Three Fights

My husband and I have had three fights during shelter-in-place, which is more fights than we’ve had in the decade before. The first time, I went to join a friend to look at her garden. The second time, I went to join her at a garden store.

Kevin didn’t understand why I would take an unnecessary risk. He’d be content holing up in our home with me and the children for months on end. Maybe years. He said, “Don’t you understand that the doctors are begging us to stay home?” I wanted to slap him.

My sisters are doctors, my father is a doctor, my friend with the garden, let’s call her R, is a doctor. All of them under impossible stress, and I cannot help them. When R asked me to come with her to look at flowers, there was absolutely no way I was going to say no to her. It was the very least I could do, and if he didn’t understand that —

In a long marriage, you learn when not to finish a sentence.

I should have been a doctor, but instead I became a writer. In late winter, I went to Seattle and California for writing conferences. On darkened airplanes I read accounts from Italian doctors, begging for help. ‘We don’t have enough ventilators. Our patients can’t breathe, and we can’t help them. We have to ship the bodies to other cities because our morgues are full.’ At the conference, we awkwardly avoided hugging.

I returned home with a cough; I stayed home that week, teaching remotely, a week before we were told to. I’d been trapped in a disease incubator of an airplane; how could I risk my students?

I drowned in coronavirus news, growing frantic, learning why we should all wear masks, learning how to sew them, writing up instructions, recording videos showing how to thread a sewing machine, trying to form a mutual aid society, battening down every hatch I could think of against the approaching storm, knowing it wasn’t enough, not nearly enough, cursing myself for not being a doctor, not running for higher office, not being in a position to make a real difference in a time of disaster.

The U.S. is approaching 100,000 coronavirus deaths this week. We are preparing to re-open Illinois, not knowing if now is the right time, knowing this will inevitably lead to more deaths. Our university wants us to teach in-person classes in the fall, putting our students and ourselves at risk. Researchers tell us a year of human life is worth $129,000.

Our daughter turned 13 this week. I tell you, the value of her single life is infinite.

The third fight had nothing to do with my doctor friend. I didn’t need to go out at all, but I desperately wanted to, so I went. Maybe I bought flour, or sugar – whatever it was, it was an excuse to leave the house. Two months is a long time; sometimes I go out because otherwise I feel like I can’t breathe.

I can’t pretend that feeling is the same as actually not breathing. I’m staying in as much as I can stand; I think of the healthcare workers, and that helps me stay in a little longer.

Right now, I’m holding my breath.


– Mary Anne Mohanraj, “Three Fights”

Thanks to Nicole Walker and Matthew Batt for inviting me to contribute a piece to their compendium, “How We Are” — writers and artists reflecting on this moment of pandemic. It was good to pause for a moment and try to articulate a little of this.

Link to the project in comments; so many meditative and fascinating responses to browse through!

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Pause for Mommy Heartbreak

Anand: “I guess I’m finally getting to the point of being sad about things we can’t do because of the pandemic.”

Me: “Oh? Were you feeling sad about something in particular?”

Anand: “I was just thinking that I think I’m brave enough now to try going in the deep end of the pool, and then I realized I wouldn’t be able to try for at least a year.”

[pause for Mommy heartbreak]

Me: Well, we’re going to try to put some kind of above-ground pool in the backyard this summer. I’m not sure how deep it’ll be, but hopefully you can get a little swimming practice, at least. We’ll get you in the water, kiddo, I promise.


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Sewing for Librarians

Sewing tonight for my librarians, who are getting ready to go back to work-in-the-library instead of work-from-home, whenever the governor decides we’ve entered phase 3. It could be as soon as June 1 (limited service, checking out items placed on hold, for example, no patrons hanging out in the library), which means they need masks pronto.

This morning, I spent a few hours cutting, and tonight after the kids went to bed, I spent a few hours sewing in elastics. These masks aren’t done yet — they still need to be pleated and have nose pieces attached, but I should be able to get that done in the next day or two.

We have 146 staffers at our three libraries (not all librarians, but all of great value to our community). I’m not saying I’m going to sew a mask for every single one of them before this is over…but I might. At least one from each of my fabrics, so hopefully they’ll have some fun picking out which ones they want. (This is about half of the fabrics I have on hand.)

I mean, our library can budget to buy them masks, of course, and will do so for any I (and one of the other trustees who is also sewing!) don’t manage to produce. The director will make sure staff go back to work protected. Thankfully, we seem to be past the phase when elastic couldn’t be had for love or money.

But I admit, I am feeling personally protective of our library staff, and maybe even a little superstitious about ironing a little good luck into each of these. This is not what I expected I’d be doing when I ran for office, but we serve how best we can; right now, this is where I have a useful skill. Thanks to those of you who bought masks from me — each purchased mask funds a donated mask, so this week, you’re funding protection for our librarians.

Don’t worry, I’ll also be virtually Zooming in for tomorrow’s monthly board meeting. I won’t even try to sew through it. 

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Prepping for Kavi’s Party

I may have stayed up until 1 a.m. prepping for Kavi’s socially distanced birthday party tomorrow. (Kevin helped, or it would’ve been at least an hour later.)

