Day 246

Today is the 246th day since the boys came home from school on a Wednesday and never went back. 246 days since I used up a bottle of white out on my calendar, canceling all the things I used to call “daily life.”  I know people like nice round numbers, like the 250th day, or 300th day, but it is the 246th day today and I happen to have some time to write a blog post, so 246 it is.

Here are some things quarantine has made difficult:

Small talk: Normally when I talk to a friend, I ask things like, “What did you do on the weekend?” Or, “Do you have any vacations planned?” Or, “What’s new?” But now there’s no point in asking. The answers are always, “Nothing,” “No,” and, “Nothing.”

Christmas cheer: Normally when Halloween is over, I get a rush of excitement. The start of the holiday season!!!!! The boys will be home for a full 2 weeks and we can just lie around in our pajamas all day!  We don’t have to do all those things we normally have to do! Oh, right.

Vacations: Normally this time of year I’m making vacation plans for February so I won’t fall into the post-holiday slump. This year, vacations are off so I’m signing up for therapy sessions in February instead, which is not as fun a way to treat the post-holiday slump.

Here are some things quarantine has made nicer:

Lunchtime: The boys are learning to get food for themselves.. They do things like grate cheese, make pasta, and microwave leftovers! Plus, there is not a sinkful of lunchboxes and water bottles to wash each night (I would take two sinkfuls of dinner dishes over one sinkful of lunchboxes/water bottles).

Weeknights: I no longer have to make dinner at either 4Pm or 8PM to fit around schedules, but can instead make it at a normal time. Afterwards, the boys have time to practice piano and we play games as a family, which used to only happen during holiday breaks.

Weekends: We’re actually home on Sundays to watch entire football games, and for the boys to rake up piles of leaves and jump in them, and for Vincenzo to finally build that desk he’s been talking about building. There’s just…time.

Small moments: Last week, for example, we had a good wind storm, and instead of being in school, the boys were home with me so we ran around the yard and biked on the trail in the “leaf snow.”

So quarantine is still both good and bad. I miss the old things but I like the new things. If someone asked me if I’d rather spend the next five years like this or go back to the Before, I honestly don’t know what I’d say. Can we somehow meet in the middle on it?

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Roasted chicken
Pan-fried potatoes
Roasted broccoli
Chocolate pudding

I Wrote This On Purpose

Leo’s homework the other day was to write about someone who has shown perseverance.

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I wanted to fill in the “This is How I Feel” section of the page for him, but they didn’t have any “demoralized” smiley face.

I’ve finished the third draft of my novel and feel released from it. Part of me wants to say, “Welp, got that out of my system,” and move onto something different, like yodeling lessons. But the part of me that writes all the time keeps writing all the time, and while the writing is beautifully without purpose, a grating voice in my head keeps yelling, “BUT WHAT IS THE POINT OF ALL THIS?!”

Since I only have little patches of time to write during quarantine, I’ve started writing poems about my childhood. Sometimes as simple as this:

Door Knocker

We had a cross-shaped knocker
on our front door that said
Peace to All  Who Enter Here,
written in teal and fuchsia and gold
and all the letters leaned into each other.
I loved to knock it
even though it was my house
and everyone knew it was me.

Sometimes there’s a bit more to them, like this:

Baby Chicks

We hatched our own chicks that year
in an incubator in Dad’s study.
We checked on the eggs
in their warm, yellow world
until there was a crack,
then a beak,
pink as a fingernail,
then a brand new chick,
wet and skinny and worn out. Then—
Peep!
Peep! Peep!
The tiniest sound in the world,
fragile as the ting of a wine glass.
When properly fluffed,
we cupped them in our hands and
looked into the shiny black pool of their eyes
that they struggled to keep open.
The smell of freshly hatched chicks
was comforting as the smell
of freshly baked bread.


When the chicks came,
our house felt warm,
like it was an incubator
and we were all newly hatched.

BUT WHAT IS THE POINT OF ALL THIS??!

I don’t know, but I do know if feels sooooo good to write about real things that happened to me instead of making stuff up out of the blue about something I know nothing about. Part of the purpose is to help me make sense of my childhood, I guess. Part is to fulfill my need to put words, any words, lots and lots of words onto paper every day. And part of the purpose is to find the purpose of all those words.

