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  • katherine halligan

Updated: Jan 2

Well, the good news is that the puppy did not eat her poo.


She has eaten, among other things (despite our constant and exhausting vigilance), a spicy cinnamon candy, a tissue, a piece of aluminium foil, a feather, a spider, and (despite our constant and disgusting application of an apparently useless bitter-apple spray, which serves only to make us all retch and simultaneously to whet her appetite for whatever we’ve just sprayed) several samples of different kinds of furniture.


But — as yet (and I say that “yet” in a tiny little whisper because if she’s anything like my children, she will hear me and the minute I make a pronouncement about her development or behaviour, she will do the very opposite thing, and the gods will guffaw at my ensuing misery) — she has not eaten her poo.


So among the many things I am giving thanks for at the end of this insanely awful year, our puppy’s lack of coprophagia is definitely on the list, certainly in the top twenty. I am giving thanks for many other things, too, which I will enumerate in a moment, but first I would like to share with you What Happened Next.


Because the puppy not eating her poo was just about the only good thing that happened in the ensuing 24 hours after my last post (we also didn’t get COVID, nor did the roof cave in, but that was just about it on the good list).


Things got rather pooier in a less literal way.


In no particular order, our older daughter overdosed the puppy with vitamins (she lived — “she” meaning both the puppy and the child), our younger daughter decided to attend her class Zoom wearing no pants (by which I mean, for my UK friends, no trousers; at least she was wearing her knickers; and she lived too), the same younger child (still without pants) filled a sock with salt (we don’t know why), and the puppy discovered howling as a form of entertainment both before and after waking me up with her vomiting at 2:30am (was it the cinnamon candy, the spider, or the particular combination of the two that disagreed with her?).


And so the next morning I nearly reversed over a nun.


(You couldn’t make this up, and I promise you that I have not.)


Nun-spotting in a coastal southern-Californian megalopolis is quite unusual, but for it to happen the morning after I’d managed four hours of broken sleep was a confluence of all sorts of bad luck and prank-playing by the gods, who were by now in hysterics as they watched my day unfold.


But while they were rolling about up there, weeping with delirious laughter at the absurd horror of my situation, it seems they decided to spare that nun or else give her guardian angel a run for her money. The nun, like me, was on a mission of charity, buying gifts — we might safely extrapolate — for underprivileged children at Christmas (or we could avoid the cliche and credit her with more imagination and zest: perhaps instead she was planning a wild New Year’s Eve at the convent). So, thankfully for all of us but especially the nun, either the gods or that guardian angel (I’m getting a bit religious here, but that sometimes happens at this time of year) turned my head at the last second as she materialised at the corner of my vision, and so tragedy was averted.


In my defence she was moving fast (some might say supernaturally so): I’d already looked twice because I was tired and I don’t have a backing camera or any high-techery that beeps at me to prevent me reversing over the innocent, and she definitely wasn’t there… until she was. Luckily some primal (or angelic) instinct stayed me, pressed my foot to the brake with lightning speed, and the nun lived to die another day.


Lucky nun, and lucky me. Because there is no chance I would have passed one of those walk-the-line sort of drunk-driving tests, for in my exhaustion I was literally wobbling. So I’m not writing to you from the slammer, and she is off preparing for a wild night of can-can and bingo. We all win.


And so there’s another thing on the list of things for which I’m grateful (quite a long ways ahead of the puppy’s absence of coprophagia) as this year of years draws to a close.

On the subject of divine intervention, I am also grateful for my older daughter’s fast-acting calm presence, as she has pulled small but potentially life-threatening pieces of plastic film from the puppy’s mouth no less than four times. Given that we now sweep our floor at least three times daily as well as mop it once a day with bleach, we are not entirely sure where this is coming from (though our suspicions lie firmly with our younger child, who for all her many charms often reminds us of the charming Pigpen character from "Charlie Brown”, a walking mass of mess and chaos), but we are simply thankful that our puppy has her own guardian angel in the form of one of our children.


