Virtual Learning?

We are considering the virtual learning option that our school district is (as far as we currently know) offering this year. We’ve been homeschooling for a few years now (before the pandemic started) and it’s worked well for us, for the most part. In many ways, we were lucky that we were already teaching our kids at home when the schools moved to all virtual last year as the numbers of COVID-19 cases rose. From my understanding, lots of families feel that their kids missed out on most or even all of the 2020-2021 school year because their districts couldn’t shift to an on-line format quickly enough. And while our kids certainly missed out on a few things, we don’t think that the shift felt as profound as it could have had they been in school. Well, other than the fact that their dad working from home has meant he has been much more accessible to them through the day, which is, of course, an overall (huge) positive.

Prior to the pandemic starting, we had been relying on a few activities (namely sports and church) to round out our kids learning and which got us outside of the house and into a larger community. Of course those mostly ceased last year (although we were lucky that we had religious education that pivoted to on-line pretty quickly and seamlessly).

And so it would be beneficial to us to be able to engage with something like the district’s virtual option. While I trust that my husband and I have been doing a good (nay, great) job educating our kids, it would be nice to also have a little of the pressure taken off us.

It’s not that we’ve never had our children in traditional schools. We have. But we had a few experiences at those places (which I think are unique and specific to our county) that made us feel like there was a profound disconnect between what we wanted for our children and what was going on at those traditional schools. I felt very distant from my kids for those 6 to 8 hours a day and when they returned to us, it felt as though much of their time and energy during the school day was absorbed in things other than learning. The schools we sent them to didn’t seem to prioritize learning. Especially for the elementary school years, it felt like they were always one mediocre teacher away from a wasted year. (And in a few cases they had teachers who were less than mediocre.)

I used to be a teacher so it wasn’t hard to make the decision to homeschool them. One of the main challenges we have faced as homeschoolers is staying in compliance with the state’s regulation. It has felt like a massive burden on us. We are hoping that, in part, virtual school will absolve us from constantly feeling like we have to prove to someone that we are doing what’s best for our kids by showing them a bunch of paperwork.

We are hopeful that, with our kids still being in our home, one teacher (much less a classmate) won’t have as much (negative) influence over our kids’ day, week, year. We are hoping that with them learning in our home, we can increase the positive experiences (while decreasing any potential negative ones). Certainly, having two parents (plus the grandparents who the kids see pretty much daily) in the home which is also their classroom has a greater chance of mitigating (negative) impacts. I’ll post later on in the school year on how it’s going. Fingers crossed.

Vaccinate, Please

When I learned about the timeline for the COVID-19 vaccination creation, trials, and emergency approval, I knew it was incredibly fast. I don’t tend to be someone who plans on things outside of my control being a certain way at a certain time, but I suppose that somewhere in my mind, I had imagined that by this time of 2021, we would have reached, at least, herd immunity. I’ve been aware of a general anti-vaccination sentiment since when I was first pregnant and I knew we would soon have to be making decisions about childhood vaccine schedules. Still, I was surprised back in 2009 when other pregnant women I knew opted to not get an H1N1 vaccine. But I sort of thought that the anti-vaccination movement had more or less died out or was so fringe and isolated as to be irrelevant. When The Lancet retracted the almost entirely fictional study it had printed linking childhood vaccinations to autism, I thought that was the death knell for people opposing vaccines.

This image of some of our loved ones in the ocean doesn’t really have much to do with this post other than to show that even the experts and the virologists have people who they love and care for. It’s not about money or power or prestige, it’s about keeping their fellow humans safe and free from unnecessary suffering.

So I guess I’m even more surprised that so many Americans who have access to the vaccine have opted to not get it. Have we really just been experiencing this pandemic in such different ways?

Shortly after we got married, my husband started a six-year long process of earning his PhD in virology. This degree had been preceded by a bachelors in science and a few years working in two different labs. (It was in one of these labs where he met my sister who ultimately introduced us to each other, but that’s a story for another post.) His PhD was followed by four years in a post-doc position.