I realized, as I was heading out to a second grocery store (because the first had closed early due to Covid and didn’t note it on their website, sigh), that as important as it was for Kavi to have a nice 13th birthday party, even during shelter-in-place…

…it was probably even more important to me that I *throw* her a nice 13th birthday party, even during shelter-in-place. Kavi’s really a pretty chill kid; she would’ve been okay with us barely celebrating. But I wouldn’t have been.

It’s funny, the things that you don’t realize are incredibly important to you.

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It Mattered

Even though the U.S. has been so non-compliant with shelter-in-place that we are now facing a much longer stretch of it than might have been necessary, which is deeply frustrating, please don’t feel that those of you who have been responsible and sacrificed to stay home for the last two months have wasted your efforts.

Without what we’ve done so far, the healthcare system in New York would surely have been overwhelmed, with dire consequences for many. Hospitals would’ve been forced into horrific triage calculations, with long-term trauma consequences for everyone involved. The country as a whole would have suffered many more deaths by this point.

We are tired and grieving, but I promise you, it would have been so much worse.

I know it’s hard to really absorb the truth of things that didn’t happen, but you should be proud of what you’ve done to help flatten the curve and reduce harm so far. It mattered.

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One more poem, from several years ago.


In two hours outside today,
three strangers wished me a happy
mother’s day; I thanked them,
casually enough. I am actually a mother
this year, and for the past seven,
though not for many grey and grieving
years before.

They could not know my situation,
but I look old enough that here
in this leafy suburb, they assume.
Most women here are mothers.
Not necessarily good ones.

My daughter gave me a book
this morning; pre-printed cover
claimed: “My mom is the best!!”
I try. After so many years of trying
to have them, I try hard. Even so,
so many days I fail to live up
to my own standards of good
mothering. That bar is set so high.

I yelled at them just now. The day
was long and hot; I thought a bath
before bed would do them good,
bring them deeper sleep. They fought,
crabby from the heat, until I yelled
and yelled again. And then, exasperated,
came over with arms upraised
to take them out. They went to bed
quiet, a little sad. Mostly exhausted;
I should have known better.

I do well enough. It was overall
a good day for them, for me. This day
must be terrible for those who
failed their children, hurt them
badly enough that they walked
away. Or were taken. Terrible
too for those whose mothers
failed them. When the best choice
you can make is to walk away,
everyone loses, inevitably.

And there are those who
lost their mothers, those who are
still trying to be mothers, still
hoping, those who have given
up hope. There are those who
never wanted to be mothers but
who are pricked a thousand times
by the casual, insistent assumption.
Why do we do this to ourselves?

But today I spent some time
with old photographs, remembering
my mother as she was; she is
different now. There is no one
in the world who remembers
the way she looked, mini-skirted,
waving goodbye as I walked
to the bus stop. And today
my son brought me three glasses
of water, desperate to do something
nice for mommy’s day.

There is no way to balance
these scales, to claim that one
goodness outweighs, justifies,
those little pangs and deep miseries.
They coexist, and so do we,
joy and grief intertwined.

Be gentle, be mindful, be kind;
we are in this boat together.

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Learning From Home

I have to say, I think Anand is learning more at home being unschooled than he was in school, and is much happier.

Which isn’t to say that he isn’t missing some things that could use more disciplined teaching, and I’m hoping Kevin and I will have more time to do that this summer after the semester’s done and grades are in. Math has kind of fallen by the wayside, for example, and his handwriting is still terrible.

But Anand is really into history, and he’s spending a lot of his time just reading history comic books (Nathan Hale is a HUGE hit with him) and watching history videos. Periodically he’ll come in like he just did to declare to me, “Harriet Tubman was AMAZING.” Yes, yes she was. Nice to see you’ve moved on from World War I military trivia. “It doesn’t seem real, everything she did.” I know, baby.

I think we may need to seriously consider unschooling him next year too, though, for his last year of elementary school, and hope to reintegrate him into the system in sixth grade, starting middle school. And of course, it’ll be easier to hold back the spread if fewer kids are actually in school….


….But it’s complicated, because I also don’t want the schools to lose money from the state if a bunch of kids aren’t in the system for a year. I don’t know that advocating for parents to keep their kids home if they have the option is the best idea either? Let us not dismantle the public school system!

And I imagine that it’d be mostly wealthier parents who have the option to keep kids home and will take advantage of it. If the schools lose their tax dollars, everyone who is more marginalized will suffer with cuts to teachers, etc. 

But on the other hand, it’s not as if the schools would stop collecting property taxes if kids were out — maybe it would actually ease the burden on overcrowded classrooms? And/or help make it possible for at-risk teachers to teach remotely?

All very unclear to me. But Anand is happier and learning more at home. Sigh.

Kavi misses school a lot, though, and will be eager to go back. She’s generally keeping up with her e-learning, but she’s much happier in the classroom with her friends. I think she’s a little prone to depression and anxiety, and this is not helping.

She’s doing fine, but we’re keeping an eye on her, just in case, making sure she gets exercise and out in the sunshine; left to herself, she’d just spend all day lying in her bed. (She does sometimes really get into her art though, and spend hours on doing something like drawing a very realistic eye. That’s cool.)

Tough all around.

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Sweet Notes

Aw. The students have started handing in their final projects, and some of them are accompanied with very sweet notes:

“Thank you so much for a great semester. I’m sure transitioning online was not an easy task, but you handled it remarkably well. I appreciate how understanding you were of all of our schedules. Have a great summer!”

Nice to be appreciated. 

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