Sunday 30 January 2022

Rocking, Settling

Dash was unsettled tonight. All day, really. Argumentative, heel-dragging, impulsive… While he managed to behave himself hanging out with friends today, he immediately went around the house hooting and bashing as soon as they left. It culminated in him biting James at bedtime, which lost him some portion of their bedtime routine together, a story or a book I think. James left the room, and Dash wailed for a while. 

Around 9pm, he emerged, requesting that his microwavable comfort plushie, his warm owl, be re-warmed. I agreed to do it, and asked if he had apologized to James. He said he had, James said he had not, so I requested that Dash do that while I microwaved the owl. He did, and he and James talked, and then he went back to his room, where I found him crying. His eyes were dry, but he was sobbing, and when I asked him if he wanted to cuddle in the chair he said yes. He held his warm owl on his chest, and I sang for him, rocking back and forth. It’s been a while since we did it that way, as he’s so long now that he doesn’t fit neatly laying down in my lap, nor even across the chair itself, his legs now dangling over the edge and pillow barely nestled in between his head and the arm of the rocker. 

We revisited that old ritual, and he settled. He was so tired. He rubbed his eyes, and then his eyelids got heavy, and then eventually his little mouth opened a little and his body relaxed completely into slumber. I rocked him, and kissed his forehead, and marveled at how much that rocking chair serves as a growth chart, with him now spilling over both sides of its generous seat when he once rested there upon a nursing pillow. 

He’s now definitely a kid. When I kissed him tonight, he was a beautiful boy, no longer a little nursing baby, though he instinctually lay in the same old position. He smells as small children do, freshly bathed and warm from a cuddle, rather than the milky softness of infancy. But when I hold him like that, all moments of Dash are simultaneous, matryoshka moments of growing him up into who he is and is becoming. He has always been there, and yet is new every day, bigger and stronger and more curious as he runs through the world. 

What a blessing it is to be able to soothe him still. I’m not sure he has any inkling what a wild ride we have all been on in the four years he’s been alive. That rocking chair has sat in the eye of a hurricane, a sacred space in the chaos where things are simple in the infinitely complex way that maternity entails. Amid the evolutionary triumph of a human home standing strong against the elements, we are animals nestled together, jangled nerves calmed by the warm assurance of each other’s presence as we fly through time.

Friday 14 January 2022


Dash just took me on a journey, following our second viewing of Encanto, that was sufficiently deep as to remind me of the psychedelic rendering of Coco that my cousin's daughter treated us to on the way to my Grandma's burial nearly four years ago now.

Dash was sitting in the bathtub, asking a great many questions about Bruno, and what certain things meant in the film. Since Encanto really amazingly explores an incredible range of family issues, connections and disconnections--really, I challenge anyone to not see their family in some aspect of the Madrigals--I had a lot of material on which to riff, and Dash kept saying, charmingly: "You can keep talking about Bruno, or anything you want about Encanto!" A few times, when I paused because he sounded like he was on the verge of having a question, he said, "You can keep going. I'll ask if I think of any questions." 

At one point he clarified that he was hearing everything I was saying, and he was thinking about it all, and he would tell me if a question popped up. I pointed out that this was a conversation, the kind of thing that his Daddy and I have been trying to encourage at the dinner table, where we think and have ideas together rather than interrupting, hooting or clowning around. 

He said something particularly amazing, and I went over to high-five him only to discover he was marinating in a completely tepid bath with clammy hands. I moved to get him out and into a warm towel, to which he protested that he was warm; he wanted to keep talking forever, and we'd made a good honest attempt over the time it took his bathwater to cool. 

While he was standing in his Astro Dash towel, he had an epiphany: "I have everyone in my heart, even people I haven't met, because I have people in my heart who have all of those people in their hearts." We have talked before about how the people we love can live on in our hearts, even if they are not right there with us or even alive anymore, and he extrapolated from there. "The very first person, I have them in my heart, because the people I have in my heart knew them." He expounded on this great connection, and I affirmed that we all indeed came from some early person somewhere, and there is a chain of relationship and love that precedes us and encompasses us. 

He's really an amazing child. Honestly, I think they all are, but this is the kiddo who I get to see developing his heart and mind before my very eyes, reaching out for the cosmic and sublime, and he's just wonderful.

