Lindsey Hollenbaugh | Quarantined with kids: Upside to all of this? There's parking in Stockbridge ...
Today, I did something I swore I would never do in the heat of summer: hang out in Stockbridge.
Not that I don’t love the adorable, Rockwellian town that is home to some of my favorite local spots — Naumkeag, The General Store, Berkshire Theatre Group — but there’s usually just too many tourists and too few parking spots for this Berkshirites’ taste.
But the funny thing about a pandemic: you can be a tourist in your own town. There’s room to breathe — with a mask on, of course — places to park, and ticketed time slots to venues that are normally packed to the point of discomfort.
We started the morning off at the Berkshire Botanical Garden’s Family Fridays program, which is held certain Fridays during the summer from 11 a.m. to noon. It’s usually some kind of live presentation with animals and is free with admission. I’ve always wanted to be able to take David, but it never seemed to line up with our vacation time and somehow I was always just too busy. But pandemic mommy is looking for more ways to step away from the computer and get us out of the house.
I thought, at the worst, David would last an hour at the garden (we’ve never been there outside of the big activities like the annual Harvest Festival) and I’d get a little sunshine and feel better about myself as a parent for exposing him to something other than a screen for an hour. In the end, we stayed three hours on the property and I had to drag him out.
We started the visit with a fun presentation from Jen Lahey who brought an owl, hawk, snake and — mommy’s favorite — a skunk named Kenny who ate trail mix and couldn’t spray anymore. Families sat on the grass in designated spots 6 feet apart and wore masks. David was engaged, asked questions and even when he had trouble sitting still — something we need to work on again! — he was still listening.
After we did laps around the fishpond where he found a frog hanging out by the small waterfall and practiced his balance skills hopping across rocks to get through the secret trails. Next, we ate our packed lunch at Lucy’s Garden, where whimsical topiaries kept us guessing which animals they were. We were also given a color scavenger hunt page that had David looking at all the different flowers trying to match the colors. Then there was a stop at the children’s garden, where there’s a secret fairy garden hidden in the shady trees.
There weren’t many people there, and the few who were walking the grounds, or sitting on benches, were wearing masks and keeping their distance. For the price of admission ($7.50 per adult and free for children 12 and under and free for everyone Sundays and Mondays) I got a relaxing spot to let my son explore and enjoy a picnic lunch while I relaxed in the shade.
After I finally pulled him away from the vegetable garden, we stopped along Main Street to poke our head in a store and get some ice cream. He even took a ride on one of the bronze lions in front of the Red Lion Inn. The street was busy, but not middle-of-the-summer busy.
We had a great time, and David asked why we’d never stopped there before. When I explained that it’s usually too busy he replied, “Well, thank you to the sickies!”
The next Family Fridays event is Aug. 21, “Snakes of the Berkshires” with Thomas Tying, which I hear is always a popular one to go to. Remember, pre-purchased tickets are encouraged at the Garden.
You want me to think about back-to-school shopping?
Thursday, Aug. 13
I can’t decide what back-to-school commercials I love the most right now: the ones that pretend like everything is normal, or the ones trying to use normal marketing while acknowledging COVID-19 restrictions.
Like this Amazon commercial where the little girl yells gleefully, “This year, I get to do Kindergarten with dad!” The dad gives a little smirk from under his elaborate blanket fort in the living room. Of course, a more truthful depiction would be of a mom standing in a kitchen with a Zoom conference call in the background, holding back tears, or … you know, day drinking.
It feels forced, almost inappropriate, to get gleeful with Target’s “Back to School Smile” song by Katy Perry. And normally, this time of year we’d be looking for sales on sneakers, backpacks and that carefully curated first-day outfit. But really, what’s the point?
This is also the time of year the features department would start thinking about easy lunch-box recipes for the food page. I still love our Bento-box inspired lunches, and our brown-bag basics with a twist. But really, hasn’t every day since mid-March been pack-your-lunch-day at school? For parents, it’s been pack-your-breakfast-lunch-four-snacks-and-nibble-at-dinner day. Every day.
So, we don’t need lunchbox recipes right now. But, I firmly believe that we need more muffin recipes, and more ways to use up that zucchini in our gardens. I just made these mini muffins this afternoon and David downed two of them without even asking what was in them. Make them for lunch, or for when you need to throw something semi-nutritional at your kid for a snack or quick 10 a.m. breakfast.
