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Gretchen Younghans


It’s about how you’d expect it to be on lockdown with three boys. I vacillate between savoring time with the boys and rumination.  

When I’m in on-it mom mode, we bake delicious things in our Berlin house’s antique Fourneau Delaubrac, we frolic with our dog (like in a dog food commercial) through our leafy burb with technicolor flowers in bloom everywhere. I made a schedule, imposed a screen plan: mutiny. I carefully gather the boys’ weekly work and enter their Zooms in our Google calendar. I spend days staring red-eyed at my students’ work on my computer, and I squint at them in their tiny squares on Zoom. I Tolstoy Together: even audio War and Peace to listen on a run! John and I make it work, all this endless time together as a family. We make it look like a dog food commercial.

But then I slump over to the petty dark side. I get edgy when the boys resist work and obsess on screen time. I become resentful: how to grade these essays without staying up all night, and why my dinner duty, and why is my family still in pyjamas, and why is our house still a mess when everyone on Facebook seems to be in cleaning marathons?

Then lockdown nap tunnel vision. Oh! To burrow in bed and hide from the essays, screens, Zooms, staleness, dog hair dust bunnies, snacks beckoning, wine beckoning, kids whining, pollen allergies from all of those goddamn incredible flowers everywhere, chocolate beckoning, all the half-read books.  It’s a slippery social isolation slope.

Enter a rumination stimulator that c-19 living kicks into overdrive: The Too List. I have other mental sinkhole lists, like The Most Horrible Things in the World List, The Things I Am Most Scared Of Happening to My Loved Ones List, or The Things I, At Age 43, Still Suck At List. To illustrate, I will use a particularly selfish List as an example of pandemic anxiety looking for a home. I crawl into bed, relieved for nap time, read, doze. Then The Too List pops into my mind: Too unmotivated, too uninspired, too uncreative, too affected, too tenderhearted, too lazy, too obsessive, too awkward, too obtuse, too much a pushover, too complacent, too unhappy, too ungrateful, too unaware, too distracted, too slow, too introverted, too insecure, too much an avoider, too messy, too busy with the Too List to remember that people are dying in a pandemic, and what do I have to complain about? What do I have to suffer? My family is healthy and in Germany with Merkel at the helm!

When I get mired in the Too List, I try to remember the kind of things someone lacking empathy but full of all you lack says to you when you’re in a depressive hole: There are people dying in wars! Famine! People living in real physical pain! People who have only known violence! People who are subjected to unthinkable abuse. The earth is dying! Birds full of plastic, dead on a beach! Wild animals shot for sport! Countries living under oppressive authoritarian dictatorship! People are on ventilators, people are alone in the hospital, people having to leave this world early while their loved ones are kept away. People are so scared.

You can see how this rabbit hole works. I try to manage my neurotic proclivities in these especially fertile times. I try to take a breath. I try to turn off The Too List and all of my other Lists. I try to remember that ramped-up anxiety and dread are natural symptoms of these times. I turn off the screens and take care of my red, tired eyes. I eat some chocolate and drink some wine. I ride my bike or run. I say sorry to my kids and husband. I tell my students it’s okay if they turn it in late or not at all. I continue on the Star Wars movie marathon with my boys. We wash our hands, we hug. We put on our masks. We keep on.

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