I’m not going to go into too many details about what his training entailed but suffice it to say that it was long days and long weeks in the lab, reading and writing at home, very, very little pay (part of which, he usually had to apply for grants or fellowships in order to cover his own salary). He was back in the lab within a few days after the birth of our first two.

But, of course, he learned. He became what some might call an expert in his area of virology (HIV, specifically) and he learned how to be a scientist, how to collaborate and learn with colleagues, how to understand how all of the different pieces of the field and research fit together. He learned how to write (and perhaps more importantly to read) articles.

There were many sacrifices made by him and his colleagues and, yes, to a lesser degree made by me and the other families who were supporting them. He is not alone in this. Scientists in many different fields make sacrifices every day to learn and to contribute to the greater body of knowledge of their fields, which, in his case, is viruses. And even though he is no longer in a lab and has been lucky enough to be able to work from home, he is on the phone every day with other scientists figuring out ways for them to share knowledge and collaborate and to fund research that will hopefully lead to cures and more (and better) vaccines and more and better treatment for all of what ails the human body.

Like many in his field, he doesn’t have a lot of time for socializing outside of work. Through the pandemic, much of his socializing has been answering friend’s and family member’s questions about Covid-19. Although it’s not his area of expertise specifically, he does need to stay on top of what’s going on in that area of the field. And he will periodically point out to me conversations that have played out on Facebook. These are invariably alarming to me.

The ones I find most alarming are those who post about how they are not getting vaccinated. These anti-vaccination people then point to some article or anecdote about the vaccine that is so obviously biased or mis-interpreted or even just flat out factually incorrect.

Here’s the thing. The people who are posting these sorts of things are stupid people. Like my husband, like many of us, they have their area or areas of expertise. Unlike my husband, that area of expertise is not viruses. In most cases, it’s not science at all.

I think that papers and articles and journals and information generally should be readily available to everyone and anyone. Information should not be guarded or kept behind lock and key in any way. But I also think that people should recognize their own limitations and areas of understanding and, in doing so, recognize that other people, like my husband, do, in fact, have more knowledge about certain things that they do.

The closer that a person who is expressing anti-vaccine sentiments or propaganda is to me and my husband, the more they know about what it took for my husband to learn all that he has learned, the more it feels like a kick in the teeth to me when they perpetuate anti-vaccine ideas. My husband doesn’t have time to comb through and respond to all of the articles people are citing on Facebook or other places which, in their minds, appear to be a “smoking gun” proving that the vaccines are bad or ineffective or dangerous or whatever it is that they are trying to show or prove. Mostly, I think it’s that they are trying to show that they know more than the people who have made the study of viruses and human immunology their life’s work. I don’t know why they must insist that they know better, why they must prove that they are so fiercely independent, and why they must hold so tightly to this self concept of being self made and self taught. I don’t understand why they can’t accept that sometimes there are people who do, in fact, know better than them and who are not, in fact, out to harm them.

The bottom line is this: please get the vaccine. Please, if you have any platform or sway with people who haven’t gotten vaccinated or who are anti-vaccine, please, please try to convince them otherwise. Let’s not let all the work and the sacrifices that people have done and made in this pandemic and before be in vain.

Kayaking

This morning I went kayaking with my daughters and various family members. It was lovely. My sister had arranged it and we had a guide so I didn’t even have to do any of the planning. In fact, I didn’t really have to do anything other than paddle, which is sometimes more than enough.

I have been kayaking before although I wouldn’t call myself a kayaker or really even generally an active, outdoorsy person. I mean, I’m up for things but I’m also generally fine staying at home doing my own thing. That being said, somehow, the idea of a kayaking trip is something that, in the days leading up to it, causes me moderate anxiety. Last night, I woke up a few times thinking about going kayaking: getting there on time, what I should bring, safety concerns for my kids especially, etc…. Have I always been like this? Perhaps it’s in part that the pandemic has had me so out of practice on things like getting to places at a specific time and has also added various health and safety concerns on top of those already present with something like kayaking (with kids). Will they need masks and hand sanitizer on top of needing sunscreen, water, and hats?

I feel the pull to do things with my kids and to take advantage of weather that will allow us to do more outdoors right now, but I’m not going to say that I don’t have my reservations and worries.

