It was in week three of our Stay at Home order that Lucy, my four year old, discovered the box of toys marked as "To be Sold." Sensing injustice, she began rifling through, finding the largest, most obnoxious toy for a reunion.
"Are you selling my most favorite hippo game that I loved as a baby?" She hoisted it out of the box, clutching it across her chest.
This toy, officially designated for 6 month olds, is a bright blue plastic hippo with a cavernous stomach that pulses when plastic balls (or any objects) are thrown inside, a song that is best described as "old timey horror" playing all the while. Eventually, a ball catapults out of the hippo's mouth, each expulsion celebrated with a buffoonish laugh. She was right, starting at around four months, for a solid year, this was her most favorite toy.
"I want it back," she said, the discussion over.
Out of the four of us, Lucy has struggled the most with life during Covid-19. When her older sister, Emma, was in Kindergarten all day, I would pick Lucy up after a half day at preschool and we’d run various errands, with Friday visits to the candy store her favorite. We'd take our time filling two bags, one for her and one for her sister. Just behind consuming the candy, the biggest highlight of her day was sharing the loot with Emma, who always sweetly returned a few pieces back to Lucy to thank her. Starbursts, Dum-Dums, and Jelly Beans made regular appearances, with things like candy corn, candy canes, and Peeps marking new seasons.
It didn’t take long for Lucy to fall into a depression once we began to remain home. Her nursery school conducted weekly story times on Zoom but not one to settle for second best, the process enraged her. “I HATE SEEING THEM ON THE COMPUTER!” she yelled. On more than one occasion I found her lying on her bed in the middle of the day (unheard of before), staring at the ceiling. “I just want to be alone, mom.”
The greatest indicator of her gloom appeared nightly, when around 8:30pm she’d announce, “I’m going to bed,” like Sophia from the Golden Girls. Normally a one hour process (at least) that we struggle to get rolling before 9pm, her bedtime routine became less than twenty minutes, and she denied us the great pleasure of reading to her, even her favorite Star Wars series. Prior to March 16th my days were often designed with the specific goal of expelling Lucy’s energy, and suddenly she hardly moved all day. I’m well versed in the crippling affliction of depression. Seeing it in Lucy scared me. It scared me a lot.
With Covid-19 having us (and the whole world) under immense restrictions, the least I could do to lift spirits was relinquish some of mine. Suddenly, we were a family who made slime….slime with glitter, no less, and scented with Chanel No. 5. Eye shadow? Why limit it to the eyes when it looks so interesting on your chin? The tent with a tunnel that takes up the entire living room? Let’s leave it out for three days! The easel that is too large to actually use indoors - let’s keep it in the sunroom and I will carry it out to the deck for you, multiple times a day, the door frames scraping my fingers every single time. If it brings you twenty minutes of happiness and takes another twenty to clean up, what’s a little blood?
My greatest endeavor to bring her joy was purchasing a toy sewing machine so I could make new dresses for barbie dolls. For weeks she had been asking to make crafts with FAB-BRICK. My early, and insufficient, endeavors involved doll sized sleeping bags and pillows made of red and blue stapled felt. Nevermind that I haven’t sewed since making a pair of Jams in seventh grade home-ec some thirty years ago. The machine I ordered was for an eight year old, surely I could master it.
When it arrived, the first thing I did was remove the pesky roll of thread that had somehow gotten tangled through the bottom of the machine. Then I opened the instructions and discovered that this is actually a necessary feature called a “bobbit,” so I spent the next 30 minutes youtubing how to rethread everything, eventually managing it, but not without shouting, “How is this for a freaking eight year old?!” on more than one occasion.