You tell me there doesn’t have to be a purpose. It could just be for the fun of it! To which I say…

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Anyone who knows me well knows that nothing I do is just purely for the fun of it. Everything always fits into some bigger plan. I don’t feel I have to apologize for or justify that part of me anymore. I’m old enough now to say that’s just how I am and I’m good with it.

Maybe the purpose of this blog post was to say that out loud.

(Or maybe it was to get out of washing dishes tonight. It’s really a toss-up between the two.)

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Leftovers (Thai food and baked potato soup)

Quaranteen Halloween

This post is brought to you by the end of Daylight Savings Time, as I am spending my extra hour blogging for you. Actually, it’s more like my fifth extra hour, as each time I glanced at the microwave clock or hopped in the car with yesterday’s time on the clock, I’d forget we fell back. Then something would happen to remind me of it, like Kevin asking me why I was making dinner at 3, and it was like being given an extra extra hour. This is the one day of the year that has enough hours in, and it just might be my favorite day of the year.

Now for a Halloween recap, beginning with: jack-o-lanterns.

Vincenzo carved a character from Among Us which, my nephew told me, in the singular is an Among I which, either way, means absolutely nothing to me, as I am not a gamer and thus am not Among Them.

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Rocco did a sword-in-the-stone thing. He put about as much effort into it as he has put into his school work lately.

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On second thought, that’s quite a bit more effort than I’ve seen in his school work.

Leo went for Trogdor. For those of you who do not know who Trogdor is, do yourselves a favor and click here. As I told my friend on Halloween, my life didn’t really begin until I watched this video.

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Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, within an hour of Leo deciding on Trogdor, we had 3-D printed a “big beefy arm” to complete the look. These are truly miraculous times we are living in. 

Speaking of times we are living in, following a Covid-inspired “good old-fashioned 80s summer,” we had a “good old-fashioned 80s Halloween.” The kids grabbed random costumes out of the box from the attic, nothing was overly planned for, and the festivities weren’t precariously scheduled around all our other activities. It felt so simple and easy, walking around the neighborhood in a non-rushed, casual, chatty kind of way. Like, wuuuuutt?

It took more effort than you would think to get the kids lined up like this. We kept saying, “Scooch closer!” and “Scrunch in!” and they kept neither scooching nor scrunching.

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I realized afterwards that they are way more accustomed to, “Don’t get too close!” and, “Six feet!” and, “Give them some space!”

Group photos are kind of the haunted houses of Halloween 2020.

WHAT’S COOK’IN’ 2NITE:
Pasta with marinara sauce
Smoked brisket
Parmesan broccoli
Anything from the candy buckets (except Mounds/Almond Joys, naturally)

Defining Moments

Rocco’s defining moment of October:

He has to do a half hour of a math program and a half hour of a reading program. He figured out how to save himself a half hour the other day.

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That’s math on the left, reading on the right.

Vincenzo’s defining moment:

Leo’s defining moment:

Leo: College is my worst nightmare.
Me: Why’s that?
Because I’ll have to be away from Mom. And if you send me cookies and videos, it won’t be the same.
Me: Well, I wouldn’t worry about it yet. When the time comes, we’ll go over all the different choices you have.
Leo: If you’re even alive then…

My defining moment:

I drafted a new picture book called How to Tell if Your Shirt’s on Backwards. It begins: “If there’s a giant number on your chest, probably your shirt’s on backwards.” (The book is based on real-life experiences, and I hope it gets published so I can buy it and read it to my kids.)

Kevin’s defining moment:

(He says he cannot be defined by moments.)

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Chicken chimichangas
Rice
Refried beans
Bailey’s cheesecake

Funnies

I went to return books at the library and found this sign:

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Kevin said, “Someone’s definitely pooped in the book return.”

Found on the inside of a different port-a-potty:

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(Huzzah to all you Hitchhiker fans who know who this is!)

Just outside the port-a-potty was a lake:

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with a sign:

dog sign

Vincenzo: I guess they don’t allow dogs to walk on water here.

