Why do I worry? Because I have to do it for everyone.

We went back to work yesterday, Jack and I. No more vacation days. No more waking up without an alarm. No more over-indulging in Netflix or sneaking a few more leftover Christmas cookies out of sheer boredom.

Thanks to a tracking error on his employer’s part, Jack was informed in mid-December that he had fifty-some hours of vacation time to use (or lose) before the end of the year that shall not be named. (A coworker introduced me to that label today and it made me laugh out loud, so I am using it henceforth!) So my hubby had been at home for the last two weeks without anything particularly pressing to do. Twenty-four hours a day. Seven days a week. Not that I was keeping tabs or anything. Near the end of his vacay, he said he was looking forward to going back to work this week. I said I was glad he was going back to work too. (I’m kidding. A little bit.) I also was looking forward to returning to my work. Having time off during a pandemic just isn’t that fun.

Alarm clocks sounded yesterday morning. We got up before the sun. Off we went to work. Well, off Jack went to work. Off I went to the family room in our lower level which continues to serve as my office until we tackle some projects which will allow me to convert a spare bedroom into a better workspace. I can’t do that right now since there is a new bathroom vanity taking up a large chunk of space in the bedroom. So first, bathroom remodel. Then bedroom remodel and new office space. Soonish, I hope.

It felt good to be back in the swing of things at work, using my brain for something more stimulating than watching the Hallmark Channel. Not that I’m knocking the Hallmark Channel. I got totally sucked into the non-stop holiday flicks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. After I decided to boycott watching any channel cycling non-stop news of COVID and politics, hatred and violence, the Hallmark channel saved my sanity. I could pretend the country wasn’t spiraling out of control and just get lost in beautiful people who live in quaint, cozy small towns where nobody ever really seems to work, and everyone is filled the Christmas spirit all the time, and love always wins in the end. Sigh! Funny thing about Christmas movies though. Even though Hallmark offers them … What? Year round I think? They’re not nearly as charming and actually feel a lot cheesier when it’s no longer the Christmas season. Besides, I was beginning to see reruns. And after the New Year’s Eve celebration that wasn’t, going back to work sounded awfully inviting.

So there I was yesterday morning, about three hours into my work day and participating in a Teams meeting when I heard the front door open. Thinking that was very odd, I heard footsteps come down the stairs and suddenly there was Jack. He looked wretched. I muted my microphone momentarily and leaned away from my web cam. Without me having to ask, he muttered, “I don’t know what’s wrong. I’m going to bed.”

I could feel the blood drain from my face because of course, I instantly assumed COVID, which where Jack is concerned, scares me to death. With his autoimmunity and some other health issues of late, I really worry about how he would manage if he got the virus. But of course, I was stuck on my meeting for a few more minutes and couldn’t drill him with questions at that exact moment. After he walked out of the room, I tried to continue to pay attention to the topic at hand. And by the time the meeting ended not long after, Jack was sound asleep in bed and stayed that way for hours. Around mid-afternoon he resurfaced from the bedroom and said he felt a little better. I asked what had been wrong. What he described certainly didn’t point to COVID, but definitely didn’t ease my mind. He used words like “dizzy,” “light headed,” and “nauseous.” Also, there was “short of breath” and “felt like I was having a heart attack.”

“A heart attack? And you drove yourself home?” I asked incredulously.

“Well, I sat for about an hour at work until the worst of it passed and when I felt a little better, I figured I could drive home,” he replied.

“Maybe it was a panic attack,” I suggested. I’ve heard people say they thought they were having a heart attack and it turned out to be anxiety, although even as I was saying it I was thinking that would be much more likely to happen to me, not Jack.

“You had two weeks away from work and maybe you were worried about catching up on things.”

He really didn’t think it was anxiety and said he figured he just had the stomach flu. But I insisted that the heart attack feelings didn’t jive with a stomach bug and he shouldn’t have driven home afterwards. I have about sixteen jillion hours of PTO and could easily have come get him. Also, now that I think about it, there’s an emergency squad where he works, trained First Responders. Maybe he might have called on them? Maybe? And also, feeling like he was having a heart attack warranted a call to the doctor. “Now,” I said.

He brushed me off, saying he felt better now.

“I don’t,” I said. “Call the doctor.”

“They’re wrapping up their day by now. I’ll call tomorrow.”

“It’s 3:15. They’re not wrapping up. If you’re feeling better in the morning, you’ll go to work again and you’ll forget to call. Do it now and at minimum, you can leave a message asking for a call back.”

“I don’t have a card with the phone number.”

The excuses with this man!!!

“There’s this thing called Google,” I deadpanned. “Helps you find all kinds of information.”

