Why COVID-19 is Anything But “The Great Equalizer.”

How we’ve confused our shared vulnerability with a perceived sense of equity.

I’ve written this blog more times than I can count.

For whatever reason, I haven’t posted it. I write and I re-write. It has morphed many times.

I found myself too wordy, or feeling a little bit “soap-boxy”. I have all the drafts in my saved documents.

But I feel angst and I have to say something.

Hearing COVID-19 being referred to as the great equalizer is exhausting. Because it isn’t.

There. I said it (try to think of it as consciousness-raising and not judgement).

“Anyone can get it ~ even Hollywood is quarantining!”

I’m sure you’ve heard this or some version of this.

Don’t get me wrong… I love looking at the insides of peoples’ homes; the late night talk show hosts, the news anchors, the recording artists and the SNL cast.

But no one seems to be talking about those people for whom COVID-19 has made an already marginalized existence even more marginalized.

While the Governor emphasizes mask-wearing and social distancing as best prevention, I know people who are looking at each other, wondering, “How?”

When you are living in an overcrowded home or are doubled up because you’ve lost your housing, social distancing is a privilege for other people. Keeping high risk folks distant from low risk folks isn’t an option. When three or four generations of people live together, COVID spreads like wildfire.

When suddenly schools went on-line, we forgot about those who might not have access to the levels of information that many of us have. When information is disseminated by email, people with no internet service don’t receive the information. If you are someone who attends community college and rely on the desktop computers made available to students at the school, you didn’t have the means to do your homework once the schools closed. Adding obstacles like that to an already complicated life is just what it takes to have students drop out. The Boston Globe reported this weekend that 10,000 students in the Boston Public School system have not logged on once to access their classes.

COVID-19 has prevented many immigrant students from being able to access the one thing they came to this country for: an education. They have lost their allies in the school system. They can’t access their education because of language or internet access, and are among those still working, at risk to their health, because there aren’t other options.

I recently spoke to a social worker who was helping a high school student create a budget. This student, whose hours had been reduced, had to pay their “coyote” ~ the term used to describe the brokers who bring folks to the United States at a very high price ~ under the threat of murder to their family back home. Coyotes don’t really care that COVID-19 has gotten in the way of their payments; they want to be paid. For these young, unaccompanied minors, keeping their families safe is a priority.

Sidebar: these first generation kids who miss out on the ceremony of graduation, be it from high school or college, are still plugging along, doing their thing. Because they have to. HAVE TO. They can’t afford to lament that rite of passage. I’d like to see us lament it for them.

And masks? I would have no idea how to get a mask if I didn’t have Facebook. I know. Embarrassing. And yet, we see people of color being harassed in some areas of our country for not wearing masks.

The rate of gun violence has increased in the City of Boston. People have lost their infrastructure. They are selling their phones, cutting off their WiFi, wondering how they’ll pay back rent. They have lost their social workers and case managers.

People are lonely.

People are scared.

Because people are focusing on survival ~ maintaining an income, keeping their family healthy, and staying fed ~ their brain chemistry is actually changing. This kind of trauma closes our neural pathways and contracts our thinking. Depression and anxiety cause our executive functioning to shut down.

Asking people to jump through hoops to get services or food or medical care can feel as simple as, “This is not for you. It’s for the ‘other’ people.”

And we wonder why people rage. We judge. We separate ourselves.

Or we tell ourselves the lie that the Coronavirus has made us all the same.

It has not. It has revealed an already existing chasm and made it much bigger.

So please, stop. I know you mean well. It makes us all feel better to know we are just like John Legend or Jimmy Kimmel or Margot Robbie.

Let’s not forget about those looking to us. Many of us are the privileged; those who can get on-line and see family via zoom. Who can socially distance, even in our homes. We aren’t wondering where our next roll of toilet paper will come from (although admittedly, I have wondered this) or our next gallon of milk.

When we look to our left and see a great equalizer, but let’s also look to our right. There is a chasm there that needs to be acknowledged. We can’t do anything about it if we don’t see it. Please see it.

How #JusticeforAhmaud Woke Me Up to Myself.

I think it was mid April when I first heard the story of Ahmaud.

I have been weepy for several days now…unable to place the reasons. It occurred to me yesterday, sitting in my stillness, what was going on. 

My outrage was meaningless.

I heard the story. I told my husband about it. I did nothing.