It turns out, of course, that I didn’t need to worry about any of these issues. At all. My husband was there to help make sure the kids were on-time, fed, and dressed appropriately. We made it more or less on time, but honestly no one seemed bothered one way or the other. The guide even said that we were a fast paddling group so in the end the timing didn’t matter. We got to see some unusual birds and other wildlife that our marine biology major guide pointed out. My kids seemed to enjoy the paddling (although I was in a kayak with Ms8yo and I think she would have preferred that I paddle faster; she prefers to be at the front to the back). The kids were perfectly capable of making sure that they are protected from the sun, hydrated, and masked when they need to be (and even sometimes when they don’t need to be).

And it was lovely and I have no regrets about going. I know that those sorts of things are really, really good for my kids in terms of building up their confidence (especially in these days of so many restrictions on their movement) and just having these sorts of experiences especially with their cousins and other extended family who they get to see so rarely these days.

And I know, too, that I need to cut myself a break sometimes. Parenting in a pandemic is hard. And having three kids under 12 who can’t be vaccinated isn’t making it any easier, especially with the Delta variant. Of course I’m going to be anxious about these things. But, of course, I can use good judgment (and rely on other like minded adults) to push through the anxiety. Which I did. Which is good.

On Living Small(er)

Yesterday, I wrote about the ways in which the pandemic has taken away certain choices… and how this might, in a way, be a good thing. And perhaps I am alone in feeling that sometimes too many choices are sometimes (all the time?) a bad thing. I often end up focusing too much on the choices I didn’t make or take. Some might call this a “fear of missing out” or a “fear of regret”. I have option A and option B. If I choose option A, I cannot partake in B and vice versa. How different would my life b if I had taken the other option, the one I didn’t? The bigger question: how different would my life b if so many of my brain cells weren’t mired in a swamp of meaningless choices. Do I want white American or yellow American cheese on my burger? Do I want whiter teeth or healthier gums (or at least the toothpastes that promise as much)? Sprite or 7up? How many conversations have you had or overhear where people are debating Coke or Pepsi? How many people do you know who define themselves by those choices alone? (And perhaps with good reason: by making a decision about which one you are going to drink and sticking with it, it possibly makes other decisions easier down the road. “I can’t go to restaurant X because they don’t serve Pepsi products.”)

And as a parent, I grapple regularly with the questions around: do I teach my kids how to make good decisions or do I protect them from ever having to make these types of meaningless decisions themselves for as long as I can? The answer is yes.

It is very easy and possible for kids to have a very big world and the pressure on parents to “give their kids everything” is immense. We have to give them every experience, every option. They have to try every sport. They have to speak five hundred languages. They have to have seen this, that, and the other thing. They have to do extra-curriculars and six languages They have to be well traveled.

I would be lying if I said that I’ve spent more hours than I can count, too many hours worrying over whether or not I’m offering my kids enough experiences and, yes, options.

I would also be lying if I didn’t say that the pandemic has taken away a lot of those fears and worries about whether or not I’m giving my kids enough experiences. A huge part of this is that their dad has been work from home for a while. With two parents much more present, I worry much less that I, as one, am doing enough. Of course, the pandemic has also made certain outings and activities impossible… for everyone, not just us. So not only are we not alone in this boat, but I’m not constantly looking outside of the walls of our home in search of giving my kids more.

This year was a big year for cicadas where we live. In any other big Brood X (which has a seventeen year cycle of emergence) year, I’m sure there would have been loads of programs related to cicadas through the parks system and the Smithsonian and probably even at schools in the area. There were this year. So one afternoon in the spring right after we had noticed their exit tunnels under a few of the trees in our yard, we started to pick up rocks and logs and flagstones in our yard. Our efforts were rewarded with the squirming, wriggling cicadas still encased in their shells and awaiting the warm weather they required to emerge from the ground and begin their journey (and discarding of their shells) up the trees.

