Life in Reverse

I’ve never been super orderly or systematic, but for years, filing papers seemed like the responsible thing to do. Before computers and the Internet, you needed hard copies of financial, health, and school records. Digital wasn’t an option. Sometimes the only convenient way to access a how-to lore was to keep a photocopy of it. As part of an office redo, I’ve been sorting, tossing, and shredding old paper files. Although some of what I saved makes sense, a lot of it is baffling. 

1972 – High school diploma from the pre-digital age when paper was the only valid proof.

1976  Where’s my college diploma? Good thing I don’t have to prove that anymore.

1979  Graduate school grade reports. Why?? And inexplicably, grade slips from three management classes my father took.

1978 – A photocopy of copyright information (pre-Internet). I suspect I hoped to publish something worthy of a copyright. 

1984-85 – Wedding catering quotes. I truly don’t know why I kept these. Maybe I thought the information would be helpful when my sister married. Years after our wedding, when I rediscovered the file, I kept it for its entertainment value: Miss Lucille’s Catering: hot buffet with two meats, one kind of potato, one vegetable, a salad, and dinner rolls for $4.75 per person. Plus $1.50 for china, silverware and linen service. Despite the reasonable prices, we went with another caterer, but I didn’t keep that!

1988 and 1991 – Proposals to work remotely after our sons were born. WAY before corporations were flexible with working mothers. I outlined a plan to return to full-time work after my maternity leave. I would work mornings at home and afternoons in the office for several months. I’m still surprised and grateful I got to do it. Twice.

1992 – Landscape plans for our old house. We haven’t lived there for 5+ years. Why’d I keep them? Maybe because I put a ton of sweat and love into those gardens, a passion that developed after our second son was born in 1991. Gardening was a creative outlet that didn’t require a babysitter.

1995  2006 – Vendor contracts and confidentiality agreements. I was in business from 1992 – 2010, but either companies didn’t require agreements or I quit saving them.

2005 – Records from breast biopsy #2 and #3 – stereotactic then excisional. I don’t know why I kept the details from this painful time. Maybe to remind myself how lucky I’d been?

2008 – Adjunct teaching contract from St. Thomas University’s Master of Business Communications program. One class, one semester: $4050. Even then, it wasn’t much money.

2013 – Yellowed copy of a Star Tribune review of an anthology in which I had an essay.

This ephemera maps some of what I thought was valuable, but I wasn’t saving the right stuff.

The real treasures are the snapshots from the 1920s and 1940s tucked in with some of my mother’s Medicare records. I also found four thin files of family history written by my parents, sister, and me. 

My grandma and grandpa. I’m guessing from their big smiles, he
was returning from WWI. On the porch is my great grandma, a woman I never met.

If only my file drawers held more of what’s precious—my parents’ belief in education. The hopeful start of my parents’ and grandparents’ loving marriages. Irreplaceable stories about immigrant ancestors. 

My parents’ wedding in 1944 during WWII–Aunt Corinne, Mom, Dad, Grandma & Grandpa
(also shown above).

A Larger Force

Healthy exercise respecting social distance in the neighborhood appeared difficult with a cluster of kids playing soccer, family groups stretching across walks and streets, dog walking people following the direction of their pets. We drove to the quiet side of a nature preserve where trails are seldom used on weekends. One car stood empty in the parking lot. Parents with a preschool child exited a different car.

We waited for them, but as shoe tying and other preparations continued we made our way to the trail map. The youngster, possibly unaware of social distancing, ran to join us and told her parents that she wanted to be lifted to read the map. Offering her their hands, they assured her they knew the way. We backed away as the child threw a hissy complete with screaming, stomping, and slapping. The right trail choice was any that would create space from the unhappy kid.

As grandparents we’ve learned about giving young children time to make wise choices instead of forcing action on them. Children of privilege are supported in making choices many times daily from choosing to wear clothes to daycare through patient questioning of resistance at bedtime twelve hours later. Family, friends, complete strangers, might be expected to wait while a child tests the limits or can’t choose. It takes a village after all.

Then comes COVID-19—no negotiations, no children making choices, no endangering strangers by ignoring social distance guidelines. The village has been forced into change.

From closed schools, to prohibited playgrounds that look the same as open playgrounds, to stores asking only one family member do household chores; parenting has pivoted in answer to the dual wham of pandemic and economic storms. Parental instincts to keep things normal for the kids are strained as jobs are lost, employers demand long work hours in the family’s home, distance learning replaces classrooms, and being homebound stretches. Hugs of grandparents, cousins and close friends disappeared with no known date of return. Parents have had little time to concentrate on adapting to new burdens, to problem solve, to explore their personal fears or worries.

Experts say our kids experience anxiety of this crisis just like adults. Some will lose a loved one or friend. The soundtrack of childhood has been interrupted to never play in quite the same way. COVID-19 is drawing new lines on the future maps of kids’ adulthood. Our six-year-old family member misses her classmates, her neighborhood friends, going places with her parents. She understands that the sickness means she can’t ride her bike with other kids, climb or swing at the park, be physically present with her friends. The sickness is beyond her parents’ control. She can make good decisions about a snack or activity, but bigger forces now set the limits beyond the front door.

Technology gives us time to talk, play games, be with family. A plate or two on the table and tiny faces on a screen may be how we celebrate this spring’s holiday and holy day traditions with those we love. Better than no connection, a card or a phone call. COVID-19 denies us the powerful comfort of each other’s warmth, smell, physical presence whether around the dining table, at a special event, at a hospital bedside. Some of us will stay healthy. Some of us will die in the company of strangers. No screaming, stomping or slapping can change what we have to keep doing. We will gather to celebrate or grieve in the future. God willing.

Stay home. Stay safe. Keep others safe. May your holy day traditions provide comfort.

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Lessons Learned on a Sick Day

She was up barfing at four. When I arrived hours later, she had pink cheeks, a kitty ears headband, and was play-ready. She assured me it wasn’t really being sick to barf, but pre-school wanted her to stay home. She was sad Mom wasn’t staying home, sad to miss her friends, but game for whatever Grandma brought to the day.

Lemon-lime soda was no longer needed. Water was fine. Munching many plain saltines and a cup of dry cereal made up for a missed breakfast. Within minutes we were on the sofa deep in a Brain Quest card deck working through sequencing challenges, adding, matching letters and words, talking about calendars and telling time on old-fashioned round clocks.

Those clocks sparked the first pronouncement of preschool wisdom. She thought I must have had a clock with numbers in a circle because I am old. I corrected that statement to older. She didn’t buy the change. A teenager had given me the same look when I asked if the general store in a small town carried watches.

With interest in Brain Quest waning, I suggested we start an art project. She turned down the idea because she said she loved to learn things. There wasn’t anything better she could have said if she hadn’t finished with a sympathetic sigh before sharing that it was sad that old people couldn’t learn stuff. That’s not true I replied and told her about a friend who learned another language to work with immigrants, another friend attending university classes, my own tap-dancing studies. She frowned and said maybe I had special friends. That I do.

Even at her age I couldn’t do backward summersaults, so she had me at that, but I didn’t expect to frighten her when I got down on the floor to do a plank next to her. Old people could get hurt doing planks she said. I replied anybody could get hurt doing planks, but we were both strong because we could hold a plank for almost a minute. Then I sat back to watch her attempt head stands and intricate twirls.

We rounded out the day with dressing the cat, coloring paper dolls, and baking a chocolate cake. She looked tired, but happy. Her mother looked tired after an important work day. And grandma drove home, happily tired out after an unexpected play day.

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