Bananas!

Everything is bananas right now.

I’m cautious speaking this aloud because some people are having a dreadful time. I’m not. Sounds bananas to some, I’m sure, but I’m thriving in this time out. I feel reconnected, recharged. I’m finishing projects around the house that I thought would take me years to tackle. I’m working, writing, following coaches and healers, practicing self-care and mindfulness . . . I’m never bored. I don’t hate this collective pause.

The battle of the bananas

This weekend, I chose to battle the bananas. Every year, I set out to get rid of them, but as I begin, my heart softens (the flowers are so pretty!), and I thin them instead, knowing they’ll be just as fierce next year.

Today, I cut down the dead ones, the tall ones tangled in the dead ones, alternating between swearing at the tangles and apologizing to the ones I took out by accident. Even though the execution feels powerful and fulfilling, it’s anticlimactic looking back on the finished job. The raggedy patch of banana trees probably looks a little worse than when I started. I take comfort knowing the patch will fill in nicely in about a week, and I’ve given the slain trees a last hurrah as a carpet of weed-block to help choke out that incessant Virginia creeper that creeps in from the arboretum.

Next on my to-do list today: the juniper tree. The first weekend of the quarantine, I leaned against the tree and I could feel the dead roots give.

I messed up.

About four or five years ago, mom was visiting. She was already talking about forgetting, worrying about her mind. But she was still comfortable driving an hour and a half from the farm to my house. She would make special trips just to help me out, attend a choir performance, watch a game. I’m not sure why she came that trip, but she was working in the yard.

What can I do to help you?
Do you want to work on this area? These weed trees under the fig tree are out of control.

Just that week I had already trimmed the juniper tree, fashioning a hanging basket area. I had eight to ten pots hanging from the two main branches.

What about this tree?
I already trimmed it. See? I use it for my hanging baskets.
Where’s that . . . Mom made a sawing motion.
The saw you gave me? Right here, in the green house.

She loves that little tool, and I get it. Slices right through! I used it to slay the bananas.

The juniper tree day was a weekday. After I gave her the saw, I went inside, back to work. When I came out a couple of hours later, the weed trees were all down. So was most of the juniper.

I stopped in my tracks as I came around the greenhouse. I guess she looked up just before I wiped the dismay off my face.

Uh oh. Did I mess up?

Over the last three years, she has used this phrase quite a bit: I messed up. In that moment, I felt our roles clearly turn that parent-child corner.

No, no, it’s OK. I hadn’t planned to chop it down, but . . .
Maybe it’ll grow back. There’s still . . . she motioned at the trunk area.
Yeah, maybe it’ll grow back.

Some things grow back. Some things don’t. The banana trees will grow back. The juniper didn’t.

#coronachronicles

I think I was OK with mom’s condition, knowing that I could spend good quality time with her on a regular basis, encourage her in her battle. We’re beginning our fifth week of quarantine with no clear end date, and I feel less OK about it.

I’m thriving, but I’m sad. The distance from mom and dad breaks my heart. The isolation is hard on both of them, and I know the burden and sadness of dealing with mom’s Alzheimer’s alone is exhausting for dad.

When are you coming back?
I don’t know, Mom. We have to wait until after the virus.

Post Covid-19, some things will go back to normal. Some won’t.

After the shelter-in-place is lifted, I’ll go back, start my regular visits to the farm. Normal? I know I won’t pick up where I left off with mom. But we’ll pick up where we can. We’ll miss picking dewberries together, but maybe I’ll be back in time for blueberries. I’ll miss her birthday. Probably mother’s day too.

Today was a good day. I used the saw mom gave me to thin the banana trees. Then I pulled up the juniper. I knew it wouldn’t recover. Mom won’t either. Virus or no, everyday, someone is losing grip of something. That life my dad enjoyed with mom for over 60 years, his grip on it is slipping.

Thriving and hope

From time to time, I feel a little survivor’s guilt swell up, but I swallow it down. I’ve had both a new acquaintance and a dear long-time friend tell me: “It helps to know some people are doing well. Thanks for sharing. It gives me hope.”

So I am sharing. Cautiously. I’m feeling blessed and grateful, even as I move through the grief for the distance, the grief for this nation, for this planet. My thriving is just a drop of hope into an ocean of fear, but maybe it’s just the drop someone needs.

Post virus, some things will still be bananas. Things will get better, some things might even be better. But some things won’t. We might not be able to pick up where we left off, but we’ll all pick up where we can and, hopefully, do our best with what we carry forward.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020.