Like many families around here (I am guessing) much of our discussions this spring and early summer was about the cicadas: the noise they make, their life cycles, where they live, etc…. Whenever her sister was otherwise occupied, my 8 year old and I would walk around the yard and the conversation would inevitable turn to the cicadas. She’d ask thoughtful questions and I’d do my best to answer them, knowing too that these questions would come up again and either her dad would know or we’d be able to look up the answers. These conversations were lovely and full of a mutual learning about each other and our interests and also about the cicadas. I think we might have covered more territory than would be possible in a more traditional cicada curriculum or program.

And so this is what I mean about how the pandemic taking away certain options has allowed us to live, yes, perhaps a smaller life, but, more importantly, a deeper one too.

On Living Small

A few years ago (maybe as many as ten or twenty, I’m not sure about things like that) it seemed that the idea of “decision fatigue” was in vogue. Or, at least, I read one or two articles about it and ran with it. The idea is simple. Making decisions, even small ones, involves an investment of energy. The more decisions we make, the more energy we use up and therefore the less we have in reserve even for basic things like eating and activity. This also translates into decreased willpower or an ability to say no to poor choices (or yes to good ones).

I’ve thought about this a lot as each of our three kids have moved through the phase we are currently in with the youngest wherein we are encouraging him to make “good choices.” But I’ve also waffled between wanting to teach them to make good choices and wanting to protect them from experiencing decision fatigue. Fatigue is, after all, the mother of poor choices. It’s a tricky balance to strike. Surprisingly, it’s also one that has become easier under pandemic conditions. In part, this is due to the fact that we simply have fewer choices to make. The museums, for example, have all been closed and even when they have been open, with three unvaccinated kids, I’m not likely going to be spending much time in public indoors with them soon. Without having even the option of going inside a museum (or any number of places like to a movie or a play or live music), I have one fewer decision that I have to make in any given day or week. I think of this a being able to drop one more marble into the decision making energy jar. Had all of these optioned for activities been open to me, to us, I would have been spending a lot of time and energy fretting about what I was not doing with my kids and I would have spent far too much time and energy concerned that each day NOT spent at a museum was a day I was depriving my kids.

My brother recently posted a video to the group chat of a man who had been incarcerated (I seem to recall about twenty years) and was standing in the cereal aisle overwhelmed by options. In this case, he couldn’t believe all of the different flavor options for cherrios. For me, it was toothpaste. When I was living in a small town (a handful of shops and restaurants) in Thailand for a while and I would return home, I would sometimes have to go shopping. I most distinctly remember standing in the toothpaste aisle wondering to myself “where do I even begin?” In the coming years, I was acutely aware, at times, of all of the time, energy, and resources I had to commit (felt forced to commit) to toothpaste. It was simultaneously frustrating and foreign. We are often taught in the US and perhaps in the western world in general that having options (Whitening! Sensitive gum?! Herbal?) is good, even when those options are ultimately and completely meaningless.

(To be continued…)

On Painting

A few weeks ago, I ordered and received a watercolor kit from Mossery. It was a little pricey but I’ve been wanting to learn and create watercolors and this was a complete kit that would help me to learn and it felt worth it to order. Thankfully, it has been.

Many evenings since receiving the kit, I have been sitting down with my notebook, small instruction booklet, and supplies and doing a few minutes here and there of watercolor. I worked through the color chart at the beginning and have been playing with color since then. It has been intensely satisfying.

A completed page of fruits and vegetables. My daughters were especially impressed with the broccoli and I had to agree

For me, painting like this involves a fairly high level of concentration, but not so high that I can’t perform the task in the more open space in my house with my kids and husband nearby. It requires just enough concentration to make it interesting but not so much that I ignoring the needs of the people around me. In fact a few times this week, I needed a second opinion about some color options and it was great to have someone nearby willing to give their two cents.

My husband DID ask if he could take a picture of me doing an activity that has been bringing me peace and calm in recent days.

I named this blog, Wild Goose Land, in part because in some places in the world (mostly in Ireland, I think), the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Wild Goose, going wherever it pleases. And for me, chasing the Wild Goose means pursuing creativity and those moments that transcend whatever it is that is getting me down or stressing me out. Some people, I think, sometimes call these moments, “being in the zone” where physicality and intellect and creativity become one. In the zone (or with the Holy Spirit), I am (and I think most people are) able to let go of the worries and troubles of everyday life.