I am complicit in the perpetuation of racism for all sorts of reasons, but what strikes me is that this happened 8 weeks ago.  I don’t know exactly when I read about it, but it was not recent. It got filed along with the thousands of other things that I have filed away in my head about racial violence. Awareness without action isn’t enough. 

There have been other events since then that have enraged me; most notably, the impact of COVID on communities of color both in terms of access to care and enforcement of laws around social distancing and the wearing of masks. This also got filed away. Alas, knowledge, even rage, does not equal activism.

I actually had a thought last week that I was suffering burnout from reading about all the racial injustice in the world (I subscribe to a number of media outlets that track these events). 

Daily. This happens daily. 

Not only when white people hear about them. 

They. Happen. Daily.

This thought that I could suffer burnout from just knowing about these events is not surprising. It is what I feel. But to put my head in the sand or to shut off social media, for me, equated to abandoning people I love who cannot do the same.  Not only can’t my brothers and sisters of color “shut it off”, they actually have to heighten their awareness every single day. I can’t imagine wondering whether I’d get shot if I go out for a jog. Or wondering whether it was safe for my child to go to a prom or a school party. And yet, I know that people of color feel it when they come to my lovely, suburban neighborhood. They live in a state of trauma – a brain chemistry that is focused on staying alive – every day. So no, they cannot shut it off.

If I want to be in solidarity with people of color and learn from people of color, I have to listen to people of color and try to understand their experience, at whatever level my awareness allows for.

So I am here to say that I am exhausted but will never be as exhausted as a person of color. 

I can no longer claim to be an advocate for racial justice without taking action against racial injustice.

I am asking for guidance. I am putting out into the universe a need for direction on what action I can take. What is next for me? Please, call me into something. In the meantime, I will seek  opportunities on my own. I commit to this. 

I did nothing when I heard about Ahmaud Arbery. Thankfully, others did.

image taken from http://www.time.com

Everything I Need to Know about Social Distancing I Learned from My Insta Pot

1.  Everything takes longer than I think it will; and definitely longer than the experts say it will.

When I bought my Insta Pot, they said, “Dinner will be ready in 15 minutes…” which I translated into 7.5 minutes because I am “efficient”. What they don’t tell you is that after food prep, after pressurizing the pot, and before releasing the steam, the dinner takes 15 minutes. Include all those other processes, and we’re at 45 to an hour. 

As I spend time at home, I’m acutely aware of all the things I think I can make happen. My expectations are not aligned with the accepted social construct of time. If you lived with me, you might have heard me say we could get the yard picked up, the upstairs painted, the basement cleared out, our closets cleaned, the garage bay cleared, and maybe even get a bulldozer to make a new spot for Kayla’s car. This was a problem before the quarantine and continues to be a problem after the quarantine. It’s the KIDS who don’t have work to do. And even that isn’t true. I actually still work for a living so the quarantine hasn’t actually given me ANY additional time. So riddle me that. Mindset (what we choose to believe or not believe about our thoughts) is everything and my mindset, like the marketers of the Insta Pot, is a big, fat, liar.

2.  If I don’t follow the directions exactly, nothing works the way it should. 

Have you ever not put liquid in the Insta Pot? Or decided you didn’t have to saute the meat first? Yeah, dinner wasn’t so good those nights. Or didn’t happen at all. 

I often think I can “interpret” the rules. Or even that I know better than the experts, despite lots of practice being wrong. Cats don’t have dogs; cats have kittens. Why would I think that my children are going to be any different from me? They are kittens. They ALSO think they can be “interpret” the rules. At the beginning of the “social distancing movement,” we told them they could each see ONE friend. That one friend turned into a party. Social distancing wasn’t practiced. Nothing worked the way we thought it should. Just as we shouldn’t make up the recipe with an Insta Pot, I can’t pretend I know more about a pandemic than the public health experts without also accepting that things won’t turn out well. 

3.   If I impatiently rush the process, I’ll get burned. 

When I am feeling particularly impatient about my dinner, I manually release the steam on the Insta Pot instead of allowing it to do its thing on its own. Inevitably, I end up getting burned by that steam, making a mess of the cabinets, and don’t enjoy the process. 

Ain’t that the truth. I know that if I push my way through this quarantine, bend the rules to fit my needs, and leave before I’m cleared, I’ll get burned. Or worse yet, I’ll burn someone else. I’ll end up feeling bad and making a mess of the world around me. 

