Everything I needed to know about surviving quarantine, I learned from watching Little House on the Prairie

It has now been a good decade since I watched an episode of the World’s Best TV Series. But from my memory, Walnut Grove had a few good brushes with epidemics, drought, pestilence, and other scary shit. Like bandits, and nitroglycerine. I mean, the prairie is always trying to kill you, so you’ve got to be on your toes. When things get dicey, I always fall back on my Little House education for keeping things together in a time of crisis. Now I’m sharing those time-honored tactics with you.

Get the sod house ready. In other words, get you a PLAN. If Pa got sick, you know he was prepared to sweat it out alone in the sod house to protect his family. We decided that if someone in this house gets sick, they go straight to the sod house (master bedroom) where, only the designated caregiver (me) is allowed to drop food and brief messages of comfort while covered head to toe in garbage bags. If it’s me who gets sick, well, I’m screwed. I’ll have to live off that bottle of Tums on my dresser. Like Ma taking a hot knife to her infected leg, I’ll do what I have to do.

Put some stuff away in the root cellar. When things took a serious turn, I bought one extra of everyday necessities and stuck them in the freezer in the garage. It seems like something Ma would have done. You know, put away some flour in the event the crickets come this spring. Or in our case, a loaf of Mrs. Baird’s, some whole milk, and those no-sugar-added popsicles I like to eat while bingeing Netflix right before bed. I also made extra dinner a few nights in a row and froze the leftovers for when things really get bad. At least I know if I fall ill, my two year old will still be throwing perfectly healthy lentil soup on the floor in a tantrum over god knows what.

Nextdoor.com is the Mrs. Oleson of the Internet. Do not engage with that old bag. Nope, not even to set her straight. You see her coming your way from down the road, you fake an errand at the blacksmith. DO WHAT YOU MUST.

Take care of your neighbors. I’d like to think it doesn’t take a catastrophic event for me to be a good neighbor. But in times like these, it’s just as important that your neighbor has spinach for their smoothies as it is for you to have your morning banana, so before you do that provision run, you might want to check in next door. VIA TEXT. DON’T BE CRAZY.

Dirt and sticks make great toys. This is a great opportunity to teach your kids about gratitude. In the absence of outside entertainment, we’re teaching our kids to make do. You know, with a house full of toys, technology, and endless attention from their parents. Hard knock life, right? I will say I was rather proud when we explained that parks are a no-go right now, my kid, ON HIS OWN, acknowledged that he is lucky to have a playground in his  backyard. He still throws an epic fit when I won’t buy yet another season of Paw Patrol the Plots Just Get Stupider, but we’re getting there.

Brush your hair 100 times before going to bed. Okay, this has nothing to do with our current predicament, but it’s really great for your scalp and let’s be honest, what else are you doing?

imposter

I spent much of the holidays ghost-writing a memoir in a mad, mad rush to meet an unreasonable deadline. Three weeks was all I had to produce a book proposal with three finished chapters. It was totally crazy, but I did it. After the new year, we sent out queries (wrote those, too) and within a week, we had no fewer than nine literary agents request the book proposal. Four of those then requested the full manuscript. Days later, three were vying for exclusives.

One agent, in particular, lathered on the praise. Part of me couldn’t help but question not only the sincerity but the sustainability of her enthusiasm. But the praise wasn’t for me, of course. It was for the author because, don’t forget, I was only a ghost. The agent predicted cash advances far beyond the modest amounts other had told him to expect, and with a first-choice publisher. But—there was a catch—he had to get rid of me. No publisher was going to advance $100,000 to an unknown writer using an unknown and unproven ghostwriter. After months of promising he’d fight for me (this was as much for my career as it was for him, he said), in the end, all it took was someone talking sweet to him and offering shiny, pretty promises. He couldn’t even pretend to be burdened by the decision. It was his only choice! I mean, except for the other agents willing to give it a go with no strings attached.

It’s fucking eating at me. Not so much his lack of loyalty—I can’t be surprised by that, not really. Disappointed, angry, and betrayed, yes, but not surprised. When you write someone’s life story, you can see them far, far more clearly than you even see yourself. What kills me is that fifteen years ago, I had agents inviting me to lunches or coffee, sending me pretty little promises of my own, and for no particular project at all. My name was what they wanted. My audience. My voice. This Fish. I was the opposite of unknown and unproven.

And now I’m an imposter.

I want to scream until I am hoarse. The amount of time and emotion I invested in writing, mentoring, and managing (for the love of god, no, you cannot TEXT a literary agent) also came with a fulfillment absent from my duties as a stay-at-home parent. And now that’s gone, too. And its absence feels so heavy, I just want to crawl back into bed and stay there. But up I stay because there are noses, bottoms, and countertops to wipe. And that, I’m qualified to do.

hold, please

Yikes. I haven’t updated WordPress in about a hundred years so it’s being glitchy.

helping hands

UntitledToday, Charlie and I spent an inordinately long time (he’s helping, see? Such a helper) converting his crib into a toddler bed.

