Here is a short version of the past two weeks: Helen got COVID at school. James got COVID from Helen. The two of them roomed together in a sickly version of dorm life for 10 days while the rest of us shifted around into other spaces. Both of them have recovered and nobody else got sick.
I hope never again to spend 10 days sleeping on bunk beds and the living room sofa. There are probably valuable life lessons I could have learned from all this, but my main takeaway is that single parenting is not for the faint of heart.
We have resumed normal life and work and school at last, exhausted but not much worse for wear. I think it probably helped that we are all vaccinated (except Helen, who is too young). Perhaps in another post I could think of 10 important things I have learned from the experience of having COVID in our home. Meanwhile, an important conversation.
Helen: “You know when cats do that thing where they sleep or lie down and they forget they left their tongue out and it just sticks out a little? That’s called a cat blep.”
Me: “A what? A blep? How do you know this? Is there actually a word for that? Did you make it up?”
Helen, swiveling her eyes over to me: “Scientific research.”
Today is my birthday. I am 45! Like they say; old enough to know better and young enough to still try… I suppose I will have to figure out what to try. It is nice to have a birthday and many kind people have sent me a greeting. How lucky I am!
Here is something not so nice; Helen has COVID. Our school district is not requiring masks, although she has been wearing a mask every day. Every day we get an email saying how many cases of COVID were reported at each of the Forney ISD campuses a Jarrett attends. Last year, when the school district WAS requiring masks, each campus reported between 0 and 4 cases per day. This year, no masks, each campus is reporting between 3 and 10 cases per day.
Sunday Helen seemed grumpy, Monday lethargic, and Tuesday she woke up with fever and a cough. We went to our family pediatrician for the Flu/COVID tests and positive for COVID. Poor thing. (Although it was at this point that Helen casually mentioned, oh yes, another classmate or two had it, but they came back to school because they felt better even though their Dad still had it then. Well.)
I then spent a long afternoon calling every person our family has been in contact with over the last three days. Our school district is not doing contact tracing and we are not permitted to officially contact other parents, so all we could do for the school side was to call and report it. But the church friends and family members and siblings and jobs…..
Here is the crazy thing. I have three jobs working at three schools and two churches, James has a complicated medical job, our kids have jobs, our kids go to school, etc. EVERY SINGLE PLACE HAS A DIFFERENT COVID PROTOCOL RIGHT NOW. Helen is the easy part in terms of instructions. She just stays home until she has 24 full hours without symptoms, or a doctor’s note to return to school. Our wonderful pediatrician gave us a detailed plan of care, will give us a televisit later this week, we have an emergency number to call, and a rough estimate of Helen being home for 7-10 schooldays.
If I told you the various instructions from every job and school our family has, you would die of boredom. It would take me all day. It’s much too complicated. For myself ONLY: one job said if I was fully vaccinated (which I am), keep coming to work even if my immediate family member is at home sick. Another job said to stay at home until a week after I think my family member was originally exposed (Thursday? Friday? Unicorn day?), get a COVID test myself on that day, and return to work if the test is negative. ANOTHER job said to to come to work one week after my family member received the positive diagnosis, take an on-the-spot COVID test that they would administer, and I can resume work if it is negative. All that is just me: James and each of our kids had different sets of instructions in THEIR jobs, which ranged from “who cares, get your butt to work” to “don’t bother darkening our door, you are on forced vacation time until we wave the magic wand”.
Based on my very unscientific research, I conclude that no one knows what is going on and no one knows what to do. And here is the outcome: I’m suddenly on vacation. On my birthday, no less! Aside from being a parent with a sick child and being restricted to home, life is a bowl of cherries. I have books to read, food to eat, the people I love. Could be worse.
We rigged an isolation room for Helen in her bedroom. Normally we have three bedrooms and two people to each bedroom in this house. Rob volunteered to move to the living room sofa, Corrie moved into the boys room and took Rob’s bed, and Helen is alone. We set up a station outside of her door with masks, gloves, handsanitizer, face shields, and disinfectant wipes. Every time James or I goes in or out of that room, we don the protective armor to deliver the food, fluff the pillows, take the temp, give the medication, sit and chat for a while, and then exit the room to remove all that stuff and sanitize the exposed areas. Helen creeps out of her door wearing a mask only to use the bathroom. I am trying to remember to wipe down the bathroom with disinfectants on a regular basis.
