whatever they wanted with the dough. E wanted garlic bread, so I showed her how to make garlic breadsticks with pizza dough. R and I made fairly conventional cheese pizzas; I also used half my dough to make an olive oil & za’atar flatbread. N made a weird deep-dish type pizza, and K made a pizza crust topped with melted chocolate, bananas, and strawberries.

Mr. December challenged the kids to make him “something weird.” They added all sorts of things like mango, olives, and hot sauce; then they insisted that he wear a blindfold while tasting their creation. He successfully identified four of the five toppings, and pronounced the pizza “really good!”

Image description: a man seated at a wooden table, wearing a blue scarf as a blindfold. A plate in front of him holds a pizza with many toppings. Two girls observe, smiling.

I got a plant dumped on me tonight. E was climbing up on the windowsill behind my desk chair. She must have reached up to the ledge by my desk to steady herself, and the trailing plant I have on the ledge came down on me. There was soil everywhere. I vacuumed up most of it, but as I sit here I can see that I forgot the surface of my desk, so focused was I on the chair, the floor, and my clothes. To E’s credit, she did do some of the vacuuming up.

Everything hurts. I did something to my left arm on Friday night, and now it hurts if I bend my hand forward. And the fibro pain has also migrated to my arms, along with a fatigue that made it hard to hold my cards during our evening board game. The pain makes it hard to distract myself with my usual activities (viola and quilting—not at the same time,) but between the board game and make-your-own pizza night there was enough going on this evening to keep me from feeling too bad.

Still, this lockdown can’t possibly end soon enough.

Apathy · Keepin' it real · Kids · mental health · parenting · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 297: Get Outside

I’m not the only one in this family feeling the strain, and it’s really starting to show. A few nights ago I asked E to get ready for bed; she dug in her heels and refused, then began to cry. Eventually she calmed down and when I asked her what happened, she answered tearfully, “You know, Eema, I’ve just had a really stressful day.” Not what you want to hear from your six-year-old.

Last night we were reading in bed after tucking in all the kids. After knocking on our door, R came in and jumped onto our bed for a hug. She does this from time to time, coming in for a few hugs and then going to bed. Last night was different, though: at one point she started to cry, but couldn’t (or wouldn’t) tell me what was bothering her. She ended up sleeping on a mattress on our bedroom floor.

N begged me to stay with him until he fell asleep last night, but I suspect that has more to do with Mr. December’s choice of movie—Contagion—to watch with N and K than it does with any kind of lockdown-related angst.

And K… well, she’s a teenager now, which means emotional outbursts are par for the course. Come to think of it, outbursts have been par for the course for a long time with her: ADHD will do that. Bottom line: I don’t know where “normal” teenage reactions end and “crisis” reactions to COVID restrictions begin.

We forced the kids outside today. The sun was shining and it was above zero. Still, the kids resisted. They begged us to let them keep playing Roblox. They insisted they weren’t going anywhere. E cried in frustration. I don’t remember how we did it, but we somehow got all of them outside. Some of us went for a walk, others played on the trampoline and swings, and still others sat on the porch, reading; but we all got outside, and it did us good.

We should be getting everyone outside every day, rain or shine, but it’s just so difficult to get the kids to do it that on my more depressive days I can’t summon the strength of will to outlast them. I hope that one of these days they’ll realize how much better they feel when they have some outdoor time, but I’m not holding my breath. Maybe I’ll just make screen time contingent on having spent a certain amount of time outside.

After dinner tonight R came to me and asked permission to play on the computer again. I said no. She nagged, she begged, she cried. I stood firm. It was a rough half-hour, but as I type she’s sitting on the floor with a book while the Secret Garden Broadway cast recording plays. N is reading too, and E is inventing a game with random small objects on the coffee table. I haven’t heard “Can I play Among Us?” in at least an hour.

I wonder what life would look like in our house if I just took away the computers. I don’t know if I have the fortitude right now to withstand the whining and nagging that would surely ensue, but it’s very tempting.