Leo has gotten into my resistance bands lately. I found him like this:

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Me: Leo, are you in a band?

It’s not as bad as the Dad jokes Kevin’s been throwing around lately, like when he asked what he should feed the kids for breakfast and I said. “Anything you can toast.” When I came into the kitchen later, Leo was eating a bowl of pasta. I raised my eyebrows at Kevin.  He held up the bowl pasta. “A toast to you, pasta, for you are  soft and chewy and delicious.” Just to drive the point home, he then challenged the bowl of pasta to a footrace, and when Kevin won, he yelled to the bowl of pasta, “You got toasted!”

Guys, I think quarantine is winning.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Butternut squash gnocchi with fried sage
Teriyaki pork loin
Buttered green beans
Caramel apples

(Re)introducing: Vincenzo

So this guy here…

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…is fifteen now.

Fifteen years since this:

And that.

This September, Vincenzo’s English teacher asked us to write a letter that told about our children’s hope, fears, dreams, desires, and passions. Here’s my first attempt:

Dear Mrs. English Teacher,

Der…

Sincerely,

Vincenzo’s Mom

If she had asked us to tell about our children’s ability to relax, to sleep in, to spend all day in their rooms, to have as few opinions as possible, to subsist for days eating only saltines and chocolate chips, and to resist anyone’s attempts to put some fire in their shorts…well then I’d have something to write about.

But I did manage to write a letter after all, and so, here it is—now with photos and captions!

Dear Mrs. English Teacher,

Introducing my son, Vincenzo Steven Beto—a simple boy with a complicated name. A boy who loves his family and mint chocolate chip ice cream and who hates spiders. A boy who can eat his weight in pasta but cannot open a can of pizza sauce to save his life. (It’s not entirely his fault; he’s a lefty.)

Vincenzo is quiet and shy, kind and generous. He hangs out with a few equally sweet (but not as quiet) friends, which we call The Squad. He asks for little, and honestly just wants to be left alone with his phone and a down comforter. I keep opening the blinds in his room; he keeps closing them. We call him The Cavie.

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We also call him the Absent-Minded Professor. He’s bright and thoughtful and will explain the inner workings of a computer while you wait for the right moment to tell him he’s wearing his fifth-grade brother’s pants. As is the way with absent-minded professors, Vincenzo has had a hard time with executive functioning skills in the past. In middle school, he forgot to do a lot of assignments, or lost them, or forgot to turn them in, or didn’t put his name on them. As a laid-back kid, this didn’t bother him too much. As a Type A Mom, this bothered me quite a bit, but this letter is not about me so I will spare you the detail.

Vincenzo has a great sense of humor, and like him, it’s quiet. Still, it’s witty and sharp and packs a good punch, so make sure to listen.

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(This is what “outside time” looked like this summer.)

His younger brothers experience a different kind of punch from him, as once a day he wanders out of his room to put them in choke-holds and distribute heart-punches, making them squeal and laugh. Then he returns to his room to try to meet his goal of watching all of YouTube.

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He’s a magnet for younger kids. The King of the Cousins. Even though he’s a 15-year-old boy, he’s not too old to spend a day helping them dig on the beach, build forts, or play dungeons and dragons with them.

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Vincenzo is a fly-under-the-radar kid who doesn’t call attention to himself and who doesn’t mind when the joke is on him. He’s easy to be around. He doesn’t have many dreams or plans for the future, no visions of grandeur. He’s happy being who he is, in whatever moment he’s in, especially if that moment involves his phone and his bedroom. It’s hard to buy gifts for him because there’s nothing he wants that he doesn’t already have. We don’t really even have to buy clothes for him, as it has been established that he is fine wearing his fifth- grade brother’s pants.

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(He’s also outgrown this couch, yet he keeps sitting on it.)

Thank you asking for the letter—for finding a way to get to know your students in a time it’s hard to get to know anyone. We hope Vincenzo’s writing brings his personality to life so you can get to know him in his own words.