Painting can, from time to time, get me there, into the zone, can allow me to empty myself out to a degree that the Holy Spirit (or muses or however else others might think about that) can enter in a take charge.

With the palette and the paints that came with this set or kit. I’m looking forward to also using the blank (those fruits and vegetables and every other page in this book is pre-sketched to make the whole learning process a bit easier) notebook that came with the kit.

My description is sounding perhaps more dramatic than the product of my paints and brushes are in reality (mostly a page of fruits and vegetables at this point): it is, for me, after all mostly about the process and that energy I put into the things I am painting. The final product is merely a side benefit, but it is still immensely gratifying to look at something I’ve painted or drawn (or even, from time to time, written) and to know that I had something to do with bringing that image into reality, even if it is that I tried to extend an invitation to the Wild Goose.

Book Recommendation: Girl Gone Missing by Marcie R. Rendon

One of the things that makes Cash Blackbear such a great literary character is the way in which she is not only fully realized but that she is a relatively isolated. Readers are invited in to be a part of a life that (in direct contrast to how so many lives these days are lived splattered and public all over social media) is quiet, seemingly simple, and very, very private. We get to experience her full interiority in ways that even those around her do not.

TLDR: pick up this book, Girl Gone Missing by Marcie R. Rendon. It would make an excellent summer (or winter!) read and they’re only a few more weeks of summer left.

Whilst reading the first Cash Blackbear book (Murder on the Red River), I ordered Girl Gone Missing, the second one. I knew that I would be disappointed if I couldn’t almost immediately find out what Cash was up to after I finished the first one. I was not wrong. And while each book would be fine as a stand alone, I highly recommend reading both in order.

In Girl Gone Missing, we find Cash in her first year of college. A girl from her town has gone missing and Cash soon learns of the disappearance of a second girl from the same region. Cash, of course, ends up trying to help Sheriff Wheaton locate this girls. (Spoiler alert: she ends up pretty much on her own tracking down the girls, although Wheaton does offer a soft landing pad.

Cash’s brother shows up unexpectedly and while his reappearance is obviously painful for Cash as it stirs up the most painful memories and feelings of abandonment from her childhood. As she works through some of this, however, she and her brother end up taking care of each other. We even see Cash laugh a few times, which are welcome moments which involve her brother, who struggles as much if not more than Cash as he recovers from both a difficult childhood and time served in the Vietnam War. Especially after the ways in which so many people failed Cash, it has been life-affirming to watch Cash begin to allow herself to form meaningful relationships.

During a book club meeting to discuss the book There, There by Tommy Orange, other Native American authors came up. I mentioned Marcie Rendon in part because it could probably be called a “mystery.” In other words, I enjoy books written by under-represented groups in which the struggles and conflict all center around the characters being members of said underrepresented groups. In this case, Girl Gone Missing is a mystery and while Cash’s identity are important to both solving the mystery and to her survival, she’s also a great person with whom to spend a whole book.

Girl Gone Missing is a fast-paced (in spite of the seeming slow pace of Cash’s life) mystery with a strong woman central character. I highly recommend, especially as a summer (but really any time of the year) read. Enjoy.

This morning, I sewed new masks for two of my kids (the two older ones who will actually agree to wearing masks, the youngest, the three year old does not care to wear a mask so we don’t take him places where he might need to be indoors) and myself. I’ve only made myself one and the “VOTE” painted on the front feels a bit out of date now.

For the girls, I’ve made a few masks over the past year or so. Today, Ms8yo pulled out the older ones and laid them next to the ones I made this morning. “Look how much better these new ones are, Mom!” Everyone needs a hype-person like my Ms8yo.

Three different sizes, two different styles, everyone picked their own fabric from our stash.

She wasn’t wrong. In the rush of trying to get everyone masks last year, I slap-dashed a few together. Today, we reminisced about how we couldn’t even get elastic last year. I’d used stretchy hair ties for them to loop over their years, which are predictably rough especially on little ears. And then even when I was able to get proper elastic, it was still too heavy a stiff. We were eventually able to get our hands on some soft, light elastic like those found on disposable masks. (For a while, I had been cutting it off the old ones, but quickly realized that that is part of the mask that wears out the fastest so it wasn’t really worth it to try to recycle it.)

