Mompreneur Coronavirus Chronicles – Edition #1

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I know my friends were starting to wonder if I was losing it a bit when I started ramping up my posting about the impending Coronavirus pandemic last week. This week my pages went off the rails with about ten times more posts than I normally share. What a lot of my social media friends and peers may not know, is that in my previous life I spent three years working for an airline in the Emergency Response Department. While at the airline I responded to many crises (thankfully never an aviation disaster) and attended countless industry emergency response conferences and drills.  It’s where I developed a practice of heeding the wisdom of trained and trusted experts and working to incorporate their recommendations into my home life. I do my best, but really I’m still a typical consumer who has too much stuff, wastes too much and isn’t as socially and environmentally responsible as I should be.

I also realize that any concerns I have about the coming weeks and months are colored with a good dose of the privilege of living in a a country with normally easy access to resources. Even still, I am an independent artist and single mom. I don’t have a regular paycheck and since my main source of income comes from producing content for companies, these shut downs leave me with a sickening feeling about my already tenuous finances. Like so many of my colleagues, we’re scrambling to figure out how we can take our services and find ways to offer them online, but it’s no easy feat. There were plenty of artists already struggling to do this before COVID-19 entered the picture. That is a scary reality that will definitely keep me up at night.

I knew that based on the information coming in that we needed to begin social distancing and that it would be wise to just post up at home (only going out when necessary.) We are lucky enough to be able to taking advantage of the open spaces and parks where we can get fresh air and exercise while not putting ourselves or others at risk! More important than us getting coronavirus, as we would likely recover, was not being carriers of the virus and inadvertently transmitting it to someone else in a high risk category.  It was time for me to think about how my actions could harm other people in unintended but potentially fatal ways. I felt that isolating myself and my kid wasn’t asking too much.

I knew what I needed to do, had the knowledge about how to prepare and was willing to at least make an attempt at it. The realization that shook me was that as a single parent (with an ex-husband states away,) if something happened to me my kid would be stuck. If I get sick then she has been exposed and would need to self-quarantine for 14 days. There wouldn’t be another parent to step in while I quarantined myself in my bedroom (as advised by medical experts.) Both of my parents, who would happily take her, are in high risk categories – and in reality there would be no good situation. Any member of my family or our awesome village who might want to help would be putting themselves and their household at risk if they tried to step in and take her.  That realization was the terrifying one.

In an effort to not get paralyzed in a state of fear, I did what I had been trained to do – I started to scour trusted sites for information about the transmission of COVID-19, the risks to my community, the recommendations from the trained and trusted experts and began to make my plan. Totally distracted from my work, I turned to getting myself and my household set up so I could prepare foods that could be warmed up in case I wasn’t able to make meals. I got both junk food and healthy options so when the cabin fever got us, at least we’d have goodies to nosh on while still nourishing our bodies to keep our immune systems strong and hopefully resilient.

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Vitamin Shoppe DIY Hand Sanitizer Display

I went on the hand sanitizer scavenger hunt like so many others and finally ended up finding 91% alcohol at a Walmart and aloe vera gel at a Vitamin Store. This was after scouring 8 other stores to no avail on Tuesday evening. I began to pick up inexpensive items that would go the distance like dried beans, cans of diced tomatoes and bouillon cubes. At least if we ran out of fresh foods, I could make a good soup or chili. I knew that if I really got in trouble I’d be able to order stuff online or have a friend leave a package at our door, but why not take necessary precautions while I could.

As the news continued to emerge about the lack of testing happening here in the US, I realized that we were going to be in worse shape than I initially anticipated. The Good Morning America interview with NIH official Dr. Anthony Fauci made me realize I needed to also think about what other things I was going to be able to do with my kid to keep her from becoming a Netflix zombie (nothing against either Netflix or zombies, but we need a bit of balance too.) We talked about what activities we had access to at home and I thought of longer term crafts like sewing. While the grocery stores were crushed to the limit, I scooped up a few yards of fabric on sale at a nearly empty craft store. It wasn’t the first time this week I’d been there. Earlier in the week that had been one of the wildcard places I went in search of hand sanitizer. I thought I was so clever, but I guess the regular crafters had me beat!