Recipe adapted from Melissa Clark, The New York Times
1 cup and 2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
½ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 small apple, grated, with juices
½ cup grated carrots
½ cup grated zucchini
1/3 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease mini-muffin tins.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
In a large bowl, combine the eggs, olive oil, honey, brown sugar, grated apple and juices and grated vegetables.
Using a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture until just combined. Gently fold in the raisins.
Fill each muffin cup 3/4 of the way up, and bake for about 15 to 18 minutes for mini-muffins and about 20 to 22 minutes for regular muffins.
What's all of this doing to our children?
Wednesday, Aug. 12
Early on in all this (remember when I started this column thinking it would only be a month tops?!? Sick of me yet?) I smugly thought this wouldn’t be so bad; my child knows how to amuse himself and is happiest when doing his own thing.
As long as I was in eyesight, David was happy to play dinosaurs, or monster trucks or just color. Honestly, I don’t think he even knew the word bored, or how to use it in the correct context. Fast forward five months and every day starts with “Mommy, I’m feeling a little bit bored, can I play a game on the iPad?”
Then repeat that phrase every hour, on the hour until it’s 6 p.m. and daddy gets home and mommy drinks mommy juice.
Toys are collecting dust in the bins and the markers haven’t been uncapped for days. Luckily, my parents are in town to help for a few days. Between Grandpa’s ability to take walks and read books and Grandma’s pirate skills — David and “Gram Ham” are currently walking around my house with plastic swords sticking out of their underwear (well, at least David is) yelling “Yo HO and a bottle of … POP! — they’re keeping him busy. But the second they leave tomorrow morning to reboot and rest up for the next visit, we start in again with the whining.
This is a fundamental change in my child. David, like me, has always recharged with alone time; happily doing his own thing while surrounded by other people. He’s incredibly social and loves playing with other children, but at the end of the day home always meant needed quiet time. This change in behavior has affected his mood and in some ways even his personality.
I know we’re not alone — today, I visited with a mom friend who said her son was doing the same thing, asking the second he woke up every morning, “Mommy, can you play with me?” When I meet people who have small children, or grandchildren, they often share their own concerns: “My 6-year-old granddaughter was incredibly outgoing before all of this,” one woman told me. “Now, she barely speaks.”
I tried to do some reading on what this is all doing to our kids’ mental health and the consensus seems to be, we don’t know yet.(That seems to be a theme, huh, parents?)
I’m doing my best to remember how I would help David through things before all of this — back when mommy was the patient mommy who got dressed for work every day, went to the gym and drove a car. That mommy would kneel down and explain things to David, offer a hug and redirect any crying, over-tired, over-stimulated behavior.
Just like our kids aren’t themselves, let’s be honest, parents, we’re not either. I have no patience, for anything, lately, not even my family who are graciously helping me get through this. But, if I want my son to get through this, I’m going to have to dig down deep and find some way to navigate this new David with the patience I showed the pre-COVID David.
Easier said than done, am I right?
Take a bite out of shark week with your kids
Monday, Aug. 10
This is not a drill: It’s Shark Week, people.
While 2020 has felt apocalyptic in many ways (did you hear about the earthquake yesterday in North Carolina?), it has been good for the sharks, according to researchers working with the Discovery Channel who noticed in the early days of stay-at-home orders across the globe that fewer people meant more sharks.
Less water traffic means quieter waters for the noise- and vibration-sensitive sharks, which means more shark activity for the researchers and camera crews to capture. Two of the new episodes airing this week were filmed earlier in the year, a change because usually shows are filmed the previous year and given eight to 12 months in production.
Like the hurricane theme last week, David has grabbed onto this idea of Shark Week and suddenly has lots of questions. While traditional Shark Week programming is from 8 to 11 p.m. now through Sunday evening (way past David’s bedtime, and mine, quite frankly) Nickelodeon has teamed up with Discovery to offer kid-friendly Shark Week content from 7 a.m. to noon all week.
In between “Baby Shark” shorts, which include bite-sized shark facts, there are underwater-themed episodes of “PAW Patrol,” “Bubble Guppies” and “Blaze and the Monster Machines.” If you can handle getting “Baby Shark Do do do do do …” in your head, it’s worth tuning in.
