I never wanted to live in this house that I live in. I only wanted to move far away from the city where I was born and raised. This house, ten minutes away from my childhood neighborhood, was not the escape I sought. This house was just another house in a concrete jungle devoid of anything cool. I wanted something more.
But this house was my husband’s childhood home.
“I want to raise my kids where I grew up,” he told me, making his case for moving here. “I had a great childhood in that house.”
As if this house gave him a great childhood.
I wasn’t convinced, but he won that battle. We’re in this house. Without him.
I have never ridden a bike as much as I do lately, and for full disclosure, I hate riding bikes.
A long time ago when I was single and living on my own, I had a nice apartment right next to the river trail. I bought a bike and decided I was going to become a bike person! Off I went in the direction of the beach. I also went in the direction of the hills just for some variety. My bike life was going to be so cool. I even bought some tight little stretchy shorts to be totally legit.
I hated it.
Riding a bike was boring, especially when I did it by myself. I didn’t like my backside aching. I didn’t like sitting hunched over. I just couldn’t understand the appeal.
Somehow the bike survived multiple moves and found its way into the shed area in the backyard of this house, behind garden tools with cobwebs, covered in tarp.
And somehow my dad cleaned it up a few months ago, right around the time when he taught my youngest how to finally ride a bike. My dad is a bike person and believes in the greatness of all things bikes. He keeps his bike clean and accessorized with bike gadgets, like a rear-view mirror, and actually *gasps* goes on bike rides around town just for fun.
I honestly forgot I even had a bike and reluctantly allowed him to make space for my resurrected bicycle.
It was good timing though, because now we’re going on bike rides almost daily. Riding bikes has become one of our ways to break the monotony of life in the asylum that is COVID-19 sheltering-in-place.
It’s weird, because I used to like riding bikes when I was a kid. We rode them all the time, down every street in the neighborhood, to the park, Target, Thrifty ice cream, and back and forth to school. That was back in the era of parenting when parents didn’t even think about watching over you 24/7. I was Ethan’s age riding to school with my younger siblings, but I check on Ethan a dozen times a day when I haven’t heard noise out of him, kind of like how we hover over a newborn to see if they are still breathing.
Here I am, silly old me, always wanting more, but finding out that I really just needed to go back to what I already knew: the joys of childhood bike riding, breeze in your face, trying to pass your sibling up when they aren’t paying attention.
The other day my kids were taken aback when we finally got an Instacart delivery (after days of trying) because the shopper substituted store brand ice cream drumsticks for the ones we ordered. I mean, I kind of agreed with the kids. The taste wasn’t the same.
But still. We have some serious survival skills to work on. We’re nearing the end of our second week of this shelter-in-place business and we haven’t even reached the point of having to figure out how to transform the lone can of food left in the pantry into dinner.
I would like some new plants for my garden, but I can’t convince myself that a trip to Home Depot is essential and worth the risk of interacting with other humans. I’m a rule follower. If we’re supposed to shelter-in-place for the collective good of society, that’s what I do. I dug into a bag of old seeds found in the garage and we planted them in plastic cups to see what would happen. So far one bean sprout has pushed its way through the soil, but we’re still waiting for signs of life from the others. My dad gave us two of his tomato volunteers and I fantasized about a neighborhood that suddenly interacted enough to swap starter plants. Wouldn’t that be cool? Instead of complaining on NextDoor and other apps about the suspicious people lurking around or wondering why there is a helicopter circling overhead, neighbors could send a message that they have extra starters that they’ll leave on the curb for whoever is interested, or maybe even leave a basket of oranges from the tree we all know hasn’t been picked over.
I wonder if I could start something like that.
My father-in-law always kept a stockpile of seeds from his garden. For that matter, he always had lush garden beds filled with seasonal vegetables. My choices are an overgrown rosemary plant and some green onions that are about to go to flower. I better figure out how I’m going to market that to my neighbors when I lead this altruistic bartering system that will revolutionize our neighborhoods.
Yeah, I’ll definitely work on this agricultural revolution in all of my spare time.