I insisted that particularly with his health issues, he shouldn’t mess around and should at least check in with a professional to see if we should be more concerned, or maybe go to a hospital. He finally acquiesced and called his specialist’s office, actually reaching a live person and getting put directly through to a nurse. (Go figure!) She drilled him with questions and when she didn’t insist he head to the E.R. I felt a bit better.

Later on, Jack ate dinner, watched television, and slept through the night without incident. He went back to work today, put in an entire day, and lived to tell about it. His specialist’s dedicated nurse also called today and eased my mind even further. She said the doctor didn’t feel his incident was related to his health issues or current medications. It might have just been a fluke thing, a virus, stomach bug. Who knows? And if he continues to experience the same symptoms, he should GO SEE HIS PRIMARY DOCTOR. (Imagine that!)

Seeing as how Jack is feeling back to his normal self today, I guess we are going to let this go. But this sure put a damper on that whole not-worrying thing!

A Winter Night’s Walk

Today was my last day of work for the year and it ended with me feeling like I could crawl out of my own skin. It was probably an inevitable occurrence after ten months of (and now permanently) working at home, when leaving work merely means shutting down the computer and walking upstairs to the kitchen to make dinner. Also, Christmas is over and it’s all of a sudden too quiet. The evening routine has become painfully, well … routine. I shouldn’t complain, I know. I don’t need to be reminded how fortunate I really am. I think tonight’s mood is just courtesy of 2020. I’m actually surprised it took this long.

A winter storm has been playing out since early afternoon. I paced around the house after reheating some leftovers for dinner. I stopped at a window several times to stare out into the darkness and watch the snow showering down from above. Jack asked what was wrong, twice. I told him I was bored, twice. I hated that I sounded like a spoiled child. It’s not as if I couldn’t find something to read, or tackle some project. I just was at odds with myself. He asked if I wanted to go shopping and offered to drive me.

“I don’t want to spend money just to cure my boredom,” I moped. “Bad idea.”

“Go outside and shovel,” he suggested.

You go outside and shovel,” I mimicked under my breath. Of course he would suggest that. I was mildly irritated because much as I hate to admit we’re still this old-school, the outdoor jobs are, by default, his responsibility. Since he doesn’t contribute much inside the house, those kinds of jobs fall on me. Also, it seemed kind of pointless to go out and shovel the driveway when there’s a perfectly good, new-just-last-year snow blower sitting in the garage that I know he’ll be just dying to fire up tomorrow.

I had to admit Jack was onto something though, since I soon found myself shoving feet into boots and digging in the closet for a hat and scarf. I’d gone out for my lunchtime walk earlier today, as usual, but I still needed to burn off some steam.

So I layered up in all my outdoor clothing and went out to shovel the driveway and front walk. By the time I was done, there was already a new layer of snow covering it all up again, so I ran my shovel back and forth again, which was clearly proving to be a futile effort and which hadn’t produced the desired effect on my psyche anyway. I poked my head inside the door and called out to Jack that I was going for a walk.

His face appeared in the stairway from the lower level. “Are you okay?”

“Yes… No… I just need to get out for a while.”

“Okay,” he said a bit warily as I closed the door behind me. And I trudged off.

I love the path that runs behind our house. On nicer days, I can follow its entire loop (about five miles) and arrive right back at home. Tonight, in the dark, with the snow falling steadily and my feet kicking up a poof of fresh powder with each stride, it was enough to walk up the hill, across the bridge and then turn around to come back again.

It felt so good to be out of the house, away from the same old walls and the constant sound of a television. I took long, purposeful strides and filled my lungs with the wintry air, hoping to replace the stale feeling inside of me with something cleaner and lighter. The blanket of white on the ground muffled the sounds of cars as they drove by, but magnified the steady note of a train whistle. At the house next to the farm, someone was driving a four-wheeler around the yard and pulling a chain of strung-together sleds filled with kids. The kid in the caboose waved at me as I walked by. That made me smile. I waved back and felt a little better.

Christmas lights still adorned trees and twinkled outside many of the neighborhood houses. Chunky snowflakes pelted my cheeks as I kept moving ahead. I crossed paths with a guy sporting a full, black beard turned white with snow, but otherwise had the path to myself. The tops of my boots filled with snow and the lower half of my jeans got wet, but I didn’t care. Whatever it was that had been churning around inside me was finally gone by the time I came back home.

Jack looked relieved when I came back through the door.

“Better?” He asked.

“Better.” I said. Much better.

