I am lying (or laying…man I still never know which is right)…anyway, I am out in my yard on my back under the sun looking up at the all the blue in the sky while on top of a Target Rainbow Blobz. What’s a Target Rainbow Blobz you ask? It’s basically an outdoor water bed. You can hook a hose up to it and it sprays water as well, becoming more like a Slip n Slide. But for now it is dry and if you leave it be and just take a spot on it, the water inside the plastic has been warmed by the sun and feels good to the touch, and it sways and moves and rocks you as you stare up into the sunny blue sky trying to forget about the invisible virus trying to kill us all in that same exact sky. But I digress.
I got it for the kids. Since lockdown, I keep getting things for the kids (and for me if I am honest – a hammock, a swing seat, a sprinkler system for the trampoline, water balloons, peanut butter oreos – yes, they exist) to make being home more than just manageable or bearable, but perhaps even magical. It seems silly to aim for happy memories during a global pandemic, but memory is strange and if we can survive this, maybe this time will be imprinted on my sons as that time when Mommy and Daddy threw out all the rules and just played.
As The Rainbow Blobz ebbs and flows beneath me, I am weirdly calm, comfortable in my own skin. This is odd as I know danger lurks in tiny droplets I can’t see. This is also odd as I am the heaviest I have ever been in my life (thanks peanut butter Oreo cookies) and I have been fiddling with my hair color and have landed somewhere on pinkish orange. That hadn’t been the plan. Lady Gaga/Gwen Stefani pastel pink had been my desired outcome. I am brunette. There was some late night bleaching and then multiple attempts with different reds and then, this. Rainbow Blobz, basically. But oh well, it’s just hair. Pandemic Hair Don’t Care I post on facebook as I document my hair adventures.
“You’re so brave,” someone comments. And I am not really sure how being bored enough to ruin your hair is brave, but it reminds me how doing anything out of the box is noticed. And I am trying to manage how I feel about being noticed.
My husband joins me on the Rainbow Blobz and stares into the sky.
I rehash a story he has heard before, but it is what is flashing in my mind as we lay there, about a young beautiful woman I saw in a restaurant bathroom once. She didn’t really notice me as I shared the sink with her. The invisible woman of middle age and yet as I watched her primp and gussy up, I felt so sorry for her despite her beauty. Her insecurity hung in the air and I knew that feeling and I knew that girl. I was that girl. “I like me like this now more,” I say to him. Nothing to prove.
“I wish I hadn’t stumbled and struggled so long to just find my way to being comfortable with being who I am.”
The birds chirp. Our trees are tall enough that we can’t see any neighbors. We can’t visit with them anyway, so it seems fitting. We have taken this seriously and have been home since March. My son’s close friend from school has just moved in to the house next door. A truly wonderful, Americana, Leave it to Beaver, kind of childhood experience. Maybe we’ll cut a door thru the fence for them I joked when I first heard they were looking at the house, but for now my son won’t acknowledge it or him. He won’t venture beyond our yard. He won’t text or call or FaceTime or Zoom. He is here. With us. To think of friends and school and others seems to be just a bit too much for him and he doesn’t have the words to explain that reaching out to friends or seeing his previous life makes him sad, so he just declines all opportunities to connect with anyone but us and his brother and our dogs. And Fortnite.
And so, I aim for magical. And throwing out the rules.
I had already started to question some societal rules that we live by before society’s rule book changed as we all went inside. There is no handbook for this. We had a road map for civilized living and it does not apply now. That map had been leading me astray anyway. I have always been rather traditional when it comes down to it. A good girl who aways aimed to be included. I wanted nothing more than to fit it when younger. When The Preppy Handbook came out I dragged my mother to the store and purchased several bright polo shirts and wore them together (collars up!) just as the book and the older girls in my school instructed. But I never could pull it off, and it kept changing. Whatever fashion I ever attempt, my true self of being frugal or the need to be comfy pokes thru. I’m a jeans, sweatshirt, and Birkenstocks kinda gal. And now as I approach 50 I am okay with that. I am okay with having my hair be a disaster or not being a size 2 anymore. I am okay with who I am and breaking the rules I had always held so dear. I had been struggling with the should and should nots of life for awhile. To my utter surprise, I was intrigued by homeschooling and even unschooling before everyone else started to examine it because we were all thrust into remote learning. And as back to school approaches, let’s at least acknowledge they are absolutely not the same thing.
Ta-Nehisi Coates says it better than I in Between The World and Me, “The pursuit of knowing was freedom to me, the right to declare your own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests. The library was open, unending, free. Slowly, I was discovering myself.”
Like, why school? Don’t get me wrong, I love the classroom. I have a Masters Degree. I went back to school a couple years ago to get a Post Masters teaching certificate. But school isn’t for everyone (I have learned that by witnessing my sons and their experience) and school is different than learning. Trying to recreate school at home for my sons, one of whom can’t bear to even think of his friends or his school work without shutting down, and the other who if he never stepped foot in a school again would be quite happy, has shown me that sprinklers, and dogs, and staying up late watching Marvel movies and reading books about poop and being silly are what’s on the menu. (So I read a book about poop to my son instead of his assigned reading and ya know what? We both ended up learning that a single fart was the cause of the biggest battle in Roman History. Take that traditional school. Guess who will always remember that little factoid?)
This current timeline we are living in blows, but quarantine has freed me up to ditch some societal norms that I had already been questioning. Why can’t I aim to create a magical time for me and my family? So my hair turned orange. So my pants don’t fit. So my yard is packed with a lot of hit or miss internet purchases. So my kids didn’t really do their school work and who knows what this coming school year will look like. That’s the one I struggle with the most. My good girl nature is at odds with what their Mama Bear knows they need now. They are home. They are safe, and not all families can say that either because of disease, unemployment, or systemic racism. I don’t take our safety for granted. Perhaps they are learning the life lesson to question societal expectations earlier than I did. If I dye my hair and I look silly, I can change it. If we want to learn about the Hero’s Journey thru Iron Man or if we prefer Homer Simpson over Homer’s The Odyssey, so be it.
Sometimes our foundations can be wobbly, they can ebb and flow. Perhaps I can show my children that weakness, or rather differences, can be strengths. If I stumble, whatever.
About the Author
Rachel Zients Schinderman’s work has been published in The LA Times, The Los Angeles Jewish Journal, The Manifest Station, and The Nervous Breakdown to name a few. Her parenting column “Mommie Brain” ran in The Santa Monica Daily Press for two years. She was raised in New York City and currently lives in Culver City, CA with her two sons, two dogs, two fish, and one husband. She is working on a memoir. Follow Rachel on Twitter and read more at mommiebrain.com or rachelschinderman.com