I’m trying desperately to chip away at the things I would love to do in my ideal quarantine: journal, learn about screenwriting, read, write, watch shows, play with the kids, cook gourmet meals, exercise so much I suddenly have a six-pack and stuff like that. Instead, I’m sweeping the floor five times a day and playing waitress every couple of hours, eyeballing Instacart delivery slots and trying to manage work-related duties in between my mom and woman-of-the-house obligations while the kids reenact Lord of the Flies. Every once in a while I am able to steal some time to do my thing, and that’s when I desperately try to reign in my wayward attention span with the five thousand distractions going on in the background while simultaneously feeling guilty that I’m not tutoring my first grader in calculus.
My Boomer parents can’t keep themselves in an actual house. Social distancing to them means checking out a new grocery store every day and trying to go golfing. I’m surprised they haven’t tried to book a cruise for next month. No, Boomers, this isn’t retirement as usual. But like other Boomers, my parents think they are invincible, somehow swapping places with the teenage version of their children with all of their cognitive dissonance. No amount of Johns Hopkins or Harvard articles will make them believe that this is something to take seriously.
And why should they? Our own President has randomly declared that we should be “opened up” by Easter, making health decisions based on the Stock Market rather than letting science reign. Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 cases continue to surge, and after reading many sources of information, my gut tells me this has just begun.
Today, it was reported that my city has 28 confirmed cases.
I’m starting to accept the idea that my trip to Japan and Thailand this summer is off. Maybe I already accepted that reality a month ago when I made the choice not to book any Airbnbs or do further planning, but now I’ve accepted it for real-real.
Ellie’s bunny-themed 7th birthday party isn’t going to happen in a few weeks.
Easter baskets will be empty. I refuse to order random plastic crap on Amazon and deal with the germs of multiple deliveries just to fill my house with more plastic crap that I will inevitably have to purge from childrens’ rooms. What a waste of labor, resources, and terrible for the environment. Maybe this is when I start putting my foot down.
It makes me think about a quote I came across by Dave Hollis:
“In a rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”
Those bike rides lately do make me feel like we’re going back to the basics. The fact that we have time and desire to go on those breezy rides around the neighborhood, through the park, past my sister’s house, practicing our riding skills along busier streets and teaching the kids safety skills and the street smarts they desperately need.
I like to run, so it’s not as if I haven’t seen my neighbors homes or noticed the flowers and trees and the for-sale signs. It’s just that doing all of this with the kids right now, slowing down, not thinking about where we have to be next– not having anything else on the docket– it all makes the little details of our neighborhood and life somehow clearer. There’s a little more space to breathe it all in.
Like the dandelions.
Yellow blooms dot my front yard.
I should get rid of them, but one of my downfalls is that I just don’t care about the purity of my front lawn. When my father-in-law lived in this house, he kept the yards pristine. It was like green carpet, soft, weed-less.
We find the dandelions all over on our walks and bike rides. The kids pick up the fluff balls and blow the parachute seeds into the wind, making wishes. They pick the yellow blooms and present them to me as gifts, and I ooh and aah over the thoughtfulness of these acts.
They are not tulips or sunflowers or roses. They are weeds.
And yet, when we slow down and look at them with the beginner eyes of a child, there is beauty in their ordinary existence. Maybe kind of like those bike rides I took as a child.
Gyomay Kubose wrote a book, “The Center Within,” and he referenced a haiku by Japanese poet Basho.
Yoku mire ba
Nazuna hana saku
Kaki ne kana
When closely inspected
The nazuna is flowering
By the hedge.
The nazuna, Kubose explained in his book, is a white flower that grows as a weed in Japan.
Like the dandelion.
Grows without permission.
Not the kind of flower you would gather into a bouquet to give your favorite person– unless you were a child.
We run our lawn mowers over these weeds. We might even throw weed killer on them.
Kubose goes on to explain that the nazuna is forgettable as far as flowers go, and that “no one praises it,” but it “lives fully.”
Dandelions do not stop their yellow blooms because we don’t notice them. Nazunas don’t stop blossoming because people think they are insignificant. Dandelions and nazunas just go about their life-cycles, basking in the sunshine. Hardy. Persistent. Seizing opportunities to exist on their terms, not ours.