We’re only on day 1 of social isolation for me and day 3 for her (she’s been relaxing and catching up on Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds and On my Block and finding all the junk food) while I’ve been gathering supplies and news. If today is any indication, it’s going to be a long haul! I’ve instituted some basic, we are not cave people, rules. Every day there will be showers taken, fresh air consumed with exercise at a local park or open space, craft/activity time and tv blackout time. Since she’s on Spring Break from school I’m not going to make her do school work. That should come in two weeks or so. It’ll be tough to manage cell phone usage when the tv’s off (honestly for both of us,) but hopefully we’ll get back to doing things together like reading, playing board games and making yummy stuff that can be broken down and put in the freezer for the coming weeks.

Thankfully I’m well connected with people who are sharing awesome resources for parents, artists and human beings in general. I’m sharing the wealth below:

We are all heading into uncharted territory. It’s daunting, scary and an opportunity to take the precious moments we have to re-connect (with appropriate social distancing) with our loved ones, friends, peers and our global community. The Coronavirus is uniting the entire world in one epic fight. Hopefully we’ll start coming together for our common good and ensure that we are finding ways to protect and support the most vulnerable individuals.

If you’ve got great ideas on resources for single parents and artist/entrepreneur/gig workers who are also parents please leave a comment. The best thing about the internet is that we are only one click away from support, connection and hope.

Stay well and take care of each other!

PS – Below are links if you want to contribute to my work or my coronavirus survival. If you are a person of means, please be on the lookout for how you can support the gig/service/artist/entrepreneurs out there who give so much but operate without a safety net:

 

 

 

Rough Waters by the Shore

This morning I sat on the side of my bed pondering my fate. Most mornings I utter some form of gratitude for seeing another day when so many others don’t. This morning it was a quick something, but my mind wandered to rough waters. The kind of rough waters that threaten to upend a boat right before it reaches the safety of the shore. The kind of rough waters that are overcome by the exhausted being who has found, somewhere deep inside, the determination, heart and scream-down the storm raging in your face will to continue on to reach the elusive yet visible shore.

The waters are crashing over my head, filling my eyes, nose and mouth with brackish water, but I saw the shore. About a year ago one of my business  mentors told me I was in the middle of the ocean. He said it would take as much effort to give up and get back to shore as it would to power on. I chose to power on.  I mean, really. That’s not much of a choice. I’d spent 7 years of my life in pursuit of my dreams, had one devastating set back and now I was offered the choice of giving up on all I had accomplished with not much to show for it but a mountain of debt and hope. The other choice was to take all of the hours I had invested in educating myself, the knowledge I had gained in those classes, attending film festivals, workshops and incubators, the manifestation of projects in various stages of development, the sweat, time and expertise of all of the freelancers who collaborated on my projects – unpaid, deferred and paid, the monies I was able to raise through crowdfunding, grants and platforms like Patreon and Fundly, the few messages of my need to capitulate and get a real job and the ocean of messages of support from friends, family  and mentors and push on. When you look at it like that, there is no choice. I had to keep moving forward.

The rough water is chest level and the punishing waves have elicited an unending barrage of stress, fear, anxiety and doubt, but I saw the shore.  In one of my workshops for artists, the instructor told us, “No one is coming to save you.” Damn. Damn. Damn. Seven years fighting each day towards this dream and no one would come rescue me? Damn. To tell you the truth, as frustrating as that message is, it is liberating to know that you are going to have to pull your head out of your own arse and figure things out. Sure there will be people to support your journey, but this is one trip across the ocean that you’re going to have to take on your own.

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If you believe, as I do, that everything happens for a reason and that you are where you are supposed to be, then the dark times can be paralyzing. I have always looked at it from the perspective that I am here because I still have something to learn before I can transcend to my next level of consciousness and overcome my worldly rough waters.