Apathy · Fibro Flares · mental health · The COVID files · whine and cheese

Day 296: Beyond Caring.

K’s bat mitzvah is in one week, and because of COVID stuff I’m leading the service. I’m not ready.

My kids are spending way too much time on screens every single day.

My tween’s attitude can poison an entire homeschool lesson for everyone involved, and this afternoon it did.

I owe an e-mail to the landscape designer. It’s only about four months overdue.

I’ve been bringing the mail inside, but haven’t opened any in months.

I’ve gained more weight, again.

My legs have been hurting for two weeks straight.

Our Premier made vague reference to even tighter restrictions than the current lockdown.

It’s been too long since I last hugged my parents.

I want to get outside with the kids everyday but they fight me every step of the way, and these days I don’t have the fortitude to make them; they spend entire days without going outside.

I think I’m getting cabin fever. I want to go somewhere but that’s obviously not going to happen anytime soon.

I want the sun to come back.

I want to not be depressed.

Sorry, folks. This is all I’ve got right now. Don’t worry, it’ll pass.

Shabbat Shalom.

Fibro Flares · Homeschool · Independence · Keepin' it real · lists · mental health

Day 294: My day in Google searches

Lenovo usb-c monitor only works intermittently
It works beautifully, except when it doesn’t—which is every few days. Apparently it’s a common problem, although nobody mentioned it in the product reviews I read before I bought the darned thing.

“Morons of Peggy’s Cove”
We just learned about Peggy’s Cove, NS in geography. We were discussing the dangers of walking on the black rocks when I mentioned a Twitter account dedicated to shaming people who ignore the warnings. Naturally, the kids wanted to see it.

Unicorn Colouring Sheet
E regularly asks me to print colouring pages for her. The subject changes every so often: it used to be Paw Patrol, then Peppa Pig. Today it’s unicorns. E really is getting quite good at colouring inside the lines.

ADHD meds in non-pill form?
All I’m going to say here is, if ADHD meds are so commonly prescribed to kids, why has nobody come up with a liquid formulation that doesn’t taste absolutely awful? If Tylenol can do it, why can’t Concerta?

Teach beginning guitar
I’m cracking down this term and making sure that all of the kids are learning musical instruments. I gave R a free choice (of any instrument we own) and she opted for guitar. I can play guitar, but it doesn’t naturally follow that I know how best to teach it. Google to the rescue!

Good winter hikes near Toronto
I need to get all of us out of the house more often, and it seems the only way to ensure everyone’s participation is by taking them for a long(ish) drive to a hiking trail. If we try for a hike close to home (in the neighbourhood) the kids who don’t want to go will just turn around and walk home by themselves.

Seasonal affective disorder irritability
This would explain why I completely lost it and shouted at the kids several times today. It’s rough.

COVID numbers Ontario
We’re on week 3 of a “lockdown” and numbers are still rising. What gives?

COVID numbers Barbados
This was just wishful thinking. Mr. December thinks it would be fine to travel. I don’t. Did I mention the lockdown?

Is this a coup?
My cousin (who lives in Washington, DC) posted to reassure everyone that he and his family are safe, which led me to ask why they wouldn’t be, which led me to Google. Again. The USA is still a flaming dumpster fire. Maybe we should unplug them, wait ten seconds, and plug them back in?

DIY · family fun · Jewy goodness · Kids · mental health · whine and cheese

Day 280: Disappointment, Wasted Time, and Ennui.

I’ve spent a lot of time at my computer since this morning. Our meeting with the rabbi regarding the logistics of K’s bat mitzvah went well, so now I get to go off and plan. Where online can I get those individually-wrapped Sunkist candies to throw at the Bat Mitzvah girl? And should we get some balloons and do something a little bit elaborate to make her feel like it’s a special day, even though it’s just us at home in front of a computer? And maybe I should create a webpage where people can write messages to K, and can read about what she’s doing and why.