We are also thankful that our younger child has different gifts with the puppy, namely an extraordinary sixth sense around animals and ability to commune with and calm them; she is our very own puppy whisperer, who is able to read her moods and needs and make all our lives easier and better.


We are of course thankful for so much more than either of these puppy-related skills that have lately emerged in our two progeny: we are thankful for their artistic talents of both the two- and three-dimensional sort, for their intellect, their wit, their delightful senses of humour, their robust good health, their sweetness, their brightness, and their sparkle, all of which contribute to their amazing and unwitting ability to carry their parents through any low spot — and this year has been a low spot of epic proportions.


We are thankful for wake-up calls — whether at 2am by puppies or in parking lots by nuns — and for sleep, in whatever tiny dribbles we might achieve it. (For that almost-fateful night was hardly an isolated event; in fact, last night I netted a whopping 4.5 hours of sleep, and those extra 30 minutes have fuelled the writing of this very post, during which process — I am delighted to report — not a single nun was endangered. Safer at home, indeed.)


We are thankful for our little flying furball, for the way she makes us all laugh, the way she explodes with tail-wagging joy when she greets us in the morning and makes us all feel like The Best Humans Ever, the way she licks our faces off, the way she curls up in our laps, warm and fluffy and ridiculously adorable.


We are thankful that we have work, both of the cancer-curing, bacon-bringing sort that my husband has and the veganishly-poor-but-life-affirming sort that I have (for after a nine-month lull, things are quietly picking up again and I am happy to share that I now have another book deal in hand).


We are thankful that we are healthy, in this year when health and life are more precious and precarious than ever.


We are thankful that our friends and family — with one tragic exception, whose loss we mourn deeply — are alive and mostly well.


We are thankful that we have just three weeks to go until the giant shepherd’s crook of democracy appears in the wings to pull the Dictator-in-Chief (or DIC, for short) off the stage he has used and abused for four painful and terrible years. The end of the daily horror show is in sight, and the prospect of relief from the constant, umm, idiocy (I can’t say what I really mean to say, because I am a children’s author, but if I weren’t I might use one of my signature turns of phrase, which may or may not rhyme with “duck-jittery”; if you don’t know what I mean, share this with your friends during your virtual New Year’s Eve party and see if they can crack it) is knee-weakeningly immense. Whether he leaves the White House under his own angry steam or whether he has to be escorted from the premises, we are thankful for the prospect that he will no longer wield a terrifying degree of power, and that we will be led instead by a sane, kind adult, who will care for us with a unifying benevolence that is desperately needed more than any time since March 4, 1861, when Lincoln was first inaugurated. The States remain united, against all the odds in this oddest of years. (And although puppies and presidents produce poo — some rather a lot of it — if we’re lucky, no one will be eating it, which means we can simply quietly scoop it up and carry on with the better things in life.)


We are thankful that this pandemic has brought us closer and taught us more about the things that matter, that it has offered us so many silver linings in the forms of friendships rekindled, time to truly inhabit our home and make it our own, and presence with our children and with each other.


We are thankful for all of this and so much more.


We are thankful for what lies behind us, for the moment we are in, for the prospect of a brighter future.


We are thankful and we are hopeful; we are thankful that we can even be hopeful again.

I’ve shared what happened next, on one random day in my life, but now what happens next, in the randomness of all our lives? We don’t know, of course, because we don’t have 2020 hindsight.


Yet.


And on that “yet” hinges everything: whether the gods may yet laugh, or whether we may yet cry, the future lies just ahead of us. The “yet” will happen — and may it not be a hairy, scary yet-i like this year has been — and we will live it.


Because we survived 2020, and we are ready to live the next year, the next day, the next moment.


So here’s to the next, and here’s to you — because I am thankful for each and every one of you, too.


  • katherine halligan

When I was a child, one of my favourite things to do at our local county fair was to watch taffy being pulled. There was something absolutely mesmerising about watching the machine stretch that satiny, ridged mass over and over again, until finally it was just the right consistency for the taffy people to pull off little bite-sized morsels of sweetness, wrap them in paper, and present them to you. If you got the mixed bag, it was a lottery which flavour you got, and I liked almost all of them, so the surprise was part of the fun.