I made ones in two styles today. Both of them agreed that the old ones I’d made that mimicked surgical style ones usually ended up in their mouths. They prefer either the curved ones with a seam down the middle or the “3D” ones where the cloth is held pretty far from one’s lips.

I did recycle some bendy metal nose pieces and inserted those into these new masks. So when my hype-daughter said these ones were better she meant design, materials, and comfort.

Truth be told, I don’t know that I imagined I’d still be making masks at this point in this year. But my husband and I talked about how masks are probably something we won’t give up too soon, even perhaps once our kids are able to get vaccinated. “I liked not being sick this past winter,” he told me. Same.

And it was soothing, in a way, to be sitting at my sewing machine again, cutting and piecing together fabric that my kids had chosen from my stash. One selected the remnants from the first skirt I ever made for myself, ages ago. It’s nice when the masks can make me think about something other than being sick. And it’s nice to feel competent at making something, and something that might possibly be keeping my kids safer. We’ve realized that it’s still going to be a while — perhaps this winter — before our kids can be vaccinated and so in some ways not a lot has changed for us over the past year. We’ve had second thoughts about a lot of activities and things we’d otherwise feel comfortable doing. At the very least, I suppose, all the things we’ve had to do differently over the past year have started to feel a bit more like second nature. The new normal isn’t so new anymore and maybe that’s a good thing, maybe that’s the best we can hope for at this point in time.

God willing, we’ll get there, though. We’ll get there.

On Writing This Blog Post

A few weeks ago, I set a goal for myself: write (and publish) at least five hundred words on this blog five evenings a week before I go to sleep for four weeks. So far, I’ve been following through on this goal. The pay-off has slowly become noticeable. The first few days, I would jot down a few notes here and there during the day in order to prepare myself for the evening’s task, to make sure I wasn’t caught out, so to speak, staring at a blank screen with nothing to say. But this week, I’ve let go of that practice, finding it unnecessary and the blank screen less intimidating.

This is not to say that these posts and the words contained within them are coming easier or faster but perhaps I’m trusting myself a bit more that when I do sit down with my iPad, something — an idea, an image, a story — will come forth. Trusting this hasn’t coming easily to me, which is ironic if you consider that much of my adult life has been dedicated to communicating through the written word including teaching others how to use language.

I attended a prestigious school (Columbia in New York City) to earn an MFA (Masters of Fine Art) in creative writing. And the truth of the matter is few things can more shatter ones trust that the words will come than to dedicate four years of your life (and no small amount of money) to the study of words, especially perhaps at a world-renowned institution and especially perhaps at a world-renowned institution that never lets you forget that it’s a world-renowned institution. Or, at least, it shattered my trust. I can’t speak on behalf of my classmates or fellow students.

How does that happen? one might ask. Five hundred words and mere minutes before I would like to tuck myself into bed is not enough space and time to get into all the details. Suffice it to say that I had various moments with professors and instructors wherein their over-riding feeling towards me and my writing was irritation. I’m still not clear why (and will probably try to not put too much time into figuring it all out) but on several occasions, I would turn in work and the professor’s comments revealed that they were intensely annoyed that I hadn’t gotten it right; that by writing what I had written in the way I had written, I had personally injured them or at the very least I had put them out. Very rarely did I receive any comments or feedback or guidance on what I might do to get it right. One professor refused to read one of my submissions because it was “a mess”. (Yes, it was not lost on me: how could she know it was a mess if she didn’t read it?) We were then required to meet with the professor after class time to discuss my work. She had asked that we meet at her apartment, which meant I had to trek across town to discuss my work which she had not read. My only consolation is that in that particular class, there was one other student’s work which she refused to read. Years later, I learned that this student, in her turn, had not met with the professor. There was nothing to talk about if she hadn’t read my work, she told me later. Shit. Bold. Why, I wondered to myself, couldn’t I have the backbone of my classmate?

