Here’s what I can’t stop thinking about :

Tension // Intention.   

I can’t shake the homophonous connection, so I looked it up, and lo, there is a root share.  It’s tendere (shoutout to my fellow #wordnerds), which deals with straining, effort, pull, and push.

Anyway, I find it compelling that the root of intention — which has lately been co-opted into the arena of yoga, journals, and clean eating; in other words, peacefulness and wholeness —  is, at the end of the day, about strain.

I’ve been setting a lot of intentions lately.  You know what?  Intentions aren’t easy.  They are my better angels, and lately it seems they are outnumbered.  They are fighting the good fight, but the war is far from over.

I will not yell today, even when I am tired and frustrated.   I will do yoga today, even if it means I have to let the kids watch TV.  I will summon empathy today, even as I am breaking.  I will confront and question my inherent bias.  I will read more (when I find a quiet moment, when no one needs a snack).  I will motivate my children without shaming them.  I will volunteer (from inside my house).  I will be informed, but I won’t drown in information.  I will love, all the time, no matter how angry or alienated, or scared I feel.  I will practice the benefit of the doubt, practice kindness, practice patience, endless patience.  I will wait for the smoke to clear, wait for the election, wait for school to resume, wait to be alone with my thoughts again, wait until it’s safe to go outside, wait until it’s safe to hug a friend, wait and wait and wait.  I will not go nuts with the waiting.  I will own the waiting.  I will live inside the walls of the waiting and try to appreciate the moment.  

These are my intentions.  Sitting there, challenging me.

God.  There is so much tension.

I am having trouble finding the words for how I feel.  I debate if these words are appropriate to speak out loud or if I should just be quiet, let others have the floor.  It’s like a confession wrapped in an apology.  Survivor’s Guilt?  We have our health, our jobs, while people die and emergency relief funds run out.  Our home still stands though our noses run from the stench of the state burning around us.  I can’t complain, I have no right to complain, but can I be sad?  Sad for other people but also sad for myself?  Can I feel hopeless?  Is it possible to practice gratitude even as optimism dries up and leaves the stale taste of smoke in the back of your throat?

While the children Zoom, sighing with boredom and sneaking snatches of YouTube on the side, I donate to the local volunteer firefighters.  I address postcards to unregistered voters in Georgia and Texas.  I make lunch for my family, chop the veggies for dinner.  I buy some shoes online.  They are good SLOUNGE shoes.   (This is a new term my husband taught me — he works in retail: Sleep + Lounge.)

I will stop shopping online as a form of solace and avoidance.  I will not drink too much.  Or eat too much.  Even though my nine-year-old continues to bake, almost compulsively, as a substitute for running around outdoors.

I set an intention to read but instead I scroll through Instagram.  This is not a healthy habit.  It does not help with the shopping, or the information overload, or the general feeling of uselessness.

I revise my intention to be more specific: Whenever I have the urge to scroll through Instagram, I will read instead.

We shelter-in-two-places, spending a month or two in San Francisco, then joining my parents in Tahoe for a month or two.  There is SO MUCH TOGETHERNESS.  There is SO MUCH DAY.  Half the time I am tearing my hair out, falling exhaustedly into bed at 9:30pm with the laundry still unfolded, barely able to make it through an episode of Schitt’s Creek.  I am simultaneously lonely and desperately craving alone-ness.  I finally confess to LittleMan that I find Go Fish to be the most boring game ever.  I feel guilty for not being better at play.  I beg the kids to like Boggle and Scrabble.  Word games.  We fight about screen time, then I happily hand over my iPhone so they can make a new playlist and we can stop listening to the Jonas Brothers and Imagine Dragons on repeat.  Then (when I break my intention) Instagram chastises me to cherish these moments because they will be gone too soon and my 12-year-old will be a busy tween again.

This is the duality of it all: I do cherish it; I cherish the fact that we have always been a Family First kind of a crew, and in many ways that makes this all easier.  I cherish, in particular, my parents: their help, their relationships with the kids, their grounding empathy towards my husband and me.  I cherish the littlest things, the things I used to take for granted.  I cherish the pedicure I am finally able to get.  I cherish learning to shuck an oyster.  I cherish the birthdays we spend quietly as a family, cherish the relief of NOT planning a party.  I cherish the chilly wind, carrying the promise of clearer skies.  I cherish the scent of coffee brewing early, early in the morning, while I’m lying in bed in the dark, before I’ve had a chance to set or break any intentions.

Beyond this, yes, there are moments of joy.  They sneak up on us.  On Sunday, with an AQI of almost 200 (“Very Unhealthy Air Quality”, the iPhone warns me), we are crawling out of our skin so we decide the hell with it and go swimming for 15 minutes.  My husband chases the kids in the pool and they scream and even I jump in — chased in, perhaps, by the dark skies and red sun — and we are breathless and shivery and washed of the dread that had gripped us.  Baptism by cold and chlorine.  We watch a movie and eat dinner on our laps.

I will be here, now.

On Tuesday, a friend texts and suggests we take the kids to a pier on a beach hidden behind some woods nearby.  As the sun glows eerily, she and I sit with her dog, who gallops in the water and shakes his sandy body all over us, and the kids race down the pier and jump off, flying and splashing into the icy cold of Lake Tahoe on this windy September afternoon, scrambling back to the beach to huddle under towels and eat chips.

I will be here, now.

Back in the city, in a desperate bid to find fresh air, I drag the kids to the Zoo for the first time in six years or more, and we are surprised and delighted to remember that we love the Zoo.  We are thrilled by the tigers and amused by the otters, and we walk the 2.5 mile loop at a leisurely pace and get ice cream when we’re done.  The Zoo, with its proximity to the Pacific, prompts us to spend another afternoon at Ocean Beach, where the kids leap off sand dunes while the wind whips around our beach blanket.

I will be here, now.

Nothing is okay.  Everything is fine.

I will do my best.  I will try.  I am trying.  I will wait.

The only intention is to exist, patiently, with the tension.

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