Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

Caterpickles Central Update

Tweet from Dan Rather (@DanRather) reads: "Another day of uncertainty, tragedy. There's a feeling: Are those of us not deemed "essential" doing enough? Are we spending time productively? A reminder: Any day we don't get infected or infect others, that we protect our health system from being more burdened, is a good day."

Tweet from Dan Rather. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately reflecting on my role as a non-essential member of society. Being explicitly labeled as non-essential during a pandemic feels lucky, humbling, and depressing all at once. Having Dan Rather of all people make it clear that he’s been dealing with some of the same issues was profoundly helpful.

Today is the 33rd day since we began sheltering-in-place. Not that I’m counting any more. I had to dig out my calendar to figure that out. (That said, the fact that I had to use my calendar to sort it out reflects an erosion in my ability to keep track of time that I find mildly disturbing.)

I’m sorry it’s been so quiet here on Caterpickles lately. We have been fine, all things considered. I have just been experimenting with various routines in an attempt to adjust to our new normal.

Most of the time I had planned to spend writing this past month has been diverted to cleaning up the debris generated by all of us eating, working, and entertaining ourselves 24/7 within the confines of the house. These days I feel lucky to be able to carve out time for a 30 minute walk around the neighborhood.

If I’m leaning into anything right now, it’s the idea that this is a great time to teach The Thirteen-Year-Old life skills, like how to manage her own school work, clean her own bathroom, wash her own clothes, change her own sheets, and vacuum the chairs she likes to snack in.

Close up of a cluster of pink flowers in a tree.
From my walk this morning. I love all the flowering trees. I just wish they didn’t rely so much on pollen. My allergies this spring have been … exciting. (Photo: Shala Howell)

Still, if there’s one thing that 2020 has taught me so far, it’s that life can be unexpectedly short, and I’d better be happy with intentional about the way I spend my days while I still have days to spend.*

How I spend my time now is necessarily very different from what I thought it would be as recently as March 8. But different doesn’t always have to mean worse.

I’m deeply conscious that I’ve got it relatively easy, all things considered. Sure I’m no longer working at the library once a week and marketing a book about taking your kids out to view public art right now seems tone-deaf when folks are supposed to limit their time in the outside world to absolute essentials. But for the most part, the disruptions in my life so far have been the ripple effects of much greater disruptions in the lives of others. Before all this started, you would have found me parked at home four days a week typing away on something or cleaning up something else anyway. Tacking on an extra three days of that sort of thing a week just isn’t that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, assuming we all stay healthy and employed (fingers crossed!).

We are phenomenally lucky in that we have a stable home with a backyard, Michael’s job has translated well so far to remote work, and The Thirteen-Year-Old is old enough to help out around the house and manage her own schoolwork without constant supervision from me. These are profound advantages, and I literally thank the Lord for them every single day.

That said, my daughter’s school has already announced that they won’t reopen until next fall. Even if the rest of the state opens up in May, my daughter will still be home with me. My default plan of writing while she’s at school is obviously not going to be viable again for months. Which means that I need to figure out how to architect my different so that different isn’t secretly worse.

I’m also looking for ways I can do more to help folks I don’t know

I’m just a regular person, so these aren’t going to be grand gestures. They are going to be regular person-sized activities, like turning our annual donations to the local food bank into monthly events, ordering takeout once a week to support our local restaurants, ordering new books from our local independent bookstore, sanitizing books I would otherwise donate or sell to used bookstores and slipping them into Little Free Libraries around our neighborhood, and setting time aside once a month to post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads for any books I’ve read lately which currently have fewer than 50 reviews (it is hard to overstate how important it is for relatively unknown authors to get reader reviews, especially now when going to book signings, conferences, and speaking events is just not an option, and the news/social media is essentially all COVID-19 all the time).

I’m even planning to finally send out all those holiday cards I’ve been sitting on because I couldn’t bring myself to announce to the world that my mother-in-law died last year (as if not announcing it in a holiday letter would somehow make it less true). Still, USPS is projected to run out of money by June, and if I’m going to join the legions of Americans buying a ton of stamps to support it, I might as well use those stamps to mail some belated greeting cards. Maybe I’ll even go so far as to figure out how to use the USPS Click-n-Ship service to mail packages from my home, and send my sister that blanket I made for her before the shelter-in-place order is lifted.

Photo shows a crocheted striped blanket draped across a rocking chair. The blanket is striped and crocheted in cream, light brown, rusty brown, and dark brown yarns.
I was so pleased with how my sister’s blanket turned out that I used the same pattern to make this one in an attempt to use up some of the ridiculous amounts of cream and brown yarn I had stashed in my yarn bin. Only 5 more inches to go. (Photo: Shala Howell)

In the meantime, I’d love to hear how you’ve been doing, especially if you are one of the folks out there quarantining alone. Leave a comment, find me on Twitter (@shalahowell), or send me an email to let me know how you are.

Until we chat again, I hope you and your loved ones stay well.

*(4/16 Update) In the original version of this post, I said that I needed to figure out how to be happy with how I spend my days.

But in thinking that over during my now-regular bout of 3 a.m. shelter-in-place insomnia, I realized that I don’t want to be the sort of person who is capable of achieving consistent, baseline happiness in a world where tens of thousands of Americans are already dead from COVID-19 and millions more are facing real financial hardship from an abrupt economic shutdown.

Happy is the wrong word. What I am really going for is intentional. What do I really need to do today? How can I use this day to make a difference, however small, in my family, in my community, in me? Sometimes the answer to that will involve writing. Often it does not.

For example, my niece had a birthday recently. I sent her a present, because celebrating your birthday in quarantine can be a suboptimal experience. Normally I would have just ordered that present from Amazon, but Amazon likely has the financial reserves to survive this period and our local independent bookstore may not. So I ordered the present from the local bookstore instead. That sort of thing.

Anyway, that’s about all the musing publicly about my own angst I can take, so it’s time to go back to the regular business of this blog (book reviews, weird questions, Wordless Wednesdays, etc.).

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