Today Bae got fixated on a groundhog who has taken residence under our deck. Although I haven’t seen more than one, Bae is convinced that there are more, a whole family. She was so tickled that she took several pictures and posted them on FB. She’s also convinced that is is a female and she is taking respite from her children. The most tickling of her pictures was the one of the groundhog laying slumped on one of our rolled up deck mats, just chilling! I have to agree that image was cute.

Today I thought I’d like something to distract me like this. A friend of mine once told me that each person just wants to have their “bird-in-a-tree” acknowledged. Basically saying that each one of us will have a moment(s) which might seem utterly silly or foolish or a plain waste of time, but a moment nonetheless that when we share with our partner or loved one, should elicit a true act of love and generosity. Instead of dismissing us or laughing at us, they would offer us their attention. They would indulge us, join us and be entertained, if only for a little while. I have taken that advice to heart and try as much as possible to indulge Bae in her “bird-in-a-tree” moments as I’m sure she would do for me if I was to find that illusive distraction.

It is illusive for me because I was discouraged from sharing my thoughts so certainly information my partner deemed useless always got me mocked or ridiculed so I learned to keep my thoughts or “frivolous” insights to myself. Being with her allows me the freedom to see and acknowledge all my birds and I work hard to do the same for her. There is a sense of freedom and utter abandon that comes with knowing that someone you love will join you in acknowledging the silliest or most mundane of your bird moments. Pre-COVID, I lived like this. I paused to smell the proverbial roses. I was/am in love with the most amazing woman I have met and she wows me each day with the limitless love (except when she won’t let me have her drumstick skin) she can shower on me.

These days I wonder how many birds in a tree we notice, and allow others in our lives to do the same. There is so much doomscrolling, to borrow a phrase from my friend LH. There is so much uncertainty about what our future holds that we may not be stopping long enough to see the birds or smell the roses. We may be plowing ahead, adjusted to the new normal and hanging on for dear life, perhaps hoping the new normal will stay the same through the end of the week or better yet, our old normal will return by wishing long and hard enough.

Those of us told to “operate business as usual,” are having to carve out time to find our own birds, or at best acknowledge our partners’ birds. Pre-COVID, I had some evening events, sometimes a few nights a week even. During COVID, I spend less evening time at work, but it seems from the time I settle in at the desk, it’s go go go until that last zoom ends at 6. I am finding that I physically need to control alt delete enter to make myself go for a walk around the block. My office was a no definitive lunch break  eat at your desk kind of office, and when I first started, I felt awkward being the only one who actually shut my door or went away for an hour. Although now I don’t have to shut a door to make sure I get in my hour break, I find that I am having to try harder to take that break. To walk away, to not schedule zooms back to back, to leaving zooms that are voluntary a little early to have a breather. Being on a computer with no random meandering conversation started by a student who just decided to pop in, means I run the risk of just sitting still for 8 to 10 hours. I’m having to try harder because I wonder if folks are logging how many hours I’m on the work computer. I wonder if folks are measuring my dedication by how quickly I turn around a project or respond to a late night email. Or maybe by the number of likes or engagements on my Canva produced flier that I posted on FB. How many minutes should I stay on zoom each time I have an Open House and no one shows? Are students feeling supported enough? Are they seeing us staff as doing our best with our circumstances? Not knowing the criteria I am being judged by makes it more difficult to walk away from my computer.

There are two camps of people during this pandemic: those who are killing it and discovering talents, learning new languages, and losing pounds, then there are those of us who are exhausted by the end of the day so all we can do is make dinner and crash on the couch to watch bad TV. Does that make me a terrible person for not seizing this opportunity while home and for not squeezing whatever amounts of time I can when I am not zooming with staff or students? I am plagued by stress of a different kind. Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much?

One of my students was brutally honest with me the other day. He said my school is annoying with all its many emails, all these zoom calls they want the students to attend to make believe they can recreate that on-campus feeling. No one is reaching out individually to see if they have food to eat, electricity in the house, a sick family member, or a guardian who had just lost their job. Instead the school is advertising “events” via Zoom where you get your own food and join your classmates to “hang out.” The zoom backgrounds don’t work on my computer so expletive if I’m going to join in and let everyone see the hovel I’m squatting in.

I know the news every now and then mentions that the already vulnerable among us are still vulnerable during this pandemic and in most cases, more so. Nothing has changed for them. They are still vulnerable. Inviting them to Zoom outside of class seems like we are bent on keeping things light thus causing an erasure, happening to the same people we have always talked about, but done nothing to help or make changes.

I count my blessings, and name my privilege everyday because I am very aware of the gift that it is. I haven’t lost my job. I have an apartment. My bills are paid on time and I have food whenever I’d like. I can’t discount the fact that I work from home, and unless I interact too closely with strangers or have bad juju, I’m relatively safe. But in all my privilege I notice all the people I interact with who seemed essential but who no longer have their jobs, like my aesthetician, Sabithra. I regret not tipping her a little extra the day I saw her last. I am privileged that besides not driving to work and having to don a mask, not much has changed in how I conduct my affairs.

For those who have been productive with their COVID quarantine and have achieved some product(s) to showcase, I wish them well. For the rest of us who are managing our relationships, our remote jobs, and feeding and clothing ourselves even when our mental health would rather we lay in bed all day, kudos to you.

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