The Discovery Channel also has short videos of real sharks in action if your kid is like mine and wants to see “REAL” sharks, mama! The Food Network has also joined the fun with Shark Bite Bark — a recipe for white chocolate bark with gummy sharks and a swirl of blue food coloring.
If you feel like you're drowning in guilt, stress, you're not alone
Thursday, Aug. 6
Anyone else feel like they are giving 110 percent to multiple facets of their daily lives and ending up with, say, 50 percent of the actual result?
Ok, cool. Glad it’s not just me.
This is not new, this feeling of complete, grinding, almost drowning failure at my work, at motherhood, at being a wife, friend, daughter and sister since the pandemic started. We’ve all talked about it, there’s been countless articles, essays about the subject of working parents shouldering too much right now. Women especially.
I’ve just kind of danced around my own experience, not willing to put into words how dismal I feel sometimes trying to produce the same level of work in this house crowded with toy dinosaurs, baseball cleats, power cords, stray cucumbers and a lot of big emotions coming from a little 5-year-old boy.
The truth is, I simply cannot read, edit a story in the same careful, thorough way I once did while sitting in my quiet cubicle at work now that my deskmate is a bored, curious boy who wants to know hourly when he’s going back to preschool. Instead of worrying about skirting out of a meeting to make preschool pickup on time, I’m now staring at the clock trying to remember how long he’s been on his iPad and worrying about what I’m doing to his development.
When my work was called “sloppy” this week, I went into my bathroom and cried on the toilet so my son and my mom, who was in town to help, couldn’t hear me. Then I cried harder because I felt guilty that I’m still behaving this way when I’m lucky enough to have the help of my parents and sister and so many other parents do not.
I have mornings when I lie in bed and think about how if I didn’t carry the health insurance for my entire family I would take a leave of absence, just to give myself a mental break from the stress and guilt of trying to work at the same level I once did before everything changed.
Recently, a friend told me how a mom we both know is considering taking a leave of absence for the same reasons, that she simply can’t take the burden of trying to do her job while raising two small children at home. I’m seeing more women on Facebook and Twitter who I know saying the same thing.
And then, out of the blue, I got two sweet emails from readers urging me on, thanking me for my work and letting me know that they see me. Other moms stop me in the street to tell me my words make them feel less alone, and for that I’m grateful and for that I’ll keep plugging along. What other choice do we have, right?
Naumkeag's Date Night worth begging for a babysitter
Wednesday, Aug. 5
Here is something I haven’t talked about, well, ever, in this space: date-night ideas.
“You silly woman,” you must be saying to yourself. “DATE NIGHT?!?”
Hand to COVID-gods I get it, but listen parents, we gotta figure out some time for each other in all of this. Because, at the end of the day, don’t we want to emerge from the pandemic still knowing who the heck we’re in a relationship with that started this whole kid business?
Last week, my husband and I were given the chance to attend Naumkeag’s new COVID-friendly date night series. For $25 per person (admission comes with a choice of beer or wine) we were allowed on the grounds from 7 to 9 p.m. to enjoy a secluded spot on the property, with beautiful live background music while watching the sunset. We brought our own picnic dinner and drinks, as well, which is not only welcomed, but encouraged.
Upon checking in, guests (who are required to wear masks whenever they are not at their designated spot) are led to either a spot in the grass where you can set up a blanket or chairs, or a reserved table if you request it. We were given a table, and a bouquet of fresh wildflowers from the property (which can be purchased for $25). Local musician Charlie Tokarz played the flute and saxophone throughout the evening from his own secluded spot on the lawn.
Parents, couples, single people — hear me on this: If you can afford to do so, I highly recommend you reserve a spot for one of these date nights, which are held, weather permitting, Friday and Saturday evenings through August.
My husband and I actually talked. Like, had a conversation. We also held hands and sat in silence for long stretches while taking in the setting sun. It was calm, peaceful and felt completely safe and anything but normal in the best way possible.
If you’re like me, and most residents of Berkshire County, you’ve experienced Naumkeag during Winter Lights, The Incredible Pumpkin Show, or the Daffodil Festival. While all fun, wonderful events, they are usually mobbed (proving the popularity of these great ideas for the property!). But on these date nights, only 50 people are allowed to attend, according to Carol Bosco Baumann, engagement manager at the property. This number is not only perfect for social distancing, but also for providing an intimate experience at the grounds that you would never get in the height of a “normal” tourist-filled summer.