There is a quote from the Little Prince: “L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux, on ne voit bien qu’avec le coeur.” “
“The essential is invisible to the eyes, it can only be seen with the heart.”
Kids are excellent at leading with the heart; maybe that’s why they like dandelions. They haven’t had time to let themselves get bogged down in logic and rules and social norms and guilt and shame. Children are free and wild in the best way because they haven’t been tainted by the ways of the world. The dandelion is magical to a child; it is a weed to an adult.
When we remove our busy-ness and when we can create some level of space in our daily lives, maybe this is when we stupid adults can become better equipped to lead with our hearts.
Why am I messaging the guy who made me angry multiple times? The one whose children I was allowed to love; the one who offered nothing in return.
Maybe I am lonely in quarantine.
I shove my thoughts and feelings under a microscope and dissect everything in my brain. This is what I do. I over-analyze. I am suspicious. I look for reasons to say no.
The thing is, I have always been suspicious of lingering in the weeds. Somehow, since girlhood, getting stuck in the weeds has been internalized as a death sentence for me.
But I don’t think that’s the case here, because loneliness has never driven me to do anything that I’ve regretted. Not once. And I’m not really lonely. I keep myself busy with work and the kids and writing and reading and exercise and talking to people– quarantine days feel shorter than normal days.
What perplexes me is that even when I am guarded with this person who has disappointed me in the past, I am also drawn to his gentle simplicity. There is something invisible that bothers my socially constructed programming. Something I can’t put my finger on.
I start to contemplate weeds.
Maybe weeds aren’t weeds.
Maybe there is something to learn from weeds.
Maybe weeds shouldn’t scare me.
Maybe they should.
Quarantine has scrambled what I think. I notice the way the intensity of my feelings and thoughts have become duller; less important. Take away a person’s freedom and their priorities seem to fall into place.
Next month will be four years since my husband passed away. We have lived in his childhood home without him longer than we lived here with him. This house has become a cocoon for us: a place of safety, security, memories, love, and promise of more to come. This house has the apple tree and orange tree he planted before he passed away, both of which now produce fruit. This house has the weathered playground set we installed during the first month we lived here, back when we only had one child and our roots here as a family were still tender and new. This house has the wall of picture tiles I put up long after my husband was gone, a colorful collage of our trips and experiences stitched together in one display. I like to pass by these pictures dozens and dozens of times a day during this quarantine, sometimes lingering to soak in the memories. Reminders that there was sadness, but there has also been so much happiness.
This house is in the city where my roots are deep and intertwined with family, neighbors, colleagues, and friends. This house is ground zero where we have gone through everything. It has seen people die. It is where we have brought home babies. This home is the place where we have congregated with family and friends, celebrated, mourned, put up Christmas trees, drawn with chalk on the driveway, and where that eager little bean sprout will get transplanted into one of the garden beds to become our summer harvest.
This house that I did not want is where we happily shelter-in-place today, for as long as we have to, eating store brand ice cream, warm, content. I can’t help but wonder if somehow my husband knew something more than just his childhood nostalgia when he lobbied to stay in this house.
I can’t help but wonder if the things we think we do not want– a certain house, quarantine, bike rides, weeds– are actually exactly what we need.
This COVID-19 experience has been relatively easy for me so far. We are lucky. It’s against my nature to go with the flow, but I feel relaxed about dealing with the daily changes and challenges this crisis has brought into our lives. I thought about why I wasn’t feeling more anxious about it.
I think I know.
It’s because we’re all in this together.
All of our lives are on hold.
We all have a chance of catching this virus. We’re all going to know someone affected by it.
We’re all trying to secure groceries and adjust to new normals. We’re all trying to figure out what to do with ourselves.
Forever, people all over the world who lived during this time and space will be inextricably connected through this shared experience.
In the past, part of my struggle with pain was feeling like I was the only one carrying it. Grief. Loss. Feeling isolated and terribly unlucky to be the person struck by lightning while everyone else got to go home to their partners and other children still had their fathers.
Spider Robinson said, “Shared joy is increased, shared pain is lessened.”
We’re all sharing this pain and grief. We’re all experiencing what happens when life doesn’t go as planned. It can’t hurt too much if we’re all in it together.
For once, I am not worried.