Writing can often be like one giant taffy pull. You have an idea, you stretch it and work it and do it over and over again, until it finally emerges into something digestible and delicious and sometimes surprising.

After nearly six weeks away from my blog — the reasons for which absence I shall share shortly — I have been desperate to get back to it. And so, last Friday, I did. I took an idea I’d had a while ago, and started… and then I couldn’t stop. Normally it takes me about an hour to write a typical blogpost. I then spend about another hour editing it, and that’s that. Job done. I don’t do it all at once, ever, because that’s not how my life works these days; instead I work in chunks of time that last anything from three to twenty minutes, and that’s probably just as well, because I might just carried away with myself otherwise.

So when I sat down the other day to write, when somehow the stars aligned to give me a full hour in one stretch, I wrote five posts in one. Then, knowing that this was not right — because although more may be more, you do have better things to do than sit down and read this to the exclusion of everything else — I attempted to unpick it all. But I found that I couldn’t, because — rather like sticky taffy — what should have been five separate posts were all completely stuck together into one giant sticky mass, and I couldn’t pull out a single piece without making the whole thing fall apart or become so hard and stiff that it no longer resembled the thing that it had set out to be. And so, for the first time since I started this whole blogging thing, I felt deeply discouraged.

But I’m never one to stay down for long, so after I shared the epic mess of taffy with my husband (who is always my first and best reader) and he concurred that more was too much, I started over. Over there on the sidelines I’m still involved in the great taffy pull, and will eventually manage to separate out little nuggets of the sweet stuff and present them to you, edible and neatly wrapped, and I hope those nuggets will be worth waiting for.

In the meantime, as I try to pick myself up again — because I was in pieces, even if my writing wasn’t — I thought about why it’s been hard to find a minute to write, and I wanted to share with you why.

By way of example, I offer you my morning, thus far.

Having been up three times in the night with our eight-week-old puppy who came to us three days ago, I crashed back to sleep after the 5am waking and snoozed through my alarm. I was awakened again at 6:40 by our younger child jumping on me to ask if the puppy was awake yet (she was not, and I insisted she stay that way), and as I drifted off again I suddenly jerked awake, remembering that it was our older daughter’s school picture day. She is ten, so this matters. It's her last elementary school photo, in the weirdest year possible, so I needed to help her get this right.

I leapt up, attempted to wake her, failed, attempted to wake my husband (who’d also overslept and whose help I needed to carry the puppy play pen and crate back downstairs for the daytime setup, and who also needed to report in for an early meeting with his new boss), started breakfast for children, forgot what I was doing, started breakfast for puppy, forgot what I was doing, almost put the puppy’s milk on the children’s oatmeal, fed the puppy, fed the children, forgot what I was doing, started to make coffee, helped the older one find a two-litre plastic bottle with which to make a rocket at school (we don’t drink soda so had to locate instead an empty rectangular lemonade bottle which is unlikely to make liftoff), sent the bigger one scurrying to get dressed, put the little one on puppy watch, forgot what I was doing again, had three bites of my own oatmeal, dashed upstairs to dress myself, and then entered my older daughter’s room to find her wailing, “Mom, I look like a poodle!”

Last night I’d spent precious minutes that I could have been sleeping twisting my daughter’s damp hair into pin curls, so she could achieve the lovely, fat corkscrew ringlets she likes to sport on special occasions and which stay in her thick, smooth hair better than anything a curling wand can do. But she’d forgotten — and I’d forgotten to remind her — that in the morning you just remove the pins and finger- comb it out. Unluckily for her, she’d found a hairbrush (not always easy in our house), and she brushed those curls.

