Quarantine Diaries (Part 3)

(Monday 4/13): Joining writing communities

Today, I scoured the internet for tips on how to be a better writer. Of the dozens of listicles I read, here were the points I found good and tractable:

  • Write regularly, and turn it into a ritual
  • Find a writing partner or workshop
  • Don’t revise as you write ( I’m currently super guilty of this)

Becoming a member of a small writer’s group or critique circle would be such a profoundly helpful opportunity, so now I’m actively searching for one. To get my feet wet, I joined a few large Facebook groups for writers (10-minute novelist group, The Write Life Community, and Blogging Boost). I don’t expect these massive online communities to have the intimate book club feel I’m looking for, but it’s a start.

(Tuesday 4/14): Late-night dining table chat about imperfect parenting

After the kids were put to bed for the evening, Laura (my sister), my mom, and I had a good chat over the dining table. We do this sometimes, eating grapes or peeling clementines as we pass the hours.

Mom was reminiscing about Laura’s childhood back in the early ’90s, during the first few chaotic years after they immigrated to the US (and way before I was born in 1998). In many ways, she was the ‘experiment’ child — Mom admitted that she and Dad were inexperienced parents and were too poor at times to parent Laura with the same expertise as Laura does with her kids today. They talked about when they used to let 6-year old Laura sit in the front passenger seat of their car without a seat belt, or when they sent her to Texan elementary school when she didn’t know a word of English at the time. They dropped her off at the bus stop, equipping her with just a slip of paper that said “Hello, my name is Laura” on one side and “I need to use the restroom” on the other.

Despite all this, Laura’s a well-adjusted adult today, and these are stories we’re able to retell in good humor. It makes you wonder though: we now live in an age where (upper-middle class) parents get into frequent self-righteous debates with each other over every aspect of parenting, as if any misstep would make or break a child’s future. Breast milk or formula? Public or private school? Stroller X or Stroller Y?

I’m not trying to remark that these issues don’t matter, but I do wonder how people who were raised by supremely imperfect parents by today’s standards (a.k.a basically everybody in the older generation) manage to mature into fine, resilient adults anyway. Maybe the crucial ingredient in good parenting is something that isn’t necessarily bought with more money or more research on mommy blogs.

My intuition is that it’s probably about consistency — having a consistent commitment to trying one’s best as a parent and making a consistent commitment to care. This caring can be conveyed by providing the highest quality of food, schooling, and enrichment there is, but it doesn’t have to be. I bet kids can tell when their parents are engaged with them and when they feel cared for, even though the frazzled parents might be thinking to themselves, I don’t know what the heck we’re doing and if we’re doing enough. I suppose if they were really occupied with those thoughts, they are doing just fine.

(Wednesday 4/15): Emily stole my chapsticks

Two nights ago, as I was doing my skincare routine and fumbling through my toiletries bag, I paused, puzzled. My chapstick vanished. I looked around the bathroom, peered around every corner, and jerked open every drawer. When I couldn’t find it, I shrugged and went back to my room to fetch my last spare to replace it.

Now it’s 2 pm Wednesday afternoon: I walk over to the bathroom for my toiletries bag so that I could re-moisturize my chapped lips after lunch. I unzip the bag and… wait…where did it go?

At that moment, I knew it wasn’t me — my mind zipped through all the possible culprits and zeroed in on this one. Emily.

I walked down the hallway to where I could hear Emily talking giddily about something.

“Hey Emily, have you seen my chapstick?”

She looks at me with the guiltiest grimace, halfway between a scowl and a pout, and averts her eyes. “No…” She then gets up and walks away.

Maybe it was that she flat out lied to me, or maybe it was that I couldn’t believe that I was getting so worked up about my 3-year old niece taking my chapstick, but I was fuming.

The thing about kids is that the angrier you get about their uncooperativeness in these situations, the more uncooperative they become. It took every ounce of my willpower to not interrogate her further because I was not ready to ask her nicely.

I decided not to confront her again until I calmed down.

Three hours pass, and I’m levelheaded again. I ask Emily benignly whether she’s seen my chapstick anywhere in the house and if she could help me look for it.

“Gloria, I still don’t know where it is. But maybe it’s upstairs in my baby brother’s room.” She guides me upstairs, down the long hallway, into Nathan’s room, where she gets on her knees, reaches all the way into the innards of the wooden desk, and pulls out two sticks of chapstick.

“Nathan did it.”

(Thursday 4/16): Emily turns 4

Today is Emily’s 4th birthday! This was in the middle of the workweek so, between my three zoom lectures and two problem sets, I felt as though I barely had enough time to enjoy it fully. Nevertheless, all of us got off work a bit earlier for the day so that we could throw her a fabulous birthday party. Emily was kind of bitter that she had to spend her birthday around an anemic bunch of grownups and old people instead of her friends, but we made do. We promised her that once this pandemic was over, she’d be able to have an even more spectacular 5th birthday with all of her girlfriends next year. FINGERS CROSSED.

(Friday 4/17): Shoveling mulch for a day

This morning, I heard the rumbling sound of a loud dump truck outside our house. When it eventually drove off and the noise receded, I shrugged and continued my work. An hour later, I saw a message from Laura to our family group chat that said “Why is there a pile of mud in our driveway?”

Confused, I looked outside to see a Mount Everest of mulch dumped onto our driveway. Turns out my dad ordered it yesterday because during a global pandemic you shouldn’t forget to retouch your landscaping.

1 hour in

He originally intended for it to sit there until the weekend so that he could relaxedly spread it around our yard, but when we checked the weather forecast we learned that it was going to start pouring rain in a few hours. Shit. My parents and I signed off work early, grabbed three shovels and a wheelbarrow, and tried to speed-shovel all the mulch off of our driveway before the rain began. After a long and strenuous afternoon, we got it done right before dinner. Mission accomplished!

I woke up the next morning seized with back pain.



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