According to Bosco Baumann, they have had anniversary celebrations, first dates and even a woman who came by herself with a book and just enjoyed the silence (note: that will be me the next time I go, sorry hubs!)
“One woman hadn’t been out in months, was a first responder (in healthcare) — her friends convinced her to come to Naumkeag so they could celebrate her birthday safely,” Bosco Baumann said.
What ways are you getting out with your significant other to take time for yourselves? Let me know at email@example.com. I’d like to try out a bunch of different spots and start a date-night series, as long as grandma and grandpa can keep offering their babysitting services, that is.
Oh good, something normal to worry about ... the weather
Tuesday, Aug. 4
Anyone else finding news of a hurricane sweeping up the coast oddly comforting right now?
Like, oh, weather, I can deal with that! (As long as those tornadoes mind their business and stay away from Berkshire County, that is.)
One of my relatives in Florida shared a meme on Facebook that said, “Y’all don’t need to panic. A hurricane coming straight toward Florida is the most normal thing that’s happened in 2020.”
What a year, huh?
We’ve been taking advantage of the cooler wind, rain and dark clouds to sit inside, read books and watch hurricane and tornado educational videos on YouTube with David. He’s suddenly very interested in the weather (perhaps, because it’s something semi normal and yet different all at the same time to discuss). Every time the wind blows hard he asks, “Is this the hurricane, mama?”
I’ve tried to explain to him that it’s not really a hurricane, just the remnants of one, but he isn’t willing to let go of the drama of it all. Maybe we’re preparing him for a life as a meteorologist.
We’re going to try some fun weather experiments today to build on the novelty of something different besides hot and humid weather. I like this tornado in a bottle experiment that is easily made with water, a clear plastic bottle with a cap (that won't leak), glitter (so you can better see your tornado, and dish washing liquid. Plus, kids love swirling the water around in the bottle to make their own tornado.
I’m also going to try this easy experiment to show David how rain falls from clouds. He’s very curious right now about why water is falling from the sky, and I think the visual of seeing blue dye seeping through shaving cream will help.
If I had been on top of my mom game this morning (which, if you live near me and have seen me almost every morning on my front porch sitting in my PJs drinking coffee while my son runs around the yard in his underwear like a feral cat, you know … well) I would have made one of these easy rain gauges. Though, I suppose I can still get out there and see how much we get this afternoon.
And maybe, you carry the weather theme further today by mixing up a batch of adult hurricanes, watching “Twister” or the weather channel non-stop to catch a glimpse of Jim Cantore.
Anything is a nice break from COVID, right?
Thanks, but no thanks, to public school for us this year
Monday, Aug. 3
My husband and I made a big decision last week: David won’t be attending Kindergarten this September.
Instead, he’ll be spending another year — or, as long as the “sickies” allow us — at his preschool. Given the circumstances, the lack of options and information regarding what school will look like right now, we decided what was best for our family is to hold off one more year before joining the public school system.
I actually feel guilty about this decision; that we had the option; that we’re still in that sweet spot of early education; that I don’t have to sweat out every school announcement that is dribbling down the current game of “have you heard?”
Preschool is still a risk, but we feel, based on whatever knowledge we’ve gleaned from reading countless articles, that it’s the safest, best option for us. There are fewer children — most of whom we know from last year — and the state’s guidelines for daycares and preschools have been well established since mid-summer. At this smaller, private preschool, David will be outside more and have more opportunities for face-to-face instruction, as long as the school can remain safely open.
His teacher is also like a second mother. In many ways, I’ve always trusted her with my child’s life, and now, I’m literally doing so. And in turn, she is trusting us. This arrangement is a serious social contract between us, the teacher and the other students’ families. We’re in each other's bubble now.
It’s still a risk, but one we’re betting the COVID lottery on right now.
Recently, I was reminded that when my father was a senior in high school, the Vietnam War was raging on and the draft had been instituted. It’s one of those family secrets — that isn’t a family secret, of course — that my dad repeated his senior year thanks to a little rigging on the part of grandmother, who somehow convinced the school to make him a few credits short of qualifying for graduation, therefore, keeping him in school and out of the draft.