On the up side, Helen is a thorough-going introvert like her mother, and seems happy as a clam. She has created a nest on her floor with blankets, reads books, plays on the handheld WII, eats food, takes vitamins, coughs juicily, and consorts with the four animals who sneak in and out. Helen is perfectly happy to go a week without direct sibling interaction, but tells us specifically which dog or cat to send in for a convo and snuggle. We have a pulse-ox and an infrared thermometer and James wields them like a champ.
All other family members are fully vaccinated and showing no symptoms. The displaced people are being very good sports about displacement.
And, I will admit it to you, there is a part of me that is relieved. So far, not a single member of our family has tested positive for COVID since the pandemic started. This has seemed unnatural. 7 people, 19 months since lockdown, and none of us get it? We are a big family! We catch everything else on a regular basis! So I suppose part of me hopes Helen has a mild case, develops some antibodies, and then we don’t have to worry about her catching it anymore: we can just wait for the opportunity for her to be vaccinated like the rest of us.
So, here we are, 9/9/21, on my birthday. I’m grateful to be here. (Call or text me if you have advice about dealing with COVID.)
We took a trip to Kansas City to visit my beloved relatives! This was the first time we saw them in over a year and a half, due to COVID. At this juncture everyone involved was fully vaccinated (except Helen, who is only 10 and still waiting for the age-appropriate vaccine), so we felt safe enough to try it.
Corrie drove most of the way there and back, almost 15 hours of in-car practice. She did beautifully, except for one terrifying moment when we almost hit a deer. I forgot that at some point you have to explain to a new driver that deer are like squirrels in their approach to road-crossing. And that hitting a deer is likely to total your car. Now we all know. (We did not hit the deer.)
We had an amazing time, as you can see. Here are ten quick facts.
Aunt Helen can out-bowl all of us. Over 120 both games! None of the rest of us could crack 80!
Human beings thrive on a lovingly prepared breakfast of bacon, eggs, and biscuits.
Watching 3 straight hours of SpongeBob Squarepants does not, actually, cause brain damage.
Amos always has the best intentions while miniature golfing but inevitably descends into ballwhopping frustration.
James and Aunt Helen can put together any jigsaw puzzle ever created.
One bottle of Woodford Reserve whiskey lasts a week for three adults and the occasional child ‘taste’.
Sleeping in every day for 5 days helps you feel like your best self.
Every group picture you take on vacation will have one person with their eyes closed.
Vacation meals take a lot of planning.
It is the best thing in the world to be with people that love you.
Do you know what we have at our house now? TWO WORKING TOILETS.
People, that is like winning the lottery or having a new baby or Christmas morning. We spent almost two weeks with six human beings, five animals, and one toilet, which is bad math. I am too old to be hopping up and down on one foot in front of a closed door, hollering for someone to hurry, and yet that was happening! Dreadful. Let’s not even go into the number of hours the shower was running per day. (You know you are in trouble when you figure out how to pick the lock with your fingernail so you can stealthily sneak in and JUST PEE while one of those endless teenager showers is happening… and God forbid THEY HEAR YOU and begin shrieking from the shower about privacy and invasion and future therapy and barbaric, neanderthalic parents…)
But now there are two! toilets! again! Caloo Calay O Frabjous Day, she chortled in her joy!
And I remembered one of my favorite poems by Garrison Keillor.
The Plumber is the Man, Garrison Keillor
When the ice comes and the snow and it’s twenty-eight below And then the temperature begins to fall And they hear the moan and whine of that frozen water line Then the plumber is the man who saves them all.
O the plumber is the man, the plumber is the man. Down into the cellar he must crawl. He is not sleek and slim but they don’t look down on him For the plumber is the man who saves them all.
When the toilet will not flush and the odor makes you blush And you cannot use the sink or shower stall, Then your learning and your art slowly start to fall apart But the plumber is the man who saves it all.
O the plumber is the man, the plumber is the man. With his wrenches and his pipes he comes to call. They can take their sins to Jesus but when their water freezes Then the plumber is the man who saves them all.
Oh, I know that in one’s youth that beauty, justice, truth, Seem to be what life is all about, But when the facts are faced, you realize that life is based On water coming in and going out.
They don’t let him in their club cause he never dresses up And he doesn’t go for tennis or handball, Or Mozart or Chopin, but when it hits the fan Then the plumber is the man who saves them all.
O the plumber is the man, the plumber is the man. In his vest and rubber boots and overalls. So don’t turn up your nose at the aroma of his clothes For the plumber is the man who saves us all.
The project was begun by an ethnographic researcher and designer named Paula Zuccotti who took a picture of 15 items she found most useful in the middle of her pandemic experience. She posted her picture on Instagram and asked other people to do the same at #EveryThingWeTouchCovidEssentialsx15.