In a way, this challenge that I’ve set for myself to write and post blog posts of a certain length and for a certain period of time, is a way to force myself to get over all of the messaging I received with regard to my writing all those years ago. It’s a way to ignore the voices of criticism and to publish my writing on my own terms and in my own space, not waiting for approval from instructors and professors or even editors. It’s not even about attracting readers. I’ve mostly stopped tracking numbers of visits. (Although, I am well aware that my husband is a consistent reader and tireless supporter. Hi, Eric!) And I suppose that I should be grateful that, if nothing else, this professor who did not read my work has taught me that one thing: if even a person who you are paying to read your work, whose very job is to read your work refuses to read your work, then what do you have to lose in writing for yourself and yourself alone?

On cutting hair

Most days, lately, I have to remind myself that we are still in a pandemic. I’ll be moving through daily tasks and suddenly feel incredibly exhausted and I’ll wonder for a moment or two whether there’s something truly physically wrong with me. “Oh no,” I’ll think to myself, “remember? We are in a pandemic. These times are unprecedented, or at least that’s what they used to say.” And for a short while, I will feel a bit OK with being tired.

But I still have moments when I think, “wow. I haven’t done anything today.” And I guess I have to remember that what I mean to say is, “I haven’t gone anywhere today.” Because I’ve done loads each day. And I’ve been doing loads each day. And will continue to do loads each day. But when much of these loads of things that I’ve been doing all day feel a bit ordinary or a bit mundane or even a bit merely life-sustaining, it feels like it doesn’t add up to much. The keeping the children relatively well-fed and moderately engaged doesn’t feel like much. Perhaps this feeling is compounded with all the Olympic achievement in the ether.

Take today for instance. Amongst a few other things: I cut two heads of hair. (Please note, I did not say I cut two heads of hair WELL.) I’ve been cutting my dad and my husband’s hair for the past 16 months or so. It’s not that it’s so hard to do at this point (again, please note that I did not say I do it WELL), but it does take time and not just today. For at least a few days now (and probably longer), I will look at my dad or my husband and all I can see are the mistakes and what I could have done better. This in and of itself takes time. Those who cut hair in a shop or salon have it made: they don’t have to assess their work daily over meals and throughout the day. Because its the self-judgment that’s the energy drain, innit?

And they have those comfy-ish chairs with the clever foot lever so they can smoothly move the head of hear up and down to a reachable height. We have … a kitchen stool for my dad. And for my husband we move between a barstool and a dining room chair depending on the height I need him. (Honestly, it’s a step up from when I cut my son’s hair and I have to put him on a footstool and then kneel). We

When I first started cutting my dad’s hair, I asked him who used to cut I when he was a boy in Thailand. “A Vietnamese barber,” he told me, “he was very good, very detailed.” I considered this as I hacked away at his thinning coiffure. But more than whether I too was being suitably “detailed” in my work, I was surprised that my dad’s barber as a boy in Thailand was from Vietnam. Somehow, I’d always associated immigration almost exclusively with my country of birth, the US. Apparently this mythos is so strong as to make me surprised when I hear about people immigrating to other places in the world. Which is particularly close minded on my part when you consider that my grandparents immigrated to Thailand from China.

So in a way, the hair cutting ritual sometimes gets me thinking about things perhaps even in ways that goes against my upbringing.

I didn’t need to ask Eric while he was “in the chair” about his childhood haircuts in rural western Minnesota. I already knew that he had a regular woman whose house he’d go to. I don’t think she was Vietnamese but I supposed I’ve never asked.

In any case, it’s not lost on me that in some ways my husband and my father had, in some ways, childhoods more similar to each other than to my own. I grew up, like my mom, in DC. I don’t remember having a place or person I went to for my hair. I have a feeling it was just kind of whatever place was convenient, and usually it was a Hair Cuttery. My uncle brought my brothers to a regular barber, in a shop called, “Camello’s,” but I think that as a girl I got them less frequently and thus never had a “spot” where I’d typically go.

Which is all a long way to say that the hair cutting I’ve been doing has not been without its benefits. But so too, in spite of my moments where I tell myself otherwise, I have not been doing nothing.