So it’s entirely true: she did look just like a very cute and very distressed poodle. I took a deep breath, sent her looking for a spray bottle, which she couldn’t find (because it’s often hard to find anything at all in our house, from hairbrushes to spray bottles to children), damped it down with sprinkles of water, twizzled her hair back into less-frizzy-but-by-no-means-ideally-formed curls, helped her apply concealer to two minuscule spots (maskne is real), helped her brush the lint off her leggings (she’d turned it backwards, so was adding lint to her personage rather than removing it), found her a water bottle, sent her back upstairs for her forgotten vocabulary book (the same Wordly Wise curriculum I’d had in fifth grade, which brings me no end of nostalgic delight), found her some shoes that were comfortable enough to wear for launching rockets but stylish enough for picture day (even though no one will see her feet — but she’s ten, so this matters), sent her looking for a mask, checked that her alien story was in her backpack (it was, but her pencil case was not; this is what happens when I’m busy with a puppy and not there to supervise the packing of backpacks the night before), found the pencil case, got into the car and got her to school on time for her COVID questionnaire at the gate before the bell rang.

All in 49 minutes flat.

As you can imagine, one of my pandemic silver linings is that we only have to get to school two mornings a week, and they’re half days so no lunch-packing is involved (and I loathe lunch-packing), so I am thankful that it’s Tuesday (and the way this day is shaping up it will be Thursday by the time you read this) and we won’t have to repeat this exercise in barely contained madness for another six days. In truth, most of our mornings are far calmer and more organised, but throw an as-yet-unvaccinated puppy into the mix, along with picture day and rocket launching, and you have the perfect storm of a morning.

While I was gone on her school run, my husband (who was still home, which is another pandemic silver lining, though because he is on the team that developed a COVID test, he is an essential worker and normally goes into the office for some peace and quiet — but at least he is flexible in his whereabouts, which helps me no end) oversaw our younger daughter scooping puppy poops, which she does with marvellous enthusiasm. And so the school run was far less chaotic than it might have been had I also needed to get the younger one dressed and the puppy into her carrier, where presumably those poops would have occurred en route, making my morning rather more complicated and smelly.

But although the puppy finally slept after we dosed her with her probiotic (because even though she is three pounds soaking wet, she does not like it so it’s a team effort) and after some hilariously manic acrobatics which we all had to stop to watch, I was not able to sit down and write while enjoying my now slightly chilly coffee, because my newish job was just beginning: coaching our eight-year-old daughter through virtual school. That’s another story I need to untangle from the taffy pull before I can share it with you, but suffice to say I’m right back where I was in March.

In fact, just this very minute, I had to stop writing so that I could help her to fashion a dreidel out of household objects. I said no to the 13-minute online from-scratch tutorial and took the easy option, but that still involved finding a printable dreidel, printing it (but the printer ran out of paper so I had to go upstairs to reload it, and then the paper tray sort of broke so I had to sort of fix it), finding the scissors (I’ve shared before about her scissor fetish, so we hide them now — often so well the grownups can’t find them either), instructing her how to cut and fold her dreidel (while on the phone with the lovely people at the charity where we are adopting a family who somehow managed to email me a final reminder that gifts are due tomorrow, without ever having shared the information about the family we are adopting or any parameters for the gifts), then tape it together (and she also has a tape fetish so we also first had to find a roll she hasn’t used up, untangle it — because she has broken all but one tape dispenser — and peel the tape off of itself, which took a very long time, especially one-handed).

Then she had to stop to do a dance of joy.

Then the puppy woke up and tried to eat the tape that was stuck to my daughter’s hair and then she had to cuddle the puppy and so I found myself making the dreidel all on my own. (I was fine with that because I love playing dreidel; I was one of five or six Gentiles in my class all the way through elementary school, so I play a mean round of dreidel, know all the Hanukkah songs, and make excellent latkes.)

Then — of course! — we had to play the dreidel (for mini candy canes, even though I normally buy gelt at this time of year; it was a very fusion experience). Then we had to spell all the multi-syllabic words for her extremely elaborate essay about playing dreidel, and because she is upstairs using her sister’s desk and I am downstairs on puppy patrol, this means at least one of us has to use the stairs every time there’s a new word that stumps her (which is fine because then it’s spelling and PE all at once).

