Lately, I make vegan thumbprint cookies a lot. Finely milled or blanched almond flour and raspberry or apricot preserves are on my grocery list each week nowadays. Baking for me indicates patience, more time, and up until recently, Pillsbury boxes have been my go-to, helping me save both. During some phases of the last few months, I had more of that slow-patient time once I figured out how to harbor it. Layla passed my lazy mise en place on the island one day and said, “You really like those cookies.”
I wonder if any of my family will remember these as a print of the last few months, where times changed, where Mom added a little more baking to her skill set, where Mom explained distancing and its phases, and where Mom talked with us about race. Either batch of conversation ended like the moment you take cookies out of the oven and wonder if they came out okay, looking under them and waiting on them to cool to figure out what else to do better next time.
You couldn’t tell it now, but I organized my pantry and spice cabinets. This seemed like what I was supposed to do once time opened up some; seems like people everywhere turned their attention on stuff inside their house. Once donation sites opened up collections again, I emptied my car trunk filled with trash bags, toys denting little slits in them. After hunkering down for months, I’ve had “porch time” dates with friends where we sit on rockers about 6 ft away from each other and chat. I’ve learned how to inflate pools in minutes with a blow dryer and an empty water bottle. I invested in some outdoor games. I’ve watched a confetto of shows so incongruous that the selection serves as evidence of these unorthodox hours and days since March 12th, a date for us in Georgia, when stuff started to stop being old-normal. Recently, I’ve cautiously shelved—for now—the person who looks just like me who bought 5 boxes of hair dye and extra Tylenol in March. I purchased raised garden beds once they came back in stock. I’ve grown tomato plants from tomatoes with the moral support of my green-thumbed followers. For months I’ve washed produce extensively and sanitized groceries, but I’ve been a little lax on that the last few trips. Getting up at 4:30 am to go to the gym feels like a symbol of an old life. Even what I was doing in April feels like an old, old life.
By May, clinging on to daily routines through their changed contexts was tiring, but I was still trying. Digital days, treadmill-walking in the garage, long-text message threads with friends about what’s going on in the news, those continued. Working digital life for the family had completed its strange toll, becoming more and more routine until finally, the school year was over. And by the end of it, there was a softness, one of those exhausted breaths that winds down a day of worrying and settles like bare feet on cool grass.
This June has gone by without tapping my shoulder, without that trip to Ireland and Scotland I’d planned with excited students; without typical June weather, without a lot of good things; stuff is weird. Sorry to use such a basic word. Weird, though, things feel. Neighbors’ kids run through the sprinklers. There are cars driving on roads, lots of them, Amazon trucks delivering items, and cereal on the store shelf, but there is a revolution happening, and there is a pandemic panning.
Normal things are still occurring in a changing world; momentum is building; people are strengthening their skill sets in this strange bracketed time; some are just surviving and trying to do right; some are suffering and clinging; some are thriving and feeling guilty; some are cancelled; some are cultured; some are stepping out of their comfort zones and trying; some took a vacation by easing up on the news, and then went back hardcore when they returned; some are mourning; some are resting; some are judging.
Some are lonely, away from parts of life that fill in quiet gaps between work and sleep; and some are having Zoom weddings and celebrations. Some are maskless and promiscuous; some are cautious and controlled. Saharan dust and COVID-19 and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Black Lives Matter and PRIDE, the absolutely natural, instinctive fight for normal human existence and dignity; these names, monumental and powerful associations from this time that cannot leave any of us the same as before because then, come-on-now, then, you would have missed something essential. Not the allusion to Tiger King or the eye roll about toilet paper, but you would have missed this time in our present when call to action goes beyond our plans for the summer, this summer of staying alive and well, this summer of learning how to listen and learn, about how to get smarter about things you thought you knew. This season, not defined by weather but by cultural tone and political dissatisfaction, has positioned us powerfully in a state of awareness inside our lives and outside into others’.
Awareness and thumbprint cookies, masks and cereal, Instagram stories and platform exchanges, lakeside photos and reading the news at 1 am, embarrassed or horrified or both. Online shopping mixed with online GoFundMe donations; masks and protests, masks and protests. All the daily juxtapositions may leave us feeling differently about the same things each night. We paused back in March, then unpaused slowly like when your streaming show comes in and out after a storm, and now we’re kind of in this whatever-this-is until school starts again in a whichever-way-it-starts way for those of us in the southeast.
And then what? The weirdest thing is that as a teacher gearing up to face the academic, social, and health realities rolling among us, I really don’t know, but I feel anything coming up is going to be hard work. But I’m going to keep on trying new things, listening to new people to me, and trying to improve in a lasting way so that all of this time we’ve had to think about our lives–about our time, our human race, our perspective, our health, our thinking, our way of life– isn’t just burned; it isn’t a batch of time one would rather forget rather than improve. Instead, we work at it and endure the cracks of discomfort and find time to be patient about it until it has no other choice. At least this is what I know is true for me on my educator timeline, with my elementary-aged children, as July is down the street and old-normal and changed-normal are assigned to gear up and set some kind of table.