Full disclosure: I am not personally on Instagram. I have phobias about social media. Not that I believe it is a corporate tool to enslave us, or a conspiracy from the highest levels to trap the world’s population in a consumerist hotbed of envy – no, nothing that complicated. As a thorough-going introvert, I just find it deeply disturbing to be involved in an endeavor that includes SO MANY PEOPLE. Excuse me while I crawl back into my personal cave. Where I will read books. With this cat and a beer. And shoo away the many children who run around. Ahem.
But I loved this article! And this idea! It is like Things Keeping Us Going with a PICTURE! So, of course, I enthused about it on our family text thread and, presto-chango, a bunch of us fell to preparing pictures. It has been so much fun – like playing a game. Would you like to see some of them? I’ll go first.
(Also. Clearly there are items keeping us going during the pandemic that may or not be suitable for family viewing or full disclosure. Those have been discreetly placed out of view…. But. People. We all know they are there.)
1. Black leather flats (I wear one of my three pairs 50% of my waking hours) 2. Metronome 3. Gold hoop earrings 4. 3-ply paper medical mask (every damn day all day long for school/church jobs) 5. computer 6. cheap-ass Aldi beer that’s my fav 7. art of all kinds, this one by Helen 8. Tea (each kind daily) 9. watch 10. houseplant – a wonderful friend in Chicago has taught me how to grow houseplants 11. Lutheran hymnal 12. Car keys (I have spent this entire pandemic driving to one church and school after another) 13. books that help me think 14. J.S. Bach’s organ compositions 15. Bag for carrying music
2. N95 Mask
4. Back Roller
5. Quarantine walking shoes
6. Buddha head w/ 4 emotions (given to me by a hospice patient)
7. Fire TV remote
8. Hand Sanitizer
10. Boston Scally Cap
11. Watch winder
12. Iron Skillet
13. Wooden Spatula
14. Evan Williams Small Batch Bourbon
15. Oak Highlands Beer
Abbey: Ok, this is 13 things because house sitting, I’ll give you a better list at a different point in time
1) small art projects for brightening the space around me (like embroidering my backpack)
2) buying fresh flowers from Kroger in Arlington to make my apartment feel like a fairy garden
3) notebook in which I keep all important thoughts, ideas, and to do lists
4) thin/breathable, but still useful, old navy masks
6) watching people make aesthetically pleasing drinks on the internet (that’s what the can of matcha stands in for)
7) laptop on which I work every day
8) nice multicolored gel pens I write everything down with from Jennifer Knepper
9) cheerfully colored workout clothing for all of the yoga that’s happened over the past year and a half
10) ring, which I didn’t have during lockdown, but it’s standing in for Christopher currently
11) water bottle, my trusty sidekick throughout every zoom call, and my worst enemy when the zoom calls just wouldn’t end and I really needed to pee
12) comfortable leggings which were worn and are still worn all the time (I’m wearing a pair now)
13) the target app, because being able to order my groceries and have them put right in my car is a genius idea that both prevented me from purchasing things I don’t need and enabled me to do the same thing but with more coupons readily available
3. nike airmax 90’s
4. Harry Styles
5 fuzzy blanket
7 lip balm
9 Harry Potter
11 Squid the cat
12 red practice swimsuit
13 springy waterproof hairties
14 google speaker
Amos. He refuses to explain it to you. Note the tea he likes to drink before bed and the purple candle he burns to make his room smell less like dogs…. losing battle there.
Helen. (A bowl of cat food was added solely to lure the beasts into the picture; Helen does not consume cat food. To our knowledge.)
“I put in a mask from aunt Amy that I use all the time. I put in my magnetic rings because I like to use them a lot too. I put in one of my books because I’m reading that series. I put in Cheez-its because I like to eat them. Obviously I put in a stuffed animal. And the cats to and my hairbrush because they use that a bunch. And this great smelling lotion from Trader Joe’s. And that bag because I use it a lot when we’re going to church and stuff. And then the black lid because it’s actually a coffee cup but mom took the picture on top so you couldn’t really see it because I drink coffee.”
Bike, chocolate, burts bees lip balm, red sunglasses, blue tooth speaker, diamond earrings , legos, sewing machine (I bought this at 12 with babysitting money? What?), Birkenstock’s, favorite new dress (Swiss dot fabric!!!!) Oh yeah canned cat food as it’s Tribble and scout’s favorite thing at 6:30 am 🙄😳, and current favorite quotes. Also cuttings from my yard (aloe, rose of Sharon, blueberries) Not featured: bed.