Then the latest spelling word utterly defeated her — as she announced, she’d had to fix 17 words 48 times — because her extensive vocabulary exceeds her ability to put it accurately into her expository writing, and her perfectionism means that she doesn’t want to see ANY squiggly red lines on her screen — another deeply annoying feature of digital learning, because when you write with an actual pencil on actual paper there are no squiggly red lines, just delightful kid spelling) and she needed a hug. (By this point, I did too.)

Then I sat down again to finish writing what I’d started working on at 8:30 when my daughter logged in for her morning check-in (which I’d also started yesterday, which I’d also started Friday, which I’d also started a dozen times in the last six weeks).

And so that is how I spent the first six hours of this morning.

Multiply everything that happened in those six hours by four (because my days rarely stop at bedtime, thanks to our older daughter’s sleep issues, which is also another story for another day — see how I get distracted?), and then again by the number of days since I last posted, which is 40, and you begin to see all the many thousands of things that have prevented me sitting down to post.

Plus deciding to pull our daughter out of school and educate her entirely virtually.

Plus an election of cataclysmic importance.

Plus Thanksgiving, plus our younger daughter’s eighth birthday the very next day.

Plus the puppy.

Plus, plus, plus.

Excuses, excuses.

So that, my friends, is why I haven’t posted a word in 40 days. If you’d wondered what had happened to me, now you know.

But I’m back on my game again, and I’ll be back with those little nuggets of taffy, just as soon as I figure out how to pull them apart from that big sticky mess of stories I wanted to tell you.

Except now we have more spelling to do and then we have to leave to pick up my older daughter and get there early enough to nab a good parking spot so I don’t have to get out of the car with the puppy and then I have to make lunch (both canine and human)…

And oh my goodness the puppy is awake and I think she is trying to eat her poo.

  • katherine halligan

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

Well, it’s official: I have now gained the quarantine fifteen.

On each thigh.

Apparently, calories consumed during a pandemic do still count, so even while everything else in the world has turned upside down, that pesky rule still holds. And I have consumed many, many calories. Sometimes seeking to ease boredom, sometimes seeking to ease my anxiety, I am most definitely eating (and drinking) my feelings.

And these days I have a lot of feelings.

I am not new to the world of weight gain, having worn in my adult life everything from a size 4 US (8 UK) to a size 14 US (18 UK). As a slim child I had a prodigious appetite (what, don’t all nine-month-old babies enjoy a hamburger, baked potato and a giant helping of creamed spinach for dinner?), but those hollow legs began to fill out when I headed off to college, and my weight began to rise and fall with my stress levels. Some people get thinner when they’re stressed, but I would have been excellent at surviving during times of famine in days of yore, as my currently expanding thighs will attest. I have broad shoulders (which I love because my clothes always hang well), big bones (is that a thing? They’ve never broken so perhaps it counts for something) and good birthing hips (definitely a thing, because I birthed two babies very naturally and easily, one of them in 45 minutes flat). All this means that I knew I’d never be a fashion model, and I made peace with that long ago. I normally like the skin I’m in, no matter how much of it there is, until a few years ago when I realised that the fat suit I was wearing was stopping me feeling like myself.

So I embarked (not for the first time) on Weight Watchers, which a friend of mine, with her wonderfully dry British humour, used to call “Fat Club”. The thing is, Fat Club works. It’s easy and forgiving and if you stick even vaguely to the plan, you will lose weight. These days it’s very snazzy and modern and there’s an app for it, and you can find recipes and inspiration and look at other people’s transformation photos while never posting your own because that’s a step too far. You track what you eat by entering it into the app and it calculates the points value of pretty much everything under the sun. The points are based on calories, fat, nutritional value and some mysterious algorithm which means — I’m sorry to have to tell you — that eating an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s or an entire jar of salted macadamias is probably not a good idea — but the excellent news is that you can eat all the raw celery or poached eggs you like. It also tells you how many points you have left in a day or a week, so you can save them up and plan what to do, say, for a Friday treat. I’m not entirely sure how that actually works, since I have never had anything other than a negative amount of points left in my budget by the end of the week. Some weeks I might only go over by 30-odd points, and then I lose weight (which is pretty miraculous when you consider that you’re only allowed around 28 points a day, max); other weeks, for example when I go on vacation to Hawaii to celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary and indulge in a delightful reprise of that game we played twenty years earlier, called Honey-ballooning, I might go over my budget by 287 points (true story), and then I don’t lose weight.