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Love,

Vincenzo’s Mom

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WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Carrot ginger soup
Sourdough bread
Parmesan broccoli
Ice cream sundaes

Chip

What to blog about, what to blog about? Nothing ever happens around here anymore. *tapping fingers on keyboard* What to blog, what to…

Oh, RIGHT. There’s that ONE thing that happened last week. But I don’t think you want to hear about it. It’s gory and gross, and I definitely don’t want to blog about it. So guess I’ll just go straight to…

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Ricotta gnocchi
Kielbasa
Edamame
Ice cream sundaes

Psst. I’m still here. I’m going to have to write this really fast and all at once or else I’m going to chicken out and not do it at all. I’ll start with a picture, but I strongly advice you to NOT READ ANY FURTHER AND ESPECIALLY DON’T LOOK AT THE PICTURE.

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Just be thankful these aren’t the pictures we sent to the dentist, where the blood kept dripping on the phone.

Rocco went out for a bike ride and 10 minutes later the front door flew open and he said, “Mom, I fell off my bike and got hurt,” and I yelled to the lady I was talking to on the phone, I HAVE TO GO MY KID IS ALL BLOODY because a Mom knows, just knows when a hurt is for real and big. There was blood. A lot of it. I held a wet washcloth to Rocco’s mouth and asked, “Did you bite your tongue?” No. “Did you bite your lip?” No. I asked him with great trepidation to open his mouth. The image of what I saw there keeps waking me up at night. I called the dentist right away but almost passed out on the phone and spent the next 30 minutes lying on the bathroom floor, trying not to throw up and feeling like a terrible Mom. Kevin cleaned the rocks and blood off of Rocco, who was a little shaky but didn’t cry or panic, and by the time we got to the dentist he was back to talking a mile a minute. I had to keep interrupting him so the dentist could explain things. (“He’s so lucky!” she kept saying. “No root damage!”) On the way back I said Rocco could get a milkshake and he ordered a baconater to go with it. He ate every bite. (I guess the half a tooth he ate earlier wasn’t all that filling.) I’m so grossed out by this whole post I have to end it abruptly. I’m feeling faint again.

Random Funnies

The smoke is gone! It’s kind of crazy how quickly you can go from dancing joyously in the rain to grumping about how rainy it is. But still, I don’t take any breath of clean, fresh, misty air for granted anymore. Even taking the garbage cans out to the curb feels like a huge treat.

Anyway, here are a couple funny things I’ve jotted down in the past couple months, just for laughs.

Me to the boys: Would you rather be an ant or a house?
Rocco: I’d like to be a house because then no one could step on me.
Leo: An ant could step on you!

Me, explaining to the boys what shopping felt like in the early quarantine days: It’s like a real-life game of PacMan. You turn down an aisle, grab all the pellets you can, freak out and turn the other way when another moving thing shows up in front of you.

Me: What position do you think I’d be best at in football?
Leo: Cheerleader?

This next one comes from a family discussion about the dangerous combination of multiple choice tests and poor impulse control.
Rocco: I’m super good at multiple choice.
Kevin (after he and I exchanged eyebrow raises): Is that so? Here, let me give you a test. Multiple choice: What is the third letter of the alphabet…
Rocco: C!
Kevin: Incorrect. The correct answer was B: C. C was A.

Leo, as Kevin carefully selected each person’s cards in Monopoly Deal instead of randomly dealing them:
Leo: Dad shouldn’t be able to make my hand even though it’s Father’s Day.
Kevin: I made both your hands.

Me to Kevin: If we could go back to college and pick each other’s majors, what would we pick for each other? I’d pick massage therapy for you. What would you pick for me?
Kevin: Pole dancing.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Deep dish pizza
Salad
Peanut butter cookies

When Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

The smoke is making everything weird. Like with CoVid, I shouldn’t be writing this post, as the fires are nowhere near our city and the smoke is a mere nuisance rather than the calling card of complete and utter devastation. But here I am, writing this post anyway because that’s how I make sense of things.

Everything is pinkish gray. It’s like we’re living inside an Instagram filter, or maybe in the movie Inception. The trees, the petunias, the picnic table all exist right outside my window but they might as well be in a different universe. They’re themselves, but they’re not themselves. I’m living my life, but I’m not living my life. Everything’s the same, but nothing’s the same. If I were an animal in the zoo, I’d be a jaguar—the one that paces back and forth with its mouth cracked open, trying to take enough steps to get back to that one place with all the grass and sky and antelope. What was it called?