We are tremendously fortunate, as I’ve said before. But I think it’s okay for K to feel disappointed (and a bit cheated, according to her) that her Bat Mitzvah will be a tiny ceremony instead of the anticipated big celebration with family and friends. Maybe I’m trying to overcompensate, with the balloons and everything, but probably better to overcompensate than to undercompensate (is that even a word?)

I also spent wasted a couple of hours looking for basic wire shelves for our linen closet. After searching all of the hardware and organizing stores I could think of, the only thing I discovered was that ClosetMaid has three different lines of wire shelving with three similar-but-different names, and no store carried all of the components of any one system. I finally abandoned the idea entirely and ordered some wire mesh cubes from Amazon.

This afternoon I was snapping at the kids anytime they called me. N came to hug me from behind when I was at my desk, and I hissed, “Would you please stop sneaking up on me and looking over my shoulder at the screen? Yeesh!” I suspect that SAD is catching up with me: there’s little enough sunlight these days to depress anyone, let alone someone with diagnosed Seasonal Affective Disorder. That would definitely explain the sense of ennui that creeps up on me in the afternoons. Maybe I should take up napping.

blogging · Infertility · mental health

Day 241: Lost and Found

I found my old blog today—the one I started writing just after my miscarriage and kept writing through years of fertility treatments.

I thought it was gone forever…. but today I found myself on a friend’s blog, wanting to comment. I was already signed in as the author of my old blog. I clicked the link and there I was… my 2006 self in all my bitter, sarcastic glory.

I was way funnier back then. What Dostoyevsky said about how all happy families are the same but every unhappy family is dysfunctional in its own way—well, I think that applies to blogs too. Happiness is a bit boring. Struggles and the dark humour that ensues are far more interesting… and my old blog was full of that. It helped that in those days I had literally nothing to do all day, depressed as I was, so I had more time to make sure my writing was just right.

I don’t think I’ll be publishing or sharing it anytime soon—some of it is about my long months of fertility treatments, and there’s a lot of clinical TMI that was included because my readers were also in those trenches with me and appreciated what a 5mm follicle on CD12 meant. There’s also a lot of swearing, because that’s where my headspace was. But some of the later posts, about K’s first couple of years and N’s early infancy, are quite good, and those ones I’ll probably share if they’re relevant to our life today (and many of them are: their personalities were the same in infancy as they are ten and twelve years later.)

If my posts are a bit shorter than usual, or sparse in some way, forgive me. I’ll be holed up at my desk, reading about life from 2006 to 2011. And if you hear hilarious laughter, that’ll be me, because I used to be funny.

family fun · Homeschool · IKEA · Keepin' it real · Kids · mental health · whine and cheese

Day 230: Blah, Humbug

This morning we woke up to snow.

Actually, my kids woke up to snow. I woke up to the sound of my kids screaming, “SNOW! IT SNOWED!”

So many upsides to homeschooling were apparent today: no panicked rush to find everyone’s winter gear and still get them to school on time; the freedom to delay our start time “on account of fun”; writing and literature classes held on the sheepskin rug in front of a roaring fire. It was all very “hygge,” as the Danish would say.

And yet by the time afternoon rolled around I was in a bit of a funk. The sunny morning had given way to a dull sky and melting snow. Two of the kids moaned and whined instead of doing their work. There wasn’t anything in the freezer that would make for an awesome dinner—in fact, we seemed to be out of fruits and vegetables too, even though I shopped four days ago. My attempt at art class was successful for the first ten minutes, until someone started crying because their cat drawing didn’t look right.

Around four in the afternoon I decided that the best antidote to the blues was to get things done. If it involved power tools, so much the better. I checked my to-do board on Trello and decided that it was a good day to put up hooks in the back hallway, given that the floor in there was now strewn with snowsuits. Then I went online and ordered some additional hooks from IKEA, along with a lamp for R’s desk and some new towels for the basement bathroom.