In 2008 when I was an actress deciding to write a show with my friend so we could see positive representations of ourselves on television and work in the field we so loved, I could never have imagined how soul crushing and financially debilitating this journey would become. I guarantee you that I would NEVER have decided to embark on the journey if anyone had shared that with my then 34 year-old self. I wasn’t strong enough. I didn’t have enough courage. I wasn’t worthy enough. I couldn’t tolerate that much pain, shame, longing and despair. That’s who I would have believed I was back then.

The woman I am today is in the boat with the rough pounding waters demanding that I turn back, that I give up, that I abandon this pipe dream and go back to where I belong. The problem is that I’ve seen the shore, and even more important than the shore is that lined up along the path to the shore are lifeboats of love, compassion, support, encouragement, inspiration, motivation, empathy, self-discovery and wonder! I’m not sure why I couldn’t see it before, but I am eternally grateful to know that although they can’t save me, they won’t let me go down with my ship! They are pacing me, lighting the way and making sure I know that we are in this together. I have to get my boat to the shore, but I am not alone. I see the shore. I don’t know how many days, weeks, months or years it will take me to get there, but I do know that I will get there and oh, the celebration we will have when all of our boats are on the shore together.

Keep going…

 

Life After

Passion, hustle, relentless, inspired, driven, tireless – those were words that could have been used to describe the pursuit of my creative dreams before 8:45 am on March 7, 2016. Listless, unfocused, lost, self-preservative, conciliatory, slow – these words feel closer to where I am today, 10 am on May 9, 2016.

On Sunday, March 6th my 18 year-old nephew Coby ended his life by stepping in front of a train. I pause at the writing of that sentence because of the tightening in my throat, the tears that threaten to blur my vision and the current that runs up and down my arms. This moment, the moment I wish I could freeze like a superhero in a film, is the moment that will haunt my dreams for the rest of my life.

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One of my first days with Coby

I graduated with a degree in Psychology, have a bunch of friends who are clinicians and have been down the terrifying path of suicide with others in the past. I have worked in Emergency Response and with children in crisis in the past but nothing could have prepared me for the donkey kick to the solar plexus that was the notification call from my brother that Monday morning.

There was no doubt in what I was hearing, “Coby took his life” but I still heard myself scream, “NO! WHAT??” I’m not sure how the human mind processes trauma. I’m not a clinician. I decided to go another route into the creative world, but I doubt whether clinician or not, that I would have an understanding of what my body and mind was doing in those moments to protect me. My mind is still protecting me and it is the very act of protection that has altered who I am right now.

Coby’s journey is over and I am left behind trying to make sense out of the senseless. There are certain truths I have been able to accept. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want help. Some people talk about committing suicide but never do and others don’t talk about it but execute the act.

When I became a parent I learned that I wasn’t in control. It was one of the scariest realizations of my lifetime. To love this little being more than my own life and to know that I could not control how long she would remain on this Earth was the most painful and terrifying discovery. It gave way to my faith. It found me praying that we would be allowed to have a long life together and that I would be around to see her triumphs and tribulations. It gave me the freedom to “offer up” my worries and fears.

I have never, nor would I ever be prepared for my recent internal dialogue about suicide. The questions about what I did, what I could have done and how I missed the breadcrumbs Coby floated out into the social media universe about the pain he was living with. I live online. So much of the work I do is online but all I could think was that I missed it. What could I have been doing that was more important than being there for the man-child I had watched grow from an adorable, precocious, sweet, mischievous and goofy kid?

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I sat with those thoughts for a short while before I let myself off the hook. I know, and I knew in other situations, that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want help. He was 18 and in my world that means he had his own life. A life full of sports, friends, pop culture and his own dreams. I was the Aunt who was there when he forgot to bring candy to school one day and who showed up for family gatherings, but I was also the Aunt that was caught up trying to figure out how to navigate life as a divorced, single-parent solo mompreneur.

I wasn’t around for the soccer games, the birthdays (unless they were specifically for the family) and the ins and outs of his life. I misguidedly figured I’d be there for the important days – his high school graduation, his first college soccer game, his wedding and the birth of his kids.) I was here waiting in the wings if he needed anything, but I was in the wings. That was the relationship we had and if his life ended differently I wouldn’t even be here writing about it.