Lessons Learned in 2020

It’s December 23rd and I took the day off from work. I’m looking forward to a nice five-day weekend. In a year that has forced us to be chill, I find myself facing the holidays with an unusually relaxed state of mind. Our normal extended family gatherings aren’t happening this year and we’ll be celebrating in a much more low-key way. Our three kids and their significant others will be with us for Christmas Eve dinner and presents. At least that’s the plan. I just caught the weather forecast and it sounds like our so-far brown December is coming to an end today with anywhere from five to nine inches of snow expected to fall before morning. I just pray the roads are clear enough for the kids to get here safely tomorrow afternoon. If not? Well it won’t be the first holiday we spend apart this year. But I really, really want to be with my kids this Christmas and I’m not sure I’ll handle it so well if things don’t work out. I know I really have nothing to complain about though, and I’ll do my best to handle whatever may transpire without feeling too sorry for myself.

Still, while I wait to put this year in the rearview mirror, I’m reminded – not for the first time – that I have it pretty good. And I keep thinking that this time is meant to be teaching us something, leading us somewhere better. As I face a not-so-normal Christmas, I realize I’m not that upset about it. How many years have I caved to the pressure of pulling off the perfect holiday only to lose sleep and stress out to the point that I end up ruining it for myself? So often the beauty and meaning of the season is totally lost on me. I love our extended family in all of their wonderful, albeit sometimes quirky and maddening ways, and I look forward to when we can celebrate all kinds of occasions together again. But maybe taking a step back this year isn’t such a bad thing.

This year has pulled back the curtain for me on all the ways the people of this world still haven’t grown up (myself included). I realize how naïve I’ve been and recognize that injustice of all kinds is ages old. It’s not somewhere out there in the faraway places of the earth, but right here in my own back yard. I’ve become hyper-aware of how little progress we’ve made in taking better care of each other, or sharing our abundance with those who have less. As I continue to anticipate brighter days ahead, I hope for less selfishness and greed, and a much kinder, gentler, compassionate population of people. It may just be that I’m getting older and typically realizing I don’t actually need everything I’ve always thought I did. But the added benefit to this state of mind is it makes me want to give back more, and more often.

My family has been very fortunate throughout all that has transpired this year and that fact is spotlighted every single day with the constantly dire news of all that is going on in the world. We’re all still working and have stayed relatively healthy. Those we know who have contracted the Coronavirus have managed it and recuperated. We’re lucky, I know. And It makes me want to help in whatever way I can. I’m trying.

Jack and I “adopted” a couple of little girls, ages three and six, through a local childcare center. Their mom has had a hard time this year and their grandmother had charge of the girls for a while. Grandma provided the girls’ Christmas wish lists and nothing on those lists was in the least extravagant. We were able to get everything the girls wanted and needed plus a few extras. We also added gift cards for Mom and Grandma so they could purchase groceries and necessities. The director of the daycare center thanked us profusely when we dropped everything off. And she emailed later to thank us again, telling us how Mom cried when she picked up the girls’ gifts and received the gift cards for herself. One of the girls has Celiac Disease and apparently Mom had been forced lately to go to the food shelf in order to feed her family. She had found it nearly impossible to find gluten free items, but the gift cards would allow her to stock up on those foods for a while. Jack and I were both hit hard by this mom’s reality and we’ve talked about making monthly donations to the center so that maybe we can continue to help ease her burdens and those of other families like hers.

The elderly are always on my heart as well, especially this year. Like my own mother-in-law, so many are confined in senior living facilities with limited or no ability to be with loved ones. My mother-in-law is a trooper and always seems to have a positive attitude. She loves to sit and watch the Game Show Network so she easily passes the hours. The staff at her place takes good care of her and she enjoys their daily stops to administer medications or bring meals. She’s got six kids and many grandchildren and receives multiple phone calls a day. It’s not ideal, but at least it’s something. As much as I miss my own parents, I often feel grateful they aren’t here to suffer through this with the health issues they had. It would have been devastating for them. How many people are alone now with little to no outside contact? It weighs on me, and so I found an opportunity to do a small thing about it. A local senior residence offers remote volunteer opportunities. I signed up, spending the past couple of weeks writing letters in Christmas cards to residents who could use a little holiday cheer. I wrote a bit about my family in each card and inserted photos of Lucy Pie. (I hope my cards find their way to some dog-lovers!) In addition, I went to the dollar store and bought all of the large-print crossword, word search, and sodoku books I could find, as well as some games of checkers that might help my “friends” pass the time. Finally, I topped it all off with bags of Christmas candy for the staff and any residents who are allowed. Like our gift-giving efforts for the little girls, the endeavor for the seniors made me realize that I could be doing something all year long and not just during the holidays.

This year will soon come to a close, and while I know 2021 isn’t going to magically erase all the darkness that has hovered during 2020, I hope the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day. I will strive to rise above the weight this year’s events while remembering just enough to maintain a softer heart and a spirit of generosity to others. May we all!