About five hours too late.

Aside from trying to chew his cast off like a wild animal, he’s acting like nothing happened. Pretty sure I’m more traumatized than he is about the whole thing (though, I thought we were gonna need a tranq gun in the ER. He was not pleased about being there). And from what I’ve seen of my fearless little boy, this is just the first of many visits to the ER. Okay, second. We’ve been there before so he could get a feeding tube. Same room. Lots of crying. Only this time, his mom held it together.

a mom by any other name

“I’ve come to understand that a mother is not a person, but a service,” I said.

Her eyebrows raised slightly, but she said nothing, so I continued to explain how in all of my encounters since Charlie’s birth, I have been stripped of my personhood and re-summed up in a single syllable: Mom. At the store. Our pediatrician’s office. Even my husband now calls me “Mom” in Charlie’s company. In the months since my since my son came into this world, I’ve felt like I was slowly disappearing from it – dissolving day by day, partly because of the isolation of the stay-at-home role and partly from the very real truth that I am no longer the person I used to be.

I spilled my guts, all the while fearing that I was alienating a new friend I’d made at library story hour. Our children were playing together in the backyard splash pad while we gnawed at pretzels under the patio umbrella. My friend was quiet for a moment and I knew I’d done it. We were so different already (she, a pastor’s wife and me, a… well, whatever I am), I feared I’d driven a giant, neurotic wedge between us.

But then she said, “I never thought of it that way. I guess it’s easier sometimes to socialize through our kids – less chance of rejection, maybe. But I am going to try to be better about that.”

There’s this feeling of relief at being understood suddenly, after ages of shouting into the darkness, that’s so overwhelming it actually feels like grief. I do so much of that – screaming inside my own head – and all that ever comes out is a sigh, to which my husband will say, “What can I do for you?” He means well. He loves me. But he doesn’t understand because he can’t. Everything he had before Charlie was born, he has now. The same social structure. The same career. The same face, hair and pelvic floor. He gets to sneeze without peeing and when he leaves for the day, everyone he meets will assume he has a name. And they’ll call him by it.

But she understood, even if only a little. And I wanted to cry when she closed that gap between us.

I wonder sometimes if my expectations are off. I mean, I know our postal carrier’s name. It’s Paul. It has never seemed extraordinary to know that. To say, “Thanks, Paul!” when I see him on the porch. Yet, my own name gets lost so easily in the parental shuffle. I know it’s there on the chart at the pediatrician’s office, right next to Charlie’s name. No one has to memorize my face and put it together with my name in order to make me feel like a human. They just have to read it. And still, every visit begins, “Mom, can you get him undressed to a diaper?” Even when we lived in the hospital for a month, Charlie and I, the nurses, the doctors, the techs, the therapists – they all had names. I knew them. I used them. But I was always Mom.

When Charlie was born, I was so enamored of him and so thrilled to be a mother – his mother – that naturally I didn’t fight it. Instead, I basked in it. Mom. Mom. Mommy. Twenty months later, I feel completely lost in it, struggling for reasons to *not* wipe banana on my pant leg (who’s gonna see? or care?) or even to brush my teeth some days (what’s the point?).

When I finally told my husband I no longer felt like a person anymore, he seemed angry at first, but I think that’s the initial response to anything he can’t fix. We decided that it was time to end my stint as a stay-at-home mom – something I hadn’t felt like I could give myself permission to do. I was miserable. Dying one small death after another. But my son was so happy and clever and thriving that putting him in day care had always seemed unnecessarily punitive. After all, it’s not his fault that it’s not enough for me. That I don’t love this the way so many other women I know seem to. My sisters. The countless mothers on my Facebook feed, who caption photos of their days at home with, “I love my job!” I love my son in such a deep, wonderful, frustrating and all-consuming way. But I do not love being at home. Admitting that last bit has been enormously difficult. But there it is. Out there.

So a few days ago, Charlie and I took a tour of an early education center we’re considering with the end goal that I can re-enter the workforce, and perhaps, reclaim a little of myself before it’s too late. It’s a nice enough place, if perhaps, a little too structured for my liking. We arrived a few minutes late and made our cheerful introductions with the center’s associate director. I was Heather. This was Charlie. She cooed over him appropriately and then we got down to business. Before we began the tour, she offered to put my belongings behind the counter.

“Here, Mom. Let me take your bag for you.”

“My name is Heather.”

She smiled and blinked. Did I make her uncomfortable? If I did, it didn’t register. And I didn’t care. I was taking back my name and I had to start somewhere.