So, it’s all very simple really. Which means it’s not remotely surprising when my body tapped into its genetically programmed urges and started living in March what my mind had been anticipating since February: disaster meant famine was on its way, so food became our primary obsession. We weren’t actually starving (unlike my cousin in New York City, who was genuinely struggling to get any kind of food, so I’m not being flippant here), but our bodies definitely went into some primal, comfort-seeking, eat-whatever-you-can-now-because-tomorrow-there-may-be-no-woolly-mammoth-burgers mode. That urge to prepare for a winter of privation (in March), combined with the fact that everyone in the world was doing the same, meant that we ate large of amounts of very odd foods, often just because we could.

Living with a scientist who’d worked on pretty much ever major pandemic since 1997, we were ready for this one, or as ready as we could be. We bought a chest freezer back in early February and quietly filled it. We’d already started an earthquake-and-fire contingency cupboard, but we knew it was time to raise our game. So we calmly stocked our shelves with canned peaches (which we never normally eat, but thought they would be an excellent way to ward off scurvy); we tranquilly tracked down toilet paper (but we did not hoard! We promise! We even made a spreadsheet to calculate our projected usage and I’m happy to share it with anyone who questions whether we were the reason there was no toilet paper left in all of Southern California). We felt like good Girl Scouts: we were prepared.

Slowly, almost surreptitiously (I demurred when the lady in CVS wondered why I was restocking our entire medicine cabinet; if she couldn’t guess why by February 27, then I wasn’t going to be the one to set off panic alarms unnecessarily), we filled our pantry and garage shelves, due to a slightly weird but not entirely unfounded worry that an earthquake would hit in the middle of the pandemic and we would have to survive for even longer without basic foodstuffs. Not having been raised in Communist Russia, it was a rude awakening when our supply chains actually stuttered and choked, but among the many painful lessons we have learned this year, we all now know what life is like without flour, rice, milk, eggs or guacamole... and it isn’t pretty.

As we learned to survive without avocado products, we learned to be creative with our consumption, depending on what was — or more often was not — available at the grocery store. This meant snacking on everything from cheese puffs to whipped cream (not at the same time, I hasten to add; things were never that bad), and nearly always finishing the day with a drink in hand. A bottle of wine has 22 Weight Watchers points, and I was only allowed 23, so as my wine consumption increased, I was faced with some cruel choices: three full meals plus a snack, or one cracker and a bottle of wine? That sort of starvation math never worked for me, so I just glibly pretended that the wine calories didn’t count, added them to my carefully-tracked healthy food choices for the day (whipped cream has surprisingly few points), and gaily ignored the clever little markings on my Weight Watchers wine glasses that are intended to inspire self-restraint.

Among the many more important lessons I have learned of late, I also discovered to my horror (for the Weight Watchers app is full of all sorts of horrifying discoveries, just like the newspaper these days), a small-sized, ostensibly-healthy, eat-your-greens-type smoothie at Jamba Juice, whilst offering far more obvious health benefits, has as many calories as an entire bottle of wine. (Yes, really!) Forget the greens: pass the corkscrew, please.

But the food and especially the wine served their purpose: I needed a way to numb myself, very slightly, to the realities that we have all faced during this strangest and most difficult of years, as we have watched and waited for an end to the nightmare that is gripping this nation (since March 2020, but also since November 2016), and hoped against hope that it would resolve itself and we could wake up to a better, more recognisable reality.

So the food and the wine were, especially in those early days of this pandemic, a form of comfort, a way of taking the edge off of days which were decidedly sharp and spiky and painful. And during these endlessly edgy days, accomplishing anything — anything at all: folding the laundry, making a phone call, waking up — feels like a cause for celebration, so on days which aren’t officially terrible, I like to celebrate. (Which means wine, not smoothies, and cheese puffs, not apples.)