1. White Allbirds 2. Grounds for Change Cafe Femenino coffee 3. Radio 4. My Starbucks mugs froM which I drink coffee everyday 5. Mrs Meyers hand soap for calming the senses 6. Fitbit 7. Shameless (read it through twice) 8. Mascara 9. (redacted) 10. Dog fur (aka Yuki) 11. My late colleague Ron Harper – he was a source of resolve and strength to me last year until his passing 12. Weights and working out 13. Candles 14. Discovering I really like Sam Adams beer 15. 20 oz Yeti from which I drank coffee everyday at the office since we never shut down
Coffee, the mask amy gave me, Jacob (the cat), car keys, vanilla bean essential oil, bath bombs, tea, chocolate, mascara, white claw, (one item redacted), the book single being is your super power, hand sanitizer, my hat. Missing: my binoculars for bird-watching.
In the NPR article, Paula Zuccotti says: “I wanted them to use the filter of, ‘Here is what I value today.’ They don’t need to be new things, but maybe they took on a new meaning,” explains Zuccotti, who considers this project an extension of the work she did for her 2015 book, Every Thing We Touch: A 24 Hour Inventory of Our Lives, featuring her photos of all of the items several subjects interacted with in a single day. Zuccotti has dubbed this practice of looking at our things as potential artifacts “future archaeology.”
What are 15 things that have shored you up as you journey bravely through pandemic days?
Somewhere towards the end of May James and the kids stopped at a roadside stand and bought honey. Two mason jars full. One was ‘Local’ and the other ‘Wildflower’. They declined to buy an almost pitch-black jar titled ‘Swamp Honey’, although that has provided much scope for my imagination since they told me about it.
I really love honey. Every day I put a spoonful in one of the cups of tea I drink in the morning. It gets you going. I have heard people say that eating local honey will alleviate allergy symptoms, and that honey contains trace nutrients and compounds that support the immune system. Perhaps this is true. Perhaps it just tastes so good it makes me feel good eating it.
I also love to give honey to people, which is probably why it delighted me so much that James and the kids brought some to me. If you are a person who likes it, let me know so I can give you some. 🙂
May. OMG. I can’t even. With the CDC lifting some of the health safety restrictions for vaccinated people, it felt like every week had more and more last-minute things crammed into it as people thought, “Oh, we could just do this!”.
As restrictions loosen, James’ finds himself with more hospice visits to make especially in long term care facilities that have been closed to most outsiders since the pandemic began. He has been working at UTSouthwestern every Thursday, which means he works from 7:30 am to 9:30 pm that day. He is the most interesting conversationalist I know. I love the way he walks into a room and says, “Do you know what I heard on NPR? read yesterday? saw on my walk? figured out from the Forney Messenger Newspaper? heard from my friend Stephen?” I have NEVER met a person who doesn’t like talking to James. He also is thrilled to his toes with a new app he has on his phone that identifies birds when you record and submit short recordings of birdsong. He does this while he walks the dogs in the morning, and triumphantly rattles off the name of every bird in our neighborhood. It is equally annoying and adorable.
I had concerts and recitals and rehearsals at all hours of the day and night. (9 professional-quality band solo recordings, 5 voice recitals, two choir concerts, and recordings for graduation.) When I have that much work to do I sort of stop thinking/reading/breathing/eating/socializing/acting normally so I’m glad that is over. A friend asked me, “Do you do that because you feel like no one else can do it? Are you trying to prove that you are indispensable?” I replied that I didn’t think I was the only one that could do it – the world is full of good accompanists and there are probably hundreds of skilled keyboardists in the DFW area – but I was the one who had the opportunity to do it, and you don’t get paid unless you actually DO THE WORK. The kind of work I do is seasonal, so it means certain seasons are just really busy.
Abbey got ENGAGED (can that be real? her Grandpa protested “but she is too little!” and part of me absolutely agreed but here she is doing it! And we all really love her fianceé so that’s a plus), finished her semester and is only a few classes away from finishing her undergraduate degree in social work. There is a complicated plan for a second undergraduate degree in art, and a masters in social work and I have to lie down to recover every time she describes the whole thing. She has several jobs, and one of them is doing afterschool care and Early Learning Center work for preschool kids who call her ‘Miss Abbeygirl’, ‘Miss Abbeycado’, and ‘Miss Abbeykayla’.
Rob slogged it out to the end with AP English and English III. Taking more than one English class in a semester (when reading and writing are not your favorite activities) is a misery. He now has a job at AutoZone and fixes people’s cars. He owns a fantastic black 2001 Honda Civic which he gently nurses along with oil and spark plug changes, headlight changes, brake pad changes, engine part changes, filter and belt changes… I don’t think I have ever cared as tenderly for a child in this house as he cares for his car. On the other hand, he has been talking about selling it and getting something cooler. (Something which possibly requires less changes….)