It turns out, the outfits offered in this kit aren’t meant to be worn by dolls, because, you know, buttons and zippers and stuff. Instead, at thirty dollars, this machine is to get comfortable with sewing, so just straight lines and no instructions for a complete outfit. Undeterred, I discovered I could make Barbie sized strapless dresses if I sewed them roomy enough in the back to be pulled up and down, the top fitting as though Barbie had reconsidered her breast implants. My mother-in-law saw a picture of one of my masterpieces and informed me that if I sewed the seam inside out, I could hide it. MIND BLOWN. I’ve made a lot of these dresses, with Lucy and Emma picking out the fabrics and accents, but one I made with a pink top, green bottom, and a lace belt is my favorite. It looks like a nine year old made it.
Now more than fifteen weeks into the pandemic, Lucy is perking up. Emma is done with school, and we have settled on settling. It’s not great, but it’s a little better. Sometimes. While she still hasn’t seen a single friend since March 13th, she has stolen a hug or two from some people she loves, she throws fruit and doll heads into that hippo’s belly, and she will always be the thief of my heart.
Ten years ago today I lost my mother to cancer. While I haven't published anything for quite some time, I've been writing again. This one is for her.
About eleven years ago, in one of the stranger moments of my life, I was in a bar with a few friends when a group of men approached, one of them offering an enthusiastic “Hello!” We greeted them by taking a sip of our drink to buy time while we considered the most polite way to tell them to get lost. But then suddenly there was Steve Guttenberg, and an enthusiastic “Hi, I’m Steve!”, leaving us completely disarmed of our best brush-offs.
One of the more popular quotes from the self-help movement is “each one of us is the average of the five people we spend the most time with”. Three years ago, when I worked alongside some of the most interesting people you could ever meet, I took for granted the energy and knowledge I received from my colleagues. Now, as a stay-at-home mom / travel writer, my five people are a three-year-old, a five-year-old, a spouse, a sister, and Kion from The Lion Guard. I’m self-aware enough to recognize that I need to broaden my people, but just how to go about it hasn’t been as obvious. So I turned to my best friend who doesn’t know it yet, Elizabeth Gilbert, for some inspiration. And, oh boy, did she deliver. She said, “Julie, come and hear me speak at the Vacation Rental Women’s Summit in New Orleans from February 19–20.” That Liz, she always has the best advice!
Have you ever wondered what it's like to be an Airbnb Host? We certainly have! Our Posts from the Hosts series offers a peek into what it takes to create an unforgettable experience and how inspiration helps these unique properties stand out from the rest. This week's Posts from the Hosts comes to us from William, proud Super Host of Cozy Redding Retreat located in Redding, CT. Welcome, William!
Film, considered by some to be the ultimate art form, manages to captivate an audience for hours with music, visual arts, literature, and performance. We have all had moments in life that are only best described as "like a movie." Usually, this is no accident, as we meticulously chose the scenery, the music, the dialogue, and the cast. A friend of mine experienced this as he drove across New Zealand, the deeply satisfying landscape seemingly amplified by his choice of soundtrack - Neil Young's Harvest and Harvest Moon. Even though I wasn't there, it's such a vivid image it feels like I was. Picturing it makes me both happy for him and jealous, that tension between what Bhuddists call Mudita, where you experience pleasure in delighting in another's well being, and Envy, a force so pervasive in our culture that it needs no definition.
My final year of college was a bit serious/lame. I was a commuter, so most of my classmates assumed I was 40, working to rebuild a wasted life (that's actually what this blog is for). I also worked about 30 hours a week as a "server" for The Macaroni Grill at the local mall. I was sincerely proud to get this job - this was a real restaurant, with computers and actual checks and alcohol and a vague superpower referred to only as "corporate." We greeted every table by writing our name upside down in crayon on the paper tablecloth, regardless of whether or not children were seated. It was an appropriate introduction to the type of experience The Macaroni Grill offered - a bit juvenile and trying way too hard.
My brother recently told me a hilarious story about being in the Brattleboro, VT location of Turn it Up! Two teenagers came in and were totally baffled by the experience of being inside of an actual music store. Trying to locate a John Mayer CD, they kept looking under "J" and were shocked to learn that the correct way to alphabetize an artist is by last name and not the way iTunes does it (by first name).