Celebrating seems perverse and sometimes wrong these days, but not celebrating also feels like a missed opportunity. And so I seize the day by seizing another bag of tortilla chips, and making (low calorie!) margaritas, because who knows what tomorrow will bring and whether there will be any limes at the grocery store? At some deep level that it took me a long time to acknowledge, the lurking fear of COVID-19 meant that I treated every meal like that of a condemned prisoner: what if was my last? So despite the fact that I recently spent nearly 18 months doing Weight Watchers to lose nearly fifty pounds, I threw myself with gusto into this new carpe-diem-style celebrating. It’s not surprising, then, that the numbers on my scale have crept steadily upward, toward unseen heights, much like our COVID numbers.

So although I’m on a healthier slope these days, the corona-coaster has also been a caloric-coaster, at least for me. This is in part because the type of calories I’ve consumed — both liquid and otherwise — has been rather unlike my normal diet, especially at the beginning of lockdown and we were obediently staying home. We ate what we had and we didn’t complain. When a grocery delivery arrived, I celebrated the prospect of another week of fully stocked cupboards by eating two days’ worth of food. We were bored so we baked; we were frightened so we fried. My husband and children did a lot of cooking, while I dutifully enjoyed the fruits of their labours. All roads led back to the kitchen (and many to the wine fridge) and so my waistline grew as our world shrank.

When southern California started opening up again, we treated ourselves to marvellously indulgent meals. Having eschewed takeout for months — initially out of fear of transmission of the virus and then out of fear that if my husband lost his job we would need to save all we could for that very rainy day — we were overjoyed by our first dinner delivery. My daughters and I actually hummed and sighed with happiness as each delicious bite from our local Greek restaurant melted in our mouths. Just as we were emotionally exhausted, so were our palettes, after weeks of pasta. Desperate for anything new and different, we went around the world in 80 (well, maybe 8) restaurants: we nearly cried with happiness at a plate of calamari; our tears of joy merely added to the sweet saltiness of our sushi; we danced with delight at our first Thai takeout in months. Whether we were eating because we weren’t entirely sure if there would be food on the shelves the next week, or because we were celebrating there being food to spare in restaurants, we ate. And ate. And ate.

My growing children could get away with this; my exercising husband could get away with this; I, however, could not. And so, eventually, something had to give. Perhaps it was fearing that the extra pounds meant extra risk from the very thing we’d been trying to avoid all along. Perhaps it was mere vanity, in my case. Or perhaps we were simply, finally, bored of eating and drinking, just as we have eventually bored of so many of our other quarantine pastimes, like TV and video games. Whatever prompted it, we have turned a corner. Our daughters are dancing again; we go on family jogs; sometimes — just sometimes — I choose veggies over vino; I stand on the scales occasionally and wrestle with the truth.

We are also wrestling with some very difficult truths as a nation. Just as I am forcing myself to be accountable about my choices, so must we force our leaders to be accountable about theirs. Just as I have acknowledged that something has to change to return myself to my best version of my self, so must this country acknowledge that something has to change. My personal realisation that I need to look in the mirror and be honest with myself comes alongside a national realisation that we need to reflect on ourselves as a society and truly see that we cannot continue as we are, any longer, if we are to return to the best version of ourselves.

We are often told that we need to accept ourselves as we are. But sometimes acceptance is not a good thing. Sometimes we need to fight. Against excess weight and bloat, against apathy and resignation, against gluttony and greed, against blindness and selfishness. I’m not giving in to this place I’m in now; I’m not giving up on my better self. Nor should we as Americans: we need to take this fight to the ballot box, so that we can get back to being who we really are.

As I have watched my weight go up, not down, we are all also watching and waiting for this country to go up in the estimation of the world or else down in flames, to return to sanity or else to dissolve into chaos, to grow up or else to blow up.

We all need to look into that mirror and ask ourselves what truly matters. Would that it were a magic mirror, which could tell us the future: not who is the fairest (we know which one that is), but whether our election will be fair, whether the results will be accepted, whether goodness will prevail over evil.

Without that magic mirror, it remains to be seen how this story will end.

So we watch. And we wait.

And we hope.