Rob graduated from North Forney High School. He used his sister’s graduation gown because we are all cheap around here, and refused to use the stole because it said ‘2019’. So he was stole-less. It’s ok; he wasn’t the only one. He and his girlfriend (a quiet and beautiful girl with equally wicked senses of humor and fashion) are recovering from the semester by gradually watching the whole Star Wars movie saga at her house, and putting lego sets together. Together. (Rob is 6’2″ and girlfriend is about 5′. They are so adorable you sort of can’t stand it.)
Corrie finished sophomore year with the highest scores in her unit for all her dual-credit classes. She took one AP and dual-credit test after another. She works harder than almost anybody I know. She walks around, all 5’4″ of her, with a serious expression on her face, straight blonde hair (the only blonde left of all my little tow-headed toddlers), double-pierced ears, giant white sneakers and an oversized brown Harry Styles sweatshirt. Nobody messes with Corrie. She is at the top of her class at school, and has just won the position of Drum Major at her high school. (A drum major is the student who mirrors the director and conducts the band during the Marching Shows. 300 kids in band – they choose 4 Drum Majors – CorrieLise Jarrett is one of them.) And she may end up being one of the captains of the swim team again next year. I am hoping over the summer she might have some fun sometime.
Amos has successfully grown Justin Bieber hair. He smiles charmingly and tosses that swoopy hair from side to side. He is now 5’10” and has been going to the community park to play pickup basket ball with tons of other kids. In two more weeks, he starts Strength and Conditioning Camp for Freshman Football next fall. Sometimes I bump him when we are crowded next to each other trying to empty the dishwasher and I am surprised to realize he is about all muscle from head to toe. He LOVES HIS DOGS. No dogs are allowed on furniture around here, which means I am constantly entering rooms and two dogs see me and jump guiltily off the bed or sofa where they are curled up next to Amos. Amos is watching Stranger Things and likes Dustin the best. Amos knows how to push every single one of Helen’s buttons, and entertains himself with this.
Helen finished Fourth Grade with many rewards and honors and certificates. (My favorite was the Excellence in Music certificate.) She will go on to a different school next year – and intermediate school that only has 5th and 6th grades. Helen, as our resident cat whisperer, grieved the loss of our second older cat, Mochi, who disappeared as cats do, and promptly talked me into adopting two new ones from the shelter. These two new kittens, Squid and Zuko, belong to Corrie and Helen respectively, and lurk about the house leaping out to bite ankles and then run off. They alternate between tiny wild kitten wrestling matches and conked-out napping draped over odd corners of the house. They mutually find the hedgehog entrancing, and swipe at him through the bars of his cage while he eats his kibble. Bessel disdainfully refuses to acknowledge them in any way. They have TERRIBLE fleas and as soon as I have time I am going. to. do. something. about. that.
Helen continues her mysterious science experiments. There are currently several bowls of weirdly colored soupy fluids on the stove with a sign that says “Helen’s Creations – do not touch!”
It is a wonder we are surviving all that. Bring on summer. I think we all need a break.
Abbey had a birthday. She has now been on on this swiftly tilting planet 20 years.
Her day fell during Lent, and since she was following a Vegan diet for Lent she had to make her own cake. (I had no idea how to make a vegan cake. The process involves mysterious things like coconut sugar and egg substitutes.)
We celebrated around the kitchen table. I love Abbey’s birthday for many reasons and one of them is that Abbey is always delighted by really strange gifts.
Amos is a very successful party-goer. Good at creating his own entertainment.
Aren’t these enchanting? Where on your body would you put a temporary tattoo of mysterious bits of nature?
Part of our dinner was vegan sushi (yes! there is such a thing!). I think I’ve mentioned before that many Jarretts strictly observe the use-chopsticks-for-Asian-cuisine rule. I am trying hard to get better. My New Year’s resolution was to improve my personal chopstick skills, and I’m pleased to say I am swearing LESS while I try to eat with them. Corrie wields chopsticks like a deadly weapon. No item is safe from her. She could build an empire and raise a harvest armed only with those two little bamboo sticks.
20 years old but we only had one birthday candle. I scoured every kitchen cabinet for more to no avail. Darn it, COVID! We are out of practice with parties!
The cake was delicious.
Her present from Helen: a Frida Kahlo lapel pin. It suits Abbey perfectly!