For today, I’m gonna take out the Insta Pot, read the directions, manage my expectations, be realistic about what I can do and how long it will take, do all my prep work, actually FOLLOW the directions, and if the pressure gets high, I’m gonna do a slow release and not let it all out at once with a blast. I don’t want my paint to peel and I want to keep my environment in tact. 

And just like they spend hours every day thanking me for the dinners I cook, my family will  thank me for these lessons, as well. A girl can dream, can’t she? 

Coping with Corona: Nine Ways You Might be Succeeding or Struggling

A peek at how your Enneagram type might be leading the way in your thinking and believing with regard to this pandemic and what you might want to pay attention to in order to have more choice in how you respond.

I thought it might be nice to share the Enneagram perspective on coping with fear. To be clear, the Enneagram can be a fun tool; in the most basic of ways, it provides some validation of your experience and identifies places for people to connect. When used as a tool, your type can certainly help you to identify patterns of thinking and believing, but also provide a way to wake up and stop doing what you’ve always done. How are you doing? What have you found to be true about your patterns of behavior? Are they consistent with other times when you have felt fear or stress? We have them all in us, but are usually leaning pretty heavily into one type. I’d love to hear what you find for yourself!

If you are concerned with the rules and regulations, who is following them and who isn’t, you might be a type 1. Your work is to see the places your need for integrity starts to look like criticism (of yourself and others!). You don’t have to work so hard to make it all good, you and the universe are already exactly as you should be. 

If you are concerned with how everyone else is faring, who needs what, and how you can help, you might be a type 2. Your work is to ask yourself, “Is this mine to do?” Watch your own boundaries (burnout!) and notice your impact on those you are loving. You don’t need to prove anything. You already are the love you are trying to foster.

If you are concerned with doing all the right things, all that you think is expected of you, then you might be a type 3. You’ll try to be the best employee, the best parent, the best entrepreneur, the best coper-in-a-crisis and in so doing, you’ll have to recognize that in order to be this person, you also might be inauthentic in the process. Your work is to tap into the part of you who knows that you don’t have to bend over backwards to be valuable. You already are valuable. 

If you are concerned with showing the world that you are badass and don’t play by the rules, or that you can feel feelings like no one else, then you might be a type 4. Your work is to recognize all the beautiful things that make you uniquely you without having to effort them. You be you. You do you. Your inner beauty has never left you. 

If you are concerned with being the expert on the Coronavirus – having all the information (and usually just a step ahead of everyone else!), then you might be a type 5. Your work is to make sure to stay engaged with the world – with the reality of the world – and not withdraw into your mind so you can “think” about the virus and all of its complications. You already have the clarity you need. 

If you are concerned with keeping yourself safe and secure by finding “your people”, then you might be a type 6. Your work is to notice the factions that you are creating, the silos of people who enforce your sense of security or take away from it. You already are safe and secure. You know exactly what your next move should be without the input from all your friends and allies. Your inner guidance is always available to you. 

If you are concerned with making light of it all, finding the fun in it, at the expense of being real, you might be a type 7. You’ll try to help people see the good in it all, the bright side of things, and in so doing, might not see the suffering and the need others have to be heard. Your own pain might be a blind spot that you cope with by shopping or eating or some other thing (that you don’t even see as coping!). You don’t have to entertain, you are already the joy and freedom you are seeking.

If you are concerned with being invincible, powerful, and in charge, you might be a type 8. Your work is to see that your need to protect yourselves and others starts to look like bullying or aggression. Your work is to recognize your own vitality and strength that is there without having to create it. Your presence is enough. It is only by tapping into your own heart, letting down your defenses, and seeing others as connected with you that you will see that you have an important role to play and you already have everything you need to step into it without effort. You are the strength you are trying to create by “acting” strong.

If you are concerned with being easygoing, relaxed, and unaffected by this pandemic, you might be a type 9. You’ll be agreeable, disengage from the frenzy, maybe check out with TV or video games…or nap a lot. Your desire for peace might look like neglect, apathy, and/or disengagement from your family or the needs of your community. Your work is actually to recognize that your presence matters. Your efforts to remain conflict-free and decrease stress actually keep you from connecting with yourself (your body, your heart, your mind) and building community and connection with and among others which is what we all need right now. You already are the peace you are seeking and your job is to unite people by engaging with the world as you were born to do. 

Want to learn more? Reach out to me or follow my social media. Lots of opportunities to be in community with your folks without letting your personality get in the way! We’re in this together. Let’s show up for each other with our right minds, our full hearts, and all of our body intelligence. Presence will help us be on the right side of this time in history.