Tuesday 11 January 2022

A Tale of Two COVIDS

"'The crisis from the Omicron peak is not generated by serious COVID illness in regions with highly vaxxed populations,' Noble wrote in an email to SFGATE. 'The crisis we are suffering in the Bay Area is largely driven by disruptive COVID policies that encourage asymptomatic testing and subsequent quarantines. … The vast majority of COVID-plus patients I take care of need no medical care and are quickly discharged home with reassurance.'" 

I read this story last night (linked below), and while it helped put some puzzle pieces together for me--for example, how does San Francisco's ICU bed availability look so good and yet hospitals are overwhelmed?--it also helped me understand the particulars of why I'm finding this wave of COVID freshly exhausting and confusing. 

Omicron is a turning point in the USA's experience of the pandemic because the gulf has widened between how communities are hit. In very vaccinated areas like San Francisco, our problem is not currently that vast numbers of people are very sick, it's that lots of people are testing positive and isolating, and that's grinding the gears of everything from hospitals to schools, public transit to food delivery. 

This is not the case in parts of the country with low vaccination rates, where hospitals are overwhelmed because lots of very ill COVID patients are once again in need of intensive care *as well as* medical staff shortages because of isolation protocols. Those areas are still facing 2020-style pandemic crisis, while high-vaccination communities are entering a new phase of negotiation with this coronavirus. 

Basically, right now, it sounds a lot like San Francisco and other areas that have vaccination rates roughly in the herd immunity range (70-90%) are starting to grapple with whether the policy prescriptions for this pandemic are causing more chaos than the virus itself. And that is basically a complete inversion from the public safety stance we've taken for the last two years to get us to this point. There's a huge amount of cognitive dissonance in that. 

And, yet, the practical approach in this very moment remains much the same: Stay out of hospital right now, because the system is under pressure. Try not to catch COVID, because the knock-on effects are still knocking on. 

There's a nationwide COVID spike happening, but the stories coming out of it vary widely. What's going on in San Francisco is not what's happening in rural Michigan. It's hard to take in how much is going on across the country, how it differs from place to place, how the national news relates to your county, and what that means about what you should do today. 

Risk assessment through COVID has always been exhausting--everyone has different personal health to consider, unequal socioeconomic starting points, wildly variable obligations in terms of caring versus ability to isolate... 

And, two years on, partisanship is a bigger predictor than other demographic data of vaccination status, with unvaccinated adults now more than three times as likely to lean Republican than Democratic, and likelihood of death from COVID far more likely in red counties due to the plague of rampant misinformation. 

For blue urban areas, we may spend the next few months fumbling through how the future looks with COVID largely minimized through vaccination and willingness to use appropriate PPE when called for. Another phase of adjusting our behavior is coming, and it's going to feel weird compared to the dystopian new normal we've practiced thus far. 

Please, get vaccinated, get your boosters, and be excellent to one another. There are signs of hope, though so much uncertainty still. We get through this by taking sensible precautions to protect each other. 

For reference: 

The story quoted and pictured here

San Francsico vaccination data

A rural Michigan doctor's perspective on this surge

Partisanship as predictive of COVID vaccination status

COVID deaths in red and blue counties

Wednesday 5 January 2022

Suppression and Sedition

Before the noise starts tomorrow, I want to get something out. In the early days of last year, we watched Trump’s attempted coup penetrate Congress by force. Shots were fired in the Senate chamber. Police officers were assaulted and killed. Insurrectionists broke into offices of our elected officials and were talking murder. 

The acute episode occurred on January 6th, 2021, but the insurrection is still unfolding. The party responsible for it has doubled down on anti-democratic language and policy, and our country is dangling at a precipice. We still need to take action, however tempting it may be to pretend we are back to business as usual. We are not. 

For a few days, having had their lives threatened by the invasion of Congress, some Republicans spoke out. Shortly after, they mostly quieted their criticism of Trump and the violence they had witnessed. Within months, the armed riot was being reframed as tourism gone wild by almost all GOP congresspeople who were—and still are—more afraid of speaking the truth than the consequences of The Big Lie. 

We currently have one of the largest investigations in history transpiring with regard to the January 6th insurrection. Some 700 people have had charges brought against them. About 20% have plead guilty, and have cited Trump’s call to action as their impetus to invade our government and disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. A lot of little fish have been snared, and today Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke about this being the routine way to start, to settle the shorter sentences first and gain cooperation to build bigger cases. This is nowhere close to done, and for something of this immense scale it's actually working quite quickly. 