Time Out

Time out

You’re in time out
Could be worse.
It could be a spanking.
You just wait until dad gets home!
Or it could be a rejection.
Out! I can’t look at you anymore!
But it’s just time out.

Stay in your room.
No, you can’t leave yet.
What did you say?
Just wait until I tell your mom!

You’re in time out squirt.
Sit here and think about what you did.
The mindlessness,
Like a rat, gnawing away at the fine edges of all the beautiful things.
No respect. No consideration for me
your mom
your dad.
Taking all the things we’ve provided for granted.

You sit here and think about that, why don’t you?
The ease of playing with friends in parks and at parties.
Parties! Dinner parties, birthday parties, retirement parties
where everyone shared cakes and punch and finger foods.
You sit here and think about all those things you didn’t appreciate.
The mountains of choices at stores.
The restaurants, Can I have a taste of yours?
The Hi! Come give me a hug!s at church.
The neighborly handshakes across a fence.
The friendly conversations around a fire pit.
Drinking from water fountains.
Splashing around in public fountains and pools.

You’re in time out and you’d best do as I say.
Sit here.
Be grateful for all you still have.
And don’t come back out until you can be a better human.

You’re in time out.
It’s for your own good.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020.

A long row to hoe

We’re two weeks in: shelter in place. I’m not sure how much longer we’ll do this, but I think we have a long row to hoe.

Collective crisis

I see the frantic posts as friends and family settle in to work from home, not work at all, isolate with children and parents, or isolate all alone.

I read helpful posts about how to cope, how to disinfect, reminders for self-care, poetry to lift us up, naming this grief.

But honestly, I don’t feel most of it.

I do feel something because this is a collective anxiety, a collective grief and confusion. For the most part, however, the coronavirus has not changed my life.

  • I’ve shopped in bulk for thirty years so I didn’t need to make a special run for groceries or toilet paper.
  • I’ve worked from home for twenty-four years, so 1) I still have work, and 2) my workspace has not changed.
  • I’ve been stocked up on supplies for all the little projects I want to tackle, and when I don’t have something, Amazon Prime delivers.

Yet, my life is different. Not necessarily in bad ways. I’m more mindful. Mindful of my movements through public spaces, of going into public spaces, of the surfaces and clothing I touch and use, of where and how I spend my time. I’m alone less, with my partner working from home now. I stay home more. These aren’t bad things.

Staying home means staying away

The last part, staying home more, is probably hardest for me. I usually spend half my time on the farm, close to my folks, so I can help mom and dad as needed. Now I can’t risk giving this invisible enemy a ride to the farm. So I won’t go back for a while.

Last week, I made a grocery haul to the farm to make sure mom and dad have enough.

I don’t stay long.

Mom asks questions and seems to understand, but then asks again.

When are you coming back?
I’m not sure. The virus, remember? But Audrey and Jason are staying here. They’ll be safe to spend time with you soon.
What are you going to do?
I’ll stay in Baton Rouge with Steven. Work.
When are you coming back here?

Back to the garden

Before I leave, I go with mom to check on the garden and greenhouse. I remind her gently, Don’t get too close to me.

We check on the plants, decide to transplant the zucchini. I didn’t come prepared, so I hoe a new row for the zucchini in flip flops and a sundress. We water. We talk. Mom asks questions. I hold my hands up: No closer!

I planted the garden with mom hoping to give her manageable tasks that help occupy her day, help her feel useful. But some days, she tells dad How am I going to do this!? Some days it’s a little much. Especially now. The virus and isolation.

When I’m with her to help, she enjoys gardening. Tugging at the hose just so, making sure it’s straight so it won’t scrape across the plants in the neighboring row. Pulling up the weeds and rogue grasses. Muscle memory and meditation.

A long row to hoe

I watch her knowing I may not be back for weeks, months even.

When are you coming back to do something with those tomatoes?
I don’t know, but I’ll make sure Audrey helps you.

My life hasn’t changed much because of the virus. I still spend about sixty hours a week in front of my two computer screens, working, writing, paying bills. I still cook most of my meals, go to the garage for paper towels when I use the last towel from the roll in the kitchen, plant seeds in my garden, pull weeds, move rocks, dig holes. My life is pretty much the same, except I wear gloves to the grocery and disinfect the containers when I come home.

Mom’s isn’t the same. She’s more isolated than ever. Little doors are closing in her brain. No church. No grocery runs. No PT.

When are you coming back?
We have a long row to hoe, Mom. But we’ll be okay. And I’ll meet you on the other side of this. I promise.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020.