How a few simple comments on Facebook grounded me in my own truth about family finances.

The family came to visit me on a pit stop while I walked 60 miles over 3 days to raise money for breast cancer research.

I’m one of the women they were talking about. 

It was on social media. A post. No one meant anyone harm, especially the OP. Really, she posted about the frequency with which she sees women like me; I didn’t feel judged, or criticized. Nothing but mad respect.

But when I read it, I felt a zing that pushed me to check in with myself; I knew it was more about me than about her or her post.

Then the comments came.

I felt triggered (when we are triggered, we often don’t know its about us, but it ALWAYS. IS.). It was then that my inner critic said, “See? I told you so, dumbass.”

The comments were the ones we often see. Where the experience of the person posting must also be the experience of everyone else. Where they state to the OP with awe-like wonder, “Wait, that REALLY happens?”

You know the ones where people want to respond to the OP and make sure they aren’t like the women the OP is posting about (and a reminder, the OP was actually doing a service, not spilling the tea).

And this was about money.

One of the big three.

Sex. Kids. Money.

Trigger city.

So you can imagine the comments.

Assumptions about how if one partner doesn’t know the deets of the family financials, it must mean the other partner is intentionally keeping secrets and holding all the power in the relationship.

Or that her head is in the sand. Naive, maybe.

Finally, it might be about blind love and trust and the implication that blind love and trust in a marriage is unhealthy.

Maybe.

The truth is, for me, there is some truth to all of it. 

At one time or another, my husband has made decisions about the money and not told me.

Sometimes, I don’t ask about the details. In fact, for years, I didn’t ask much at all.

There were times when I figured that he was earning the money and it was easier to have him hold that bag in its entirety. Why slow things down with conversation?

And finally, I do love and trust him. That has not changed. It actually never occurred to me that there might be other reasons to do things differently.

That is all true.

And, that’s not the whole truth. 

There are other truths, as well. THERE ALWAYS ARE.

It’s also true that I had 4 kids in 6 years. I “suffered” the privilege of choice and lived for years with both feet in the world of a working mom and both feet in the world of an at-home mom. I had a total identity crisis and presented myself differently in different places. I don’t actually have four feet.

So my work mom worked a ton, and my at-home mom was with kids and volunteered and joined boards. Instead of choosing one identity, I held both. You would not find one friend or colleague who would describe me as disengaged. I didn’t give myself a break. It was exhausting. I learned so much from that. It, that part of me, eventually became my wake up call.

I did not know how to sit still. I had been working since I was in 6th grade; first as a babysitter, and then by 13, at a farm because I didn’t need a work permit to work on a farm.

As a mother of four, I was knee deep in bedtimes that lasted for hours because I was giving 4 kids 4 baths every night and, since that was my only time with each of them alone, was reading to them each 1:1 almost every single night. I was going to do it all right. And by right, I mean perfectly. Bedtime lasted for hours. And then they’d get up and crawl in with us. Or want us to crawl in with them. Literally hours.

There were several years when my husband traveled. They were really little then. I spent those nights alone with the kids and it was hard for me (I then came to love those times being alone with them, but hadn’t learned to love it at this time in my life). 

The difference was that if I happened to be away, everyone worried about him. They’d invite him and the kids for dinner, offer to babysit (I was never gone more than 2 nights, I think?)….when he traveled, it was radio silent. It was expected that I could manage it all. And the truth is, I gave everyone that impression. I looked like I had it all together. I have come to see this now, but I felt invisible to those people who made sure he, but not me, got help with the kids back then.

I had my girlfriends who took care of me and I, of them. We had dinners together, in and out, we never woke a sleeping child so if a play date was happening with an older child, one of us dropped off AND picked up so that the other didn’t have to risk messing up whatever semblance of a sleep schedule was possible at the time. 

We loved and cared for each other (and still do) and since we all felt like we were sort of hanging on by a thread, we wove those threads together and soon we were sharing a blanket. 

There were notes from daycare to read, hours of paperwork to do, and Italian language classes (why, yes, we were the only non-Italian family who showed up at the Italian school on Saturday mornings to learn the language and culture!) to take. Soccer, skating, skiing, music hour at the bagel place, cousin time, and yes, work. Remember? I still had two feet in and two feet out. I was loving every bit of my life so much that I couldn’t let an experience get by me. I wanted it all.

Lice and mono and Lyme disease and nutritionists. We’ve never had braces and we’ve never seen an allergist. Throw me a parade.