But at the end of his speech today, Garland specifically called upon Congress to take action to protect voting rights. January 6th of 2021 was about Trump overturning an election result he didn't like, and the attempt to do so involved everything from Trump directly pressuring state election officials to treat democratic results unfavorable to him as fraudulent to the former president’s inner circle conspiring to delay congressional certification of results so that Trump’s preferred electors could be put in place to override our votes. 

Since the 2020 election, Republican states have introduced a slew of laws designed to make voting less accessible to Black people in particular, for communities of color more broadly, and for Democratic-leaning urban areas especially. The entire Republican apparatus has abandoned the American experiment, and is instead setting up the dominoes to fall in their favor despite demographic changes that make it otherwise unlikely that they would be able to win elections. This is happening from the bottom to the top; state and local Republican officials are carrying water for another attempt at authoritarian rule. 

It is very telling that, in the same breath as the Attorney General is reporting on the state of an enormous investigation into an attempted coup, he is imploring the legislative branch to secure our voting rights. But you have a role to play here, too. 

Firstly, tune into what is happening with the January 6th investigation if you have not already. Heather Cox Richardson is doing an incredible job of generating a nightly précis on the day’s news and how it fits into our nation's history. Donald Trump brought us into a state of Constitutional crisis, and his hold on the Republican party is keeping us there, because they are actively eroding our ability to meaningfully vote in this country. This is happening now. 

Secondly, stop voting for Republicans. If you ever have, now is not the time. The entire party is in thrall to Trumpism, they are engaged only in obstructionism and solidifying their power in the minority forever. Currently, Senate Democrats represent some 40 million more Americans than Senate Republicans, and the Democrats are trying to put through policy to protect children from living in poverty, ensure universal access to preschool and childcare, help make care of our elderly more affordable and comfortable, prevent cities from drowning and burning up due to runaway climate change, and invest in housing and healthcare so we can live healthier, more stable lives. Despite the widespread popularity of these ideas, not a single Republican Senator will back them. (They were all happy enough to offer tax cuts to the very rich, however.) 

The midterms will be coming up, and when they do it is very important that you get out and vote all the way down the ticket for Democratic candidates. Please, do not give an ounce of power to the insurrectionist Republican party. The stakes are very high. Vote with the fervor you showed in rejecting the mania of Donald Trump, because his madness is still pulling the strings. Call your Senators and press them to vote for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act; the pressure is on to eliminate or carve out the filibuster to get this done, with Chuck Schumer having set a deadline of January 17th to take action. Call them today; the Congressional Switchboard number is (202) 224-3121, they can connect you to your state’s senators. 

I’m stating all of this not because I love the Democratic party, but because they are the only thing we have right now in terms of a normal political party at the national level. For the folks out there that long to vote for a third party, that can only occur with widespread changes in how voting in this country works, and we are currently on the ropes about having our votes matter at all. Literally every vote cast for a Republican candidate at this moment contributes to the erosion of our democracy. We have to be a bulwark against this anti-democratic slide. 

In 1981, the Republican National Committee used their “Ballot Security Task Force” to harass and intimidate voters of color from participating in elections. Back then, we had the Voting Rights Act, and a federal lawsuit tied the RNC’s hands until 2018. The Republican party is continuing to employ voter suppression strategies that have their heritage in massacres of Black voters in the 19th Century and poll taxes in the 20th Century.

What happened on January 6th is part and parcel of the violent history of voter suppression in this country, and the GOP is so afraid of Trump and the armed, angry terrorists they have cultivated that we can expect them to continue to walk in lockstep after their mad king. With precious few exceptions, Republican politicians will not protect this country from falling into a future of meaningless elections, and rightwing talking heads have indeed convinced a shocking number of Americans that this has already occurred--all the better to disguise the threat in front of us and disempower us from pushing back. Experts are now watching the United States much as they would any country that appeared poised to fall to dictatorship. 

Fix up, look sharp, and stand ready to block rightwing extremism. History has its eyes on us. 

For reference: 

Intelligence analyst Malcolm Nance on the current state of Trumpism, and how it relates to the likes of Timothy McVeigh

A detailed look at the scope and speed of the Justice Department's January 6th investigation and prosecutions

AG Merrick Garland's remarks today

A recent history of Republican dirty deeds to suppress votes

A brief summary of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act with links to contact your congresspeople

Link to full text of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

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