This post isn’t about Coby or his life. I couldn’t do him justice in a blog post. How do you sum up the moments, giggles, guffaws, bursts of pride, stern looks and gusts of love into words? How can you encapsulate what 18 years of loving an ever-changing human being means? I can’t. I won’t even try.

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Coby making sure I’m treating his baby sister right.

This post is about life after Coby. It’s easy to get distracted from the morass of feelings that sneak up from time to time because I didn’t see him all that often. It’s easy for my brain to default to an alternate reality where he will be there the next time I visit my brother, sister-in-law and niece at their house…but he won’t be there…and every now and then it comes screaming back.

In between the alternate reality and the screaming back there lies the space and time where I need to be mom, business owner and human being. The problem is I feel like I’ve forgotten who I was and how to get back there. Gone is my playful, social justice-themed and inspired social media chatter. Gone is my frequent “third shift” role call when I check in on Facebook to see who else is burning the midnight oil working on projects, grant applications or grad school work. Gone is my ability to stay up late and work all night. Gone is my willingness to want to listen to the voicemail messages that have been filling up my phone. Gone is the spark that fueled my creative engine.

Intellectually I know that my creative engine is in neutral and that life is the spark. I’m treading water until my heart receives that message and decides to return to my creative sandbox. The million dollar question is how do I navigate my work, parenting and creative demands in the meantime? My daughter wants her “happy mom” back. I thought I was being happy mom, but I appears that I am only the happy mom stand-in.

Coby’s death leaves me wondering what really matters? How much of what I do results in a positive impact on this world we share? I am grateful that the work I have chosen to do at this point in my life is meaningful and that I can see a reason to keep moving forward. I don’t have to ask myself how important it is to show up as a mom, which is another reason to feel gratitude. On the tough days since Coby has passed  I remind myself that the sun will rise and the birds will sing…and so will I.

Thankfully I have some outstanding client obligations that drag me back to my computer but the biggest challenge I am facing is how I move forward with the stuff that filled my head and heart before Coby’s death left a gash behind. I know that it will take time to heal and transcend this trauma but my head and heart are at war because I was raised in a society where you work! You grind, hustle and then grind some more until you fall out…and then you start all over again.

There was never a chapter on what to do when the world stops, your heart contracts and you can’t see straight anymore. I miss Coby. The absolute hardest part is parenting my little one through the big questions about where he is and all of her memories of Coby. Just when I get myself in check she lobs me a question or a memory or just sits down with a sad, tear-filled face.

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There are no answers. There is no normal. There is only life after. In our  life after I hold her close, I rest when I’m tired, I ignore the calls I can’t handle and I do my best to be kind to my heart as it finds the resources it needs to heal. On my best days I’m a poor imitation of happy mom and on my worst I am the best that I can be. Life moves on and as I had to remind myself, life is for the living.

I wish with every fiber of my being that I could have been there in the moment Coby decided to go ahead with his plan, but it was not meant to be. My heart goes out to my brother, sister-in-law, niece and all of those who were close to Coby. I can’t imagine what it is like to have seen him every day and now to have to live with that loss…how you put your life back together when a entire piece of your heart is missing.

People have asked how I’m doing. Many have reached out with messages of love and support. I’m grateful. In time I believe I will be able to read and listen to them all, but right now my heart isn’t up to it. I have created a safe space filled with people who were there when it happened and who knew nothing about it. In some weird way it gives me freedom to fall apart or pretend nothing is wrong, depending on the situation.

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My heart won’t allow me to do the “getting to know you” conversation about his passing anymore. I know people don’t mean anything by it, but I just know that I can’t relive or debate the details of his passing one more time – not right now. Right now I’m going to work out, cook things I never cooked before, love up on my prickly, hormonal pre-teen and spend time nurturing my spark so that it will come back to my creative sandbox.

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For more information on Coby and the Fly High Coby Fund:

https://www.gofundme.com/flyhighCoby

http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2016/04/parents_of_teen_suicide_victim_starting_nonprofit.html

If you are in need of help please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  1 (800) 273-8255