I don’t mind being stuck inside on a rainy day, but it’s quite a different thing to be stuck inside on a smoky day. The ash out there—it’s made up of pieces of forests, homes, of living things that weren’t fast enough or who took a wrong turn or who didn’t see it coming. When I remember that, the smoke doesn’t feel like a nuisance. It feels like a great, deep sadness.

In the 80s, we read about gray futures where people stay in side, where they’re afraid to go out or where they’ve been ordered not to. Even though we knew the books were forecasting a future that could happen, we never thought it really would. (After all, not one of those books included a massive run on toilet paper.) Maybe we still aren’t. But when you look outside, it’s hard to imagine we’re not.

We’ve already cleaned out all our closets. We’ve watched all of TV.  We’ve dusted all the baseboards, touched up all the risers, sorted the mismatched socks. So now all there is to do is look outside and wonder if this is real or if we’re figments of George Orwell’s imagination.

Now I’m at the bottom of this post and I’m not any closer to making sense of things than when I started! I’ve gone and covered you with my own cloud. Maybe a picture from the week before would help, like a lollipop at the end of a doctor’s appointment?

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Ugh! Gross! Not that one—that’s from when I nailed my shin on the stairs.

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No! Stop! That’s just another angle of the same thing!

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Now we’re getting a bit weird (this is how the doctor found Rocco when he walked in for Rocco’s wellness appointment).

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This one is just an example of bad posture.

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Okay, now we’re just getting silly. Come on, Me. Put in a nice picture!

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There we go. Something simple and sweet.

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Something that exists just underneath it all.

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Something that is waiting, like us, to see the sun again.

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Or, even better, the rain.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Smoked pork shoulder
Cheese souffle
Buttered green beans
Blackberry peach cobbler

Writing: Unfinished Business

Whenever Kevin asks me how writing went at the end of the day, I give him a sour look. Even if I wrote a whole new scene or turned something from a disaster to a tour de force, I can almost never say I had a good day of writing. I’ve always felt weird about that. Why can’t I just say it was great? Everything’s great!

Then we experienced some plumbing issues at the Whidbey cabin, and now I know exactly why my answer is always an irritated, “I don’t know! Why do you keep asking that?!”

We went to replace faucets in the kitchen and bathroom. Should be easy. A no-brainer! We’ll have it all fixed up in no-time!

(Note: This is the same way I feel when I open up a scene to edit.)

But then things wouldn’t come unscrewed, and then leaks showed up, and then bigger leaks showed up, and then tubes wouldn’t hook up, and things broke, and things turned on when they should have been turned off, and there was black mold on the baseboards and it appears the hot water tank needs to be replaced.

We went to solve two problems and ended up with 20 more, and by then it was an hour past Kevin’s bedtime, so we just left it like this.

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Okay, so the kitchen sink doesn’t work, but don’t despair—we can wash dishes in the bathroom!

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Oh. Right.

It actually still works, so don’t freak out. If you want cold water, use the faucet above the sink and if you want hot water, use one that’s dangling upside-down in the cabinet. It works! I promise!

If we were talking about my novel, this is where I’d say, “I tried to make the beginning shorter but it got twice as long, and chapter 16 completely disappeared–I’m TOTALLY FREAKING OUT–and I realized that I have 4 denouements and all of them have to be there but I can only keep one, and I have to change all the colors in the book to numbers.”

This is also where Kevin would say, “But that’s great! You made progress!”

This, folks, is what progress looks like.

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It’s a lot messier, a lot uglier, and a lot less satisfying than I ever imagined progress could be. But it works. Kind of.

It’s also why, when Kevin asks me how writing went today, I tell him I DON’T EVEN KNOW.

Still, as much as I hate answering the question, I love that he keeps asking because it shows he’s not afraid of me, which is good because I am often very afraid of myself.

If you’ll excuse me now, I have some dishes to wash in the swimming pool, which is decidedly color #2 today.

And if you know the name of a good plumber, send it my way—I could use some help with the novel.

WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Ginger-glazed halibut
Scalloped potatoes
Fruit
Chocolate layer cake