My grandmother isn’t alive today; I can’t ask her what that was like. And in no way am I comparing sending my child to school akin to possibly sending my son to war. But, I imagine she had some sleepless nights trying to make the best of a poor world, filled with poorer choices.
In my bubble, I can feel the parental anxiety with each passing day. It’s like the elephant in the room that’s stomping its giant feet loudly, but we’re all doing our best to look away; don’t think about what the fall will look like. And the longer schools take to decide what is going to happen, the louder the rumble gets and the less time parents have to pivot before the stampede begins.
'Rose all day, am I right mommy?'
Friday, July 31
I like to call these little snapshots, a day in the life of David ...
- Thanks to an accidental “Alexa, play Iron Man song” request, David’s newest jam that plays on repeat for hours is Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” He mouths the slightly inappropriate words with a slow-motion head-banging dance routine in his underwear in the kitchen.
- “Rose all day, am I right mommy?” He recently asked me around 4 p.m., lifting his Batman milk cup to cheers with a smile.
- David and I took a walk for the first time in weeks and after I had the audacity to make him walk an extra block, he trailed behind me at a minimum of 6 feet and cried the whole way home because he didn’t want to.
- While David might have inherited his father’s batting abilities, his dramatic flare on the field comes directly from his mama. “COACH, I THINK I BROKE MY ANKLE,” he yelled, wobbling off the field after he ran the bases with a loose shoe.
- After spending a few weeks with his “auntie,” David now knows how to put an item in his online Amazon shopping cart, proceed to checkout and hit pay. We’re still working on writing our “Rs,” but check out? No problem.
Happy Friday, folks. This has been an extremely stressful week for parents, with school updates coming in rapid fire, and each one producing more questions than answers, it feels like.
Do whatever you have to do to recharge this weekend. Even if, as David would inappropriately say, it’s “Rose all day.” Cheers.
Whatever you decide about school, it's the right decision. Seriously
Thursday, July 30
I can still remember the first time I realized that as a parent, I didn’t have to listen to the “experts,” that I could make an educated decision regarding my son’s well being and health.
Last winter, David was sniffly all the time. It seemed like he had a perpetual runny nose or sinus infection brewing. Our pediatrician — who I adore, let me just say — was dragging his feet a bit about making any decision regarding possible allergies.
As I’ve said before, I’m an asthmatic with severe allergies. I know what an allergy attack looks like and one afternoon when I picked David up from a friend’s house, who happens to have cats, David’s poor little eyes were watering and he couldn’t stop coughing.
“This kid has allergies,” I said to myself.
But what could I do?
“Give him some children’s allergy medicine at night and see if it helps,” my cousin, a pediatric nurse, suggested when I texted her that night.
“But don’t I have to tell his doctor?” I asked.
“No, he’s your kid. Just read the back of the label and if it doesn’t help, call your doctor.”
It did help. Within weeks the runny noses stopped and by his next wellness visit we hadn’t been in for a single sinus infection. When I explained that we put him on over-the-counter allergy medication, I waited for a lecture from our doctor.
But all he said was, “I’m glad it appears to be helping him.” And then moved on to the next subject.
Afterward I thought, “Oh right, I’m in charge of my child.”
Traditionally, I do like to wait for a medical expert to advise me. But when no one is weighing in and my gut is telling me something, I do my best to listen.
Why am I saying this? Because I realized yesterday, after my rant about the lack of guidance regarding what we should do with school this fall, that my husband and I can make our own decisions for what is best for our family right now.
And the rest, well, the rest is just noise.
Parents, it’s clear that no one wants to make the final decision on what you should do, so it’s up to us individually. And here is all I’m going to say about that: Whatever decision you make, don’t let any parenting troll make you question or feel less because of your decision.
You’re going to send your kids to whatever “open” school looks like? Good for you.
You’re enrolling them in the all-virtual choice right away? Rock on.
You’re fully home-schooling or hiring a tutor? Way to go.
You’re pulling them out and finding your own (legal) education path for a year? Excellent.
See the pattern here?
Parents, I support you. I see you. I applaud you.
Wondering what happened in July? Find out in Lindsey Hollenbaugh | Quarantined with Kids: Part V.
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