So, yes, not only did he control the money, but I begged him to keep it that way. 

He tried to get me to partner with him, but I. Had. No. Bandwidth. Left. 

Yes, he made decisions and didn’t include me because I was making decisions in every other area of our lives and for him to own this, I was so grateful. Decision-Fatigue is a thing, friends. For reals. 

I was earning money and had no idea how much I was earning; I didn’t care. I loved my work and was just grateful to be using my mind in a place where people thanked me for working my ass off.

They thanked me. I need to say it again. I felt appreciated and useful.

(Yes, it is a little weird that keeping 4 children alive didn’t make me feel useful).

Did having my “head-in-the-sand-naive-love-and-trust” mindset cost me something (pun intended)?

You betcha’. 

The four kids are grown and we are facing, literally, one million dollars in tuition costs within a 10 year period. Wrap your brain around that for me, will you? 

2017

Do I wish I paid more attention? Yup. Do I think I could have done better? Absolutely not. Like most other things, I would have approached it differently, but I am absolutely sure my mistakes would have been equally as impactful. 

Regardless, we were doing the best we could to keep our family functioning. I once dropped my youngest off at school, in my PJs, and the only words I could muster as she got out of the car, were, “Don’t get lice today,” while the principal held the door open for her to get out. 

Parenting at its finest, folks. 

And there is something else to all of this. I am blind to issues of self-preservation. If it even occurs to me at all, I procrastinate it. Food, money, time, order in the home….it’s not my thing. Really, none of it. 

Instead of knowing this (I learned this was actually a thing as I was approaching 50), I judged myself, felt less-than, and just saw myself as someone who couldn’t get out of their own way. I didn’t know that my instincts were different from those of you who are on top of your self-preservation needs.

My instincts lead with social organization. I lean in to groups, am comfortable with navigating the complexities of relationships, I can intuit social hierarchies, and who is likely to move towards, away, and against, others. I spent my time focusing on the social development of my children and keeping my own social needs met through heavy volunteering and community engagement. 

In fact, I can’t help it. It’s instinctive. It runs me. Maybe in the same way knowing the details of the money runs you. 

Look around. You’ll see. We are all run by something. Self-preservation, social, or intense experiences. We put one on top and will sacrifice everything else to get that need met. And we have no idea we are doing it. 

I sacrificed my self-preservation needs for the social needs of my children and myself. 

Ironically, I did this to self-preserve. It kept me alive. 

So before you judge that mom for not understanding the money, know that she has different instincts and different ways she’s leaning into her life. And she might not even know it.

Get curious about her.

Maybe even ask what she is honoring in her life? It may actually be more important to her. I guarantee you: if she is a mother, she’s not doing nothing.

Be gentle with her. She’s likely hard enough on herself for only being on top of 99.9% of her household and not that additional 1/10 of a percent. She holds herself to a standard to which no one else could hold her. While she is beating herself up for not meeting that standard, she is also beating herself up for not being more loving to herself.

Self-judgment is a place of familiarity for her. She knows things are hard and instead of just knowing that, acknowledging it, being with it, she is attaching herself to all kinds of stories about how it “should” be different. 

How SHE “should” be different. 

Is it important for her to know more about her personal finances? 

Is it important for her to partner with her partner and share the burden? Which might not even be a burden? Couldn’t it just be information? See how we create these stories? I just did, writing this. Caught me.

The answer is, “Maybe.”

Probably. 

But something would have to give, and imaging what that would be, what thing she’d leave to chance, is as daunting as having to think about her financial survival. Giving up an experience she wants to have or changing a habit might be terrifying to her. If she lets go of something, the whole blanket might fray and come unraveled.

She might come unraveled.

So stay curious about her.

Faith and trust

She’s probably busy being grateful for a husband who holds the bag for that ONE. THING.

Because it’s one thing she doesn’t have to hold the bag for.

So thank you for the comments. Yes, they triggered me, but they also forced me to look at those triggers and get curious about myself. They helped me to see that I was doing the best I could. That I had other things going on and I just didn’t know any better. And writing this helped me to see that there is not only one way to do things.

But there are better ways to do things. I trust that that that mom, like me, will do better when she knows better.

She’ll deal with the money when she is able. When she is willing. When she is desperate. 

Just like me. 

And she’ll be met with a kind, empathic, firm, yet gentle accountant who will know exactly what to say and how to help her. And she’ll learn. And she’ll do better. Because it will be the right time. The Universe is benevolent that way.