I’m still in a bit of a funk, but at least I can say that I knocked some stuff off my list.

Looking at my email just now I could see that my IKEA order hasn’t been confirmed, but PayPal has already charged my credit card for it. Oh, and I just got an email from Kobo thanking me for buying a Narwhal and Jelly book. I don’t doubt that someone in my house hit “buy now” thinking that it said, “read now.”

It’s always something, isn’t it?

education · Fibro Flares · Kids · mental health · parenting · waxing philosophical

Day 165: On Seeing and Believing

At this very moment, K is walking around gazing in every direction and whispering, “Wow!” Why? Because she can actually see everything for the first time in a long time, that’s why.

This is where I confess a parenting fail: it seems that I haven’t had my kids’ eyesight checked in two and a half years. I didn’t have an appointment scheduled for anytime in the near future, either, but last week Mum called my attention to the fact that while K could see the shape of the wall clock, she couldn’t see any of the numbers or hands.

Insight Medical 20/20 Vision Digital Acuity Chart Package – Insight Medical  Technologies

So this week I whisked her off to see our optometrist. Looking at the black-and-white letter chart, K announced that she couldn’t read any of the letters. The doctor switched to a chart with larger letters, this one starting with a giant E at the top, and K could read the top two lines. Everything below them was blurry.

“Don’t worry,” the optometrist said, “we have this instrument that verifies what the kids are telling us. They can’t fool us.”

Why on earth would a kid try to fool an optometrist? I thought. And then I thought, What has made him distrust children’s self-reporting? And then, How does it feel to be the kid in the chair, with the optometrist saying outright that he thinks you’d lie?

I felt insulted on K’s behalf, and on behalf of all the children who have come through that office. Then I realized that I’m equally guilty of disbelieving my kids, although I do like to think I’m less obvious about it.

One of my kids (I won’t name names here) was complaining about foot pain and couldn’t be more specific than that. There hadn’t been any kind of impact or accident that would have caused it, and since I mostly heard about it right at bedtime I shrugged it off as a stalling tactic. Two weeks later, when said child really couldn’t stop complaining, we went to the doctor who diagnosed it as something called Sever’s disease, which is inflammation in the growth plate of the heel. After lots of Advil and many weeks of physiotherapy and taping, the foot was feeling much better. I, on the other hand, was feeling like a total heel for not believing my child the first time. More than two weeks of pain for my child were my fault because I just didn’t believe the kid.

This post was going to be about believing children, but I think it’s a bigger issue than that. We don’t believe anyone, really. If you’re too sick to work, your boss doesn’t believe you until you present a note from your doctor. Heaven help you if you have an invisible disability or chronic illness; people with fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalitis (formerly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), mental health issues, and other invisible-but-disabling conditions are accustomed to hearing people suggest that they’re not sick, or not that sick, or that they could just pull up their socks and get better. I personally know people with chronic conditions who use mobility devices (usually a cane) not because they need them, strictly speaking, but because without some visible signifier, very few people will believe you if you tell them you need the “reserved for disabled” seating at the front of the bus.

How many individuals went through school being told that they were lazy and lying about being unable to do their work, when there were real learning disabilities affecting them? How often do we blame and punish children for their aggressive or impulsive behaviour when there are structural differences in areas of the brain that deal with self-control? How many adults believe that “problem” students could do better if only they wanted to?

We don’t believe what we can’t see. Not in others, and sometimes not even in ourselves. I can’t count the times I’ve pushed myself harder than I should: either because after months of good self-care I start to wonder if I imagined the whole pain-and-fatigue thing, or just because I’ve internalized the idea that to be sick or disabled you have to look miserable.

I hope that we can change this on a societal level. So many social issues could be tackled head-on if we believed people when they shared their experiences (instead of explaining them away.) I don’t have a proposal or idea of how we could effect this change; so in the spirit of being the change I wish to see in the world